Welcome democracy fanatics, outspoken citizens, dedicated political leaders, techies, and everyone in between. This is our first curated list of Monthly civic tech must-reads!

This month we are exploring a wide variety of topics, from analyzing the value of participatory budgeting and political polarization to learning about new digital innovations that cities and countries are putting in place to strengthen government-citizen relations.

Now, sit back, relax, and cozy up with your favorite tablet, mobile phone, or laptop and indulge in some fantastic reads.

#1 “Trust the process? Participatory budgeting and how it can be improved” by LSE

“Trust and participation in political processes are intimately entwined. A lack of trust between citizenry and public officials might lead to ambivalence towards participating in democratic processes. Yet mistrust might also promote healthy skepticism and stimulate political involvement.”

In this article, the London School of Economics and Political Science examined the relationship between trust and participatory budgeting. They interviewed 27 citizens and staff members at participatory budgeting events in County Durham, UK, where they found that trust and local government is “multifaceted and complex”. The data they collected showed that mistrust in participatory budgeting is developed through misinformation and also from citizens feeling left out of the process due to poorly organized PB programs. LSE also found that trust, or lack thereof, is not a one way street from citizens to government, but there is also mistrust from the government towards citizens.

Overall, the interviews found that mistrust could be lessened if the fundamental process of participatory budgeting was organized in a way that encouraged transparency and equality on both the government and citizen side. Although mistrust cannot be universally exterminated, a bit of “healthy skepticism” could be enough to give citizens a gentle nudge that keeps them participating in their local government process.

#2 “Will Technology Kill Democracy—Or Reinvent It?” by Forbes

“…the problem for western civic societies is not so much defending against hostile and abusive use of technology. Instead, it’s failing to use technology to rediscover what democracy should be for the modern nation state: citizens participating personally in public debate and having meaningful say in policy decisions that affect them—without the distorting and corruptible role of legislative proxies or elitist agency officials.”

This article gives a point of view of the ongoing debate about the role technology has in governance. Using arguments from Dr. Roslyn Fuller and her book, In Defense of Democracy, Forbes shares five of their outlooks on how a society can work toward effective governance through technology. Among these visions includes using technology to encourage deliberation among citizens by giving them direct involvement in the policy process, making it more difficult for the influence of money to corrupt the decisions of the few hundred representatives that are typically in charge of decision making. Furthermore, if citizens participate in mass engagement together, it could ease political partisanship. Fuller argues that when citizens are directly involved in decisions that affect their future, they are keener on listening to each other’s points of view and working toward compromising to come up with solutions that benefit the masses.

#3 “Civic Tech Platform Turns Social Media Time into Advocacy” by Government Technology

Making your community a better place does not have to be difficult. This article introduces an innovative app that allows citizens to make a difference in a way that most are familiar with: through social media. Magnify Your Voice encourages “micro-volunteering”, or taking the time one would normally spend on social media and repurposing it toward the betterment of a community.

“Magnify Your Voice is a platform and mobile app that facilitates micro-volunteering in communities, allowing residents or nonprofit organizations to find volunteers for everything from in-person work to email campaigns.”

The new Civic Tech platform presently works with non-profits, community groups, etc., but intends to expand its reach toward working with governments in the near future. Examples of projects that Magnify Your Voice has worked with range from pressing governments to fill potholes to locating affordable office spaces for organizations to settle. The point of the platform is to give citizens the ability to facilitate change in their community without being a part of a large-scale organization or group.

To learn more about how you can become more engaged in your community, check out “10 Easy ways to become a more engaged citizen” on our blog!

#4 “Government and Artificial Intelligence: From hype to strategy” by Apolitical

How has artificial intelligence changed since the 1984 American sci-fi film The Terminator? Apolitical points out all of the hidden ways that AI has been integrated into our everyday activities, but also acknowledges that, as all up and coming technology, it should be handled with caution.  The article continues to explain the relationship between AI and government and how it creates the potential to better the lives of both citizens and governments alike.

Unfamiliar with the difference between artificial and collective intelligence? Look no further, we explain it for you in a recent blog post. Click here to learn more.

#5 “Participatory democracy is presumed to be the gold standard. Here’s why it isn’t.” by Big Think

Is it better to only converse with individuals that hold the exact same political opinions as yourself, or take part in constructive discussion that can lead to compromise and mutually beneficial solutions? This article discusses political polarization and some of the reasons it is so ingrained in societies around the world today, especially the United States. It also acknowledges the difference between participation and deliberation and the pros and cons of each providing a lot of food for thought.

Deliberation has the power to create policies that captures the voice of the people. Such policy can be added to the political agenda of a government through citizen initiatives. To learn more about this practice, click here.

#6 “This new program lets people text to access government food aid” by Fast Company

Anchorage, Alaska is testing out civic tech regarding citizen access to information about the federal supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP). An individual can simply text “SNAP” to a phone number, answer a question, and then a nonprofit called Food Bank of Alaska takes on the work. The process is still in the beginning phases but has high hopes of reaching 10,000 SNAP-eligible residents. At the snap of a finger, this practice will grant much-needed information to the people who need it most.

#7 “New Cuban application for ‘citizen complaints’” by Cuba News

Civic Tech makes an appearance in Cuba! An application called “Popular Participation” has hit the app store, providing a digital platform for citizens to report grievances and complaints directly to the government. The app allows discussion about pressing issues such as the energy crisis on the island. Yet another great example of technology working to increase communication and transparency between governments and citizens.  

#8 Bonus: Must-listen of the month Wait Wait…Tell Me! By 99% Invisible

This short podcast talks about Detroit, Michigan and the house demolition program that the city enacted to deal with the large amounts of abandoned homes that are damaged beyond repair. The city faced a high number of phone calls from citizens inquiring information about the progress of the demolitions, mostly asking how long they would have to wait for change to happen. This is when the podcast dives into the research and psychology behind waiting, using experiments done on the human reaction to waiting on the Xerox Star computer to load. The city used results from previous research to develop the Neighborhood Improvement Tracker that would provide citizens with the information of what houses were going to come down and when. After the launch of the tracker, the city noticed less and less calls and happier citizens.

This example embodies what transparency can do to build the relationship between governments and citizens. The city of Detroit made citizens feel like they had a voice in the government because with radical transparency comes constructive feedback. This use of Civic Tech increased trust and efficiency and created a more communal atmosphere throughout Detroit.

That’s it for this month! If you would like to learn more about government technology and civic engagement, check out our resource page. You can also check out some of our previous selection here, here or here!

See you in October!

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