The last few months have fundamentally reshaped the way we live and work together.
While Civic Tech was already on the rise, it has now become nearly impossible to imagine our world without it. As more councils across the globe turn to digital solutions to keep operations and services running smoothly, more and more professionals become convinced of our mission, as well. And it shows, because once again, we have a list of brand-new CitizenLabbers to introduce to you. Meet Michiel, Emile, Claire, Tomas, Simon, Guilherme and Ben.
Who are they? What drives them? And what is it about Civic Tech and digital democracy that appeals to them? Let’s find out.
Michiel Leyman, Full-Stack Engineer
What were you doing before you joined CitizenLab? “I worked as a web developer at Open Knowledge Belgium, a not-for-profit organisation that uses advocacy, research, and technology to make the web fairer, free, and open. I focused on technical coordination and development for its many working groups and projects such as Open Belgium and Open Summer of Code. My work there has reinforced my interest in co-creation, public interest tech, and operational transparency. It was the first step in my career, and I’m excited for CitizenLab to be the next.”
What appeals to you in Civic Tech? “Citizen participation is a prerequisite for democracy. I believe you can only create policy that serves the many by having a continuous feedback loop between the people and the government. Governments alone cannot hope to solve the challenges we’re facing, and our involvement in social and societal change shouldn’t have to end with casting our vote every few years. Civic Tech offers citizens the opportunity to speak up and the people we elect the willingness to listen. It provides accountability, transparency, and collaboration, and I think we could all use a little more of that.”
What’s a Civic Tech project you would like to have launched… or will launch someday? “One day, I’d love to gather a group of civic technologists that create open solutions for the public interest and sustainably do so through subsidies. I dream of a system where these self-organizing teams have their priorities set through democratic processes and manage to produce effective, non-commercial change in direct collaboration with their local governments.”
Emile Heymans, Business Development Manager 🇧🇪
What were you doing before you joined CitizenLab? “I believe we all have to learn from other cultures. So two years before joining Citizenlab, I decided to leave Belgium and backpack around the world for a while. I eventually settled down in Montreal, where I worked in an urban beekeeping company called Alvéole. Yep, you read that right. Beekeeping! They are on a mission to reconnect city-with nature and food production. Bees are wonderful partners for that. At Alvéole, I was in charge of the commercial development for Calgary in Vancouver (Yes, bees can survive the Canadian winter!)”
What appeals to you in Civic Tech? “I have to be honest: I’m not a big tech fan. I only believe in technology if it serves and facilitates real human interactions, instead of the opposite. The great thing about Civic Tech is that it answers an urgent need, which is reconnecting citizens with decision-making in their communities. Helping to create the circumstances for this democratic process to happen is something that drives me. If that’s what our Civic Tech stands for, I’m in!”
What’s a Civic Tech project you would like to have launched… or will launch someday? “I think Civic Tech could play a role in helping political parties adapt to our ever-changing world. In most democratic countries, political parties are one of the first touchpoints for citizens to express themselves. But most of them struggle to motivate their members to participate (if they stick around at all). Could Civic Tech pave the way for a new and more representative generation of political parties?”
Claire Tobback, Government Support & Community Manager
What were you doing before you joined CitizenLab? “After a double degree in International Law (KULeuven) and Economics (Vlerick Business School), I started my career in a Business Development role at a Belgian 3D-printing company. Later, I joined the Flemish trade association UNIZO to advise entrepreneurs and SMEs on import, export, and innovation topics. In 2018, I made the leap as an entrepreneur myself and launched a startup in e-commerce delivery, Collectique. I recently decided to take on a new challenge in a high-impact and innovative organisation … which brought me to CitizenLab!”
What appeals to you in Civic Tech? “What excites me is the endless set of opportunities to convert decision-making processes into a collaborative and transparent reality. In politics, democracy as we know it is showing its limits. I believe Civic Tech has the means to break those limits and create room for increased citizen involvement and inclusive debates – going beyond the once-in-so-many-years vote for a particular person or party. It’s just great being able to support governments in this digital transformation.”
What’s a Civic Tech project you would like to have launched… or will launch someday? “I would love to see Civic Tech go beyond the borders of well-defined projects, but any project on making our communities more in tune with nature will catch my attention. Also, I think our new volunteering platform is a great way to mobilise citizens and not just ask for their input or ideas. So, I’d say: a volunteering or participatory budget project on planting trees or implementing green energy initiatives.”
Tomas Deron, Operations Coordinator
What did you do before you arrived at CitizenLab? “I spent my pre-CitizenLab years either in diverse purpose-driven start-ups in Brussels or exploring different countries around the world. After previous experiences in marketing and sales, I am happy to have found my place at CitizenLab, creating an operational impact for an organisation in line with my values and personal goals.”
What appeals to you in Civic Tech? “I find it fascinating how Civic Tech reduces the distance between governments and citizens. I became quite detached from politics over the years, seeing how little I could actually relate to the decision-making processes. This changed when I started following several civic participation initiatives, Citizenlab being one of them. I believe Civic Tech can re-engage people into politics who, much like myself, had lost faith in the current system. I also see it as an amazing tool in reaching out to young people and giving them the voice they deserve!”
What is a citizen proposal you have launched … or would like to launch one day? “I am very new to the field and haven’t launched any particular projects yet, but I’ve always felt a great desire to change the urban mobility and public space planning in Brussels, and would gladly turn it into a proposal one day!”
Simon Pastor, Content & insights Intern
What did you do before you arrived at CitizenLab? “Before joining CitizenLab, I was interning for an NGO in Mumbai, which focused on bridging the gap between funders and non-profits by educating funders to be more strategic in their giving, and helping non-profits use the funds optimally.”
What appeals to you in Civic Tech? “What appeals to me in Civic Tech is that it not only enables all citizens to take part in the decision-making process of their city, but it also ensures that it is more transparent, and that politicians are held accountable.”
What is a citizen proposal you have launched … or would like to launch one day? “I haven’t launched a citizen proposal, but I’ve developed a citizen platform called Delphes. Delphes uses machine learning to indicate the European Parliament and European Political Group member that represent you best, based on a single text input or Twitter account. The goal is to simplify European politics and make it more accessible to everyone.”
Guilherme Andrade, Full-Stack Engineer
What did you do before you arrived at CitizenLab? “Before joining Citizenlab, I was working for a Belgian co-living startup called Coloc Housing. In the last few months, I was the company’s sole developer and was responsible for all the applications’ dimensions, including design, back-end, and front-end. I also sporadically taught the Le Wagon coding bootcamp in different cities in Europe. Before that, I had a brief spell at a fintech startup called PaxFamilia. In a past career, I worked as a hotel manager of a tiny hotel in Angola and briefly worked in corporate sales for the American Express Travel representatives in Angola.”
What appeals to you in Civic Tech? “Coming from a southern European country and having lived in an arguably autocratic regime like Angola’s, both of which rank high in the corruption indexes, democratic duties always felt a bit like a senseless obligation rather than fruitful participation in society. The consensus in both of these countries seemed to be that citizens, for lack of knowledge, should only participate in deciding who’s best at making decisions, not at making the decisions themselves. But then I lived in Switzerland, where the polar opposite happens, and citizens actively participate in the democratic process. The Swiss have the power to vote on their government’s proposals for better or worse. It’s one of the main reasons for their economic and social successes despite their fragmented population. Since then, I’ve been looking forward to the day Portugal and Angola become more like Switzerland. And I think tech is the only answer.”
What is a citizen proposal you have launched … or would like to launch one day? “One idea I came across while teaching is an incident reporting app. With a system similar to an app like Waze, you could pinpoint locations on a map where you were a victim of a crime or saw a crime happen. This could help to raise awareness or have your items returned.”
Ben Gordon, Business Development Manager US 🇺🇸
What did you do before you arrived at CitizenLab? “I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, but spent several years living in New Delhi, India when I was in middle school (ages 10-13). I studied public policy at the University of Michigan, which (aside from its academics) is known for having the largest (American) football stadium in the country. After graduating, I went back to DC and worked for a consulting firm that worked closely with civilian agencies in the U.S. Federal Government. In 2017, I moved to Brooklyn to work for a public art startup that builds immersive spaces called Portals – a network of retrofitted shipping containers designed to let you talk to strangers around the world as if in the same room. When not at work, I love to read, run, and am currently teaching myself to cook.”
What appeals to you in Civic Tech? “Civic technology is really important to me. I believe a responsive and supportive government is a force for good. But people have high expectations and (at least many Americans) have had poor personal experiences when interacting with government services (e.g. waiting in a long line to get a new license or filling out stacks of forms to get a needed benefit). I think Civic Tech, when working hand in hand with government, can improve these touchpoints and provide more of the seamless and user-friendly experiences we’ve grown accustomed to, which over time can build trust and even enthusiasm for government services and projects. I see CitizenLab playing an essential role in this process, and I could not be more excited to work with you all!”
What is a citizen proposal you have launched … or would like to launch one day? “As for a Civic Tech project, I’m not sure of the specifics yet, but I think it would have something to do with creating new kinds of monuments, meeting points, and public spaces. My hope is that there will be a renewed interest and appreciation for being together IRL post-COVID, but we’ll see!”
Enjoyed meeting our new forces? Why not get to know the rest of the team? Don’t hesitate to say hello!