The holidays are behind us, and we’ve almost made it through all 65 days of January. Time to kick off the decade with a breath of fresh air and a new list of mind-boggling civic tech reads.

How does the internet’s wealth of information affect the way politicians make decisions? How will power evolve over the upcoming decades, and how has GovTech evolved in ones that have passed? And how do participatory budgets, storytelling and the internet of things change cities for the better?

This is our carefully curated reading list of this month.

1. “Too much information? The new challenge for decision-makers” by The Financial Times

Digitalization and the emergence of high-tech and smart tools in every layer of everyday life have made our lives easier in many ways. We communicate with each other freely and easily, complete transactions in a heartbeat, and have a world of information at our fingertips at all times.

But while it has simplified our daily lives, this same evolution brings along a lot of complexities for politicians and policymakers. How do you distinguish valid information from fake news? And how do the heightened connections between people affect the way you govern? In a world that’s constantly changing, it’s hard to see what the present looks like, let alone figure out what kind of governance it requires. “Given the quantities of data that are generated, exchanged or uploaded every day, it is a problem that constantly outstrips our capacity to deal with it.”

A must-read for civil servants, digital nomads, tech-lovers, and data-crunchers.

2. “Understanding “New Power”” by Harvard Business Review

Power is a core element of human nature. So it’s not surprising that, as humans, we are quite attuned to shifts in where that power resides. This article analyses the complex power transformation in today’s society: one that is accelerated by a tension between two kinds of power: old power (“closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven”) and new power (“open, participatory, and peer-driven”).

“The battle and the balancing between old and new power will be a defining feature of society and business in the coming years.” And to be able to understand the underlying dynamics of this power shift (and predict how it’ll evolve), this article researches the models and values of old and new power, the different power-holding agents, and how to cultivate new power.

A must-read for everyone who is fascinated by power and how it is distributed.

3. “2000 vs. 2020: How Far Has Gov Tech Come in Two Decades?” by GovTech

When the new millennium rolled around, people had wild ideas about how technology would evolve in the years to come. Since the year 00, technology has definitely evolved – but st not always quite in the way we’d anticipated.

“(…) in some areas, technological advancements have exceeded expectations made in 2000. But governments have not kept up with the pace of change to the degree that could assist their missions even more (…). We still are operating in command control silos and hierarchical systems which tamp down the ability to dramatically use the technological changes.

What happened to autonomous vehicles? And what were the expectations concerning electronic voting, surveillance, security, and citizen engagement? This article explores where technology was in 2000, where we thought we’d be today, and what our tech reality actually is.

A must-read for future-tellers, tech aficionados and, well, anyone who remembers what the year 2000 looked like.

4. “How behavioural insights made participatory budgeting get social” by Apolitical

Ecuador’s capital, Quito, has launched a participatory budgeting project. Through a series of assemblies, citizens are asked to allocate a part of the city budget. This participation method is often used to improve city infrastructure. But this time around, Quito has asked its citizens to keep the city’s social projects in mind as well.

Since 2017, 10% of the budget that is allocated through Quito’s participatory budgeting projects has to go to social programs that boost education and social inclusion. At first, the city wasn’t sure that citizens were going to bite. “We felt in the beginning that (…) citizens are not going to prioritise a social program instead of another road or an infrastructure project. But they did.” How? By following the principles of behavioural insights thinking, and turning the process for establishing a social project into a social activity in itself.

A must-read for cities looking to launch a participatory budget, or social butterflies hoping to see this part of society receive more support.

5. “Is Paris the City of the Future?” by IoT For All

Ah, Paris! The city of cobblestones, picturesque kiosks, and cafes that look like portals to the Belle Époque. And at the same time, it’s one of the world’s most bustling and hyper-modern metropolises. The city’s double identity often leaves urban planners at their wits’ end. “As Paris itself is forever changing, so too are the tools that city managers can employ to improve the lives of Paris’s millions of residents and visitors.”

How can they preserve the city’s romantic character while simultaneously equipping it with the latest high-tech smart city tools? This article explores the role the Internet of Things can play in a city of flaneurs. A must-read for Parisians, urban planners or city dwellers.

6. “How might storytelling improve policymaking?” by Nesta

Humans have been telling stories since we developed vocal cords and chalk-wielding fingers. And as it turns out, doing so in politics and policymaking might actually have unexpected benefits. Boosting empathy levels, crafting scalable solutions, and ‘testing’ the plausibility of ideas: trying policy on for size in fictional stories might not be as crazy as it sounds.

In fact, crafting stories with fictional characters before implementing policies that affect living and breathing humans “immerses us in the problem and (people’s) needs, before considering how we might meet those. Not spending enough time on this can lead to missed insights (…) and wrong assumptions about root causes – a recipe for solutions that don’t work.”

Thinking of citizens as characters can empower them in some way: “don’t treat users or citizens as ‘passengers’, whereby policy happens to them. (…) Instead, they have agency, it is they who drive the story forward.”

A must-read for storytellers, policymakers, and those walking the tightrope between the two.

Inspired to get started with citizen participation? Or just curious what it could look like in your city or municipality? Contact us today!

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