Growing through Convening: The blossoming of the annual CTIF
As we are on the verge of the 3rd annual Civic Tech Innovation Forum, we thought it would be worthwhile to reflect on what the last convening achieved and how the fora relate to building up our civic tech community
By Geci Karuri-Sebina
In November 2018, the Civic Tech Innovation Network (CTIN) held its second convening of the civic tech community — an activity now honourably dubbed the annual Civic Tech Innovation Forum (CTIF).
The 2018 second CTIF was a major growth spurt from the small initial gathering of 30 peers in 2017, scaling up to over 120 practitioners and stakeholders who came together at the Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct a year later.
The 2018 event targeted all people and communities working on building relationships between government and citizens, and who were interested in how new technologies could enable better services, communication and accountability. What CTIN sought to achieve with this forum was to foster connection and interaction among these parties, enabling an exchange of ideas and community building. Given the relatively new or emerging status of the civic tech space in SA, the idea was also to contribute to mutual capacity building, learning from each other and from various experts within the constraints of the two-day format.
This was all well achieved through a diverse and interactive programme. In addition to the engagements between the participants who responded to the call to share and learn. An international panel of speakers was invited to speak to the forum on the broad question “Is civic tech really making an impact in improving governance, accountability and services?”.
The contributions made foregrounded both the impact and potential of civic tech to underpin more active, democratic and effective societies in the developing world, as well as recognising the limitations of a “just-tech” approach. The rich experiences and insights contributed were cited from all around the world including around Africa, Asia, the US and Latin America primarily.
Additional sessions included an interactive World Café showcasing and explaining some of the cutting edge civic tech projects on the go (including Amandla.mobi, OpenUp, SCODA, MuniMoney, Grassroots wire, Gov.za, etc.), as well as sharing sessions framed in terms such as “What is… and how can we use it?” where people gave short knowledge-sharing session on topics ranging from digital activism to advances in data science and blockchain, and “What we’ve learnt…” where people shared programmatic experiences in civic tech and community building.
Perhaps the most exciting session (well, at least for the organisers!) was ultimately the generative session titled “Designing Next” where the forum participants were guided through a process using design-thinking techniques to consider what civic tech could do for/in South Africa’s development, and also what CTIN could do to support the civic tech community itself. Therefore, thinking through both the clarity on the ends and enablement of the means of the growing Community of Practice.
In summary, the shared process determined that civic tech is crucial to SA’s future development, and CTIN is a potentially important community resource. However, we need to:
· Build capacity within the community and its users — e.g. through training, skills transfer, and internships;
· Strengthen networking by organising additional meetings and activities in between the Forums — e.g. regional meetings, hackathons, and informal sessions;
· But also extending the network to be more open and inclusive through outreach beyond the metros and current constituency– e.g. students, decision-makers;
· Foster collaboration between synergistic actors — e.g. by providing digital or physical space for collaboration, facilitating opportunities, research exchanges, etc.;
· Share knowledge and resources — e.g. on who is doing (civic tech database), best / new practices, case studies, etc.;
· Share opportunities like Jobs, Internships, Funding;
· Develop support instruments and mechanisms such as for expert advice/consultancy, and pro bono tech advice and services; and
· Build up the CTIN brand so that there are wider recognition and understanding of what CTIN is trying to do.
CTIN has continued to work, with funding support from Omidyar (now Luminate) and Wits University, to begin responding to some of these recommendations. The 2019 CTIF forum will be an important opportunity to take stock of how we are evolving in response to these ideas, and also how the context and needs might be continuing to change over time.
See you on 31 October 2019 for the 3rd CTIF where we will continue to grow through convening!