It’s Friday again! And you know what that means: we’ve made another selection of this week’s must-reads in the realm of digital democracy and civic tech.

If you missed last week’s selection, there’s plenty of time to catch up before the weekend rolls around! Now, get that coffee brewing and keep that mind of yours wide open, because you’re in for a wild ride. 

1. “How MySociety is pioneering civic tech in Britain” by Laurie Clarke for Techworld

In Western democracies, we’ve gradually lost our trust in governments since the 1950s. To regain citizen’s support and boost turnout rates during election times, governments need to put their citizens’ needs first. What if an app could bridge the gap between governments and citizens? And what if participating could be as easy as swiping a Tinder match or double-tapping an Instagram photo? UK charity MySociety does exactly that: providing open source digital tools that help citizens to engage. Read how CE Mark Cridge is pioneering civic tech in Britain, and what he believes the value is for today’s democracy.

2. “Improving participation in the budget process” by Civic Tech Contributor

In 2018, South Africa achieved a joint first place with New Zealand in the Open Budget Index Survey 2017, which is the world’s only independent, comparative measure of central government budget transparency. South Africa is a top performer, which is quite an achievement — but one that requires some work to keep up, as well! And when it comes to citizen participation, the country definitely has some room to grow. How could participation help to maintain or even improve South Africa’s leading position? This article takes a look at relevant cases from Canada, Mexico and South Korea, and offers some interesting insights on actions South Africa could take.

3. “Are small cities the smartest?” By Lewis, Howe, Marc for CNN Business

Think about urban transformation or technological innovation and your mind wanders to Shangai, Hong Kong, Dubai or San Francisco. But what about Kalasatama, Finland? It doesn’t sound quite as awe-inducing as its metropolitan counterparts, but this city is pretty much the pinnacle of what a smart city looks like. Kalasatama was built from scratch in the outskirts of Helsinki and will, by its completion in 2030, be ‘the most functional city in the world’. And cities don’t necessarily have to be custom-built to be innovative — Matera, an old cliffside town in southern Italy, is working hard to become one of the first 5G-proof cities in Europe. What is it about small cities that makes them so inventive? If this sparked your curiosity, this read is for you!

4. “Why the “government” in govtech must be more than just a client” by Tanya Filer for NSTech

The emergence of govtech has partly pushed governments into the category of ‘clients’, which is a relatively new phenomenon. But to see governments as clients exclusively isn’t going to move us forward, says govtech expert and author Tanya Filer. Newer and flashier technologies alone won’t make much of a difference if governments don’t take up a more multi-faceted role in the whole process. They are clients, sure — but they also need to be problem-solvers, project managers and enablers. What happens when this fails? What does ‘govtech gone wrong’ look like? In this article, Filer explores the different scenarios.

5. “Cities, not governments, are the new laboratories of public policy” by Ciprian Ciucu for Emerging Europe

In this interesting opinion piece, Bucharest city councillor Ciucu recounts his coming-of-age in post-communist Romania, a country crippled under the weight of a totalitarian regime. He has seen his country shake off this burden and reach considerable democratic milestones, like becoming an EU member. Now, the author tells us why he decided to participate in local politics and even stands as a candidate to become Bucharest’s mayor in 2020. Hint: it has something to do with how he views cities as the beating centres of public policy, and the ultimate level to make a true impact on people’s quality of life. 

6. “Six steps to make cities healthier and happier” by Apolitical

Cities are the homes of millions of people worldwide but aren’t always the most pleasant places to dwell. Pollution, traffic or crime all have a considerable impact on both our physical and mental health and well-being in the places we call home. In this article, Apolitical suggests 6 principles for public servants to make life in the city more pleasant. Some of them, like going green or fighting crime, might be pretty obvious. But where do feminism or mental health awareness come in? Small changes can make big differences in the way citizens perceive their environment every single day — so let’s get to work!

There — that’s our reading list for this week. We’ll be back next Friday with a fresh batch! And if you just can’t get enough, head to our blog to scratch the rest of your digital democracy itch. Are you thinking of implementing digital participation in your local government? Get in touch or download our free e-guide that covers all the basics!

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