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Prototypes addressing European civil society’s needs
In October 2019, the European Hub for Civic Engagement (EHCE) hosted a hackathon in Tallinn. The participants included civil society representatives, programmers, and designers. This diverse mix of professionals were able to come up with four prototypes for the EHCE’s digital platform, which will be presented at the EHCE’s Agenda Setting Conference in Berlin, 13 January 2020. The hackathon took place over two and a half days and was facilitated by the EHCE’s partner DATA4CHANGE. In the report that follows, the EHCE is happy to present the civic tech actor’s work from the hackathon.
Many issues for the European civil society were identified through the discussions between our participants in Lisbon and Gdansk, as well as by the commissioned report written by the strategic research center Pollytix. These issues were then grouped into four main challenges:
COMMUNITY – RESOURCES – IDEAS – FUNDING
To help mold the challenges into a workable form for the hackathon participants, the EHCE created ‘user stories’; examples of how one of the four challenges could directly affect a civil society organisation. At the hackathon, four groups of civic tech actors (each group corresponding with one of the main challenges) developed prototypes based on the curated user stories.
“We want to identify strategic partners so that we can forge stronger bonds with mission-aligned organisations to collaborate with.” (user story)
The community challenge highlights the lack of connection and collaboration within civil society across Europe. This shortcoming makes it difficult to exchange knowledge and build efficient networks that could unleash civil society’s potential to work on a European wide level. To support a European civil society that works cooperatively beyond borders, the EHCE aims to offer a digital space where networking and community building is not dependent on geographic and institutional hurdles.
PROTOTYPE: To enhance networking opportunities, the community challenge team developed a “bonfire” concept for the EHCE. Members will be able to follow digital bonfires on the platform that groups together topics of interest, civil society actors, and the locations of civil society projects and endeavours. The bonfires would also have interactive features, such as commenting and chatting capabilities. Considering the sensitivity of some civil society actors and their work, there would be the option to engage anonymously with the bonfires.
“We want to access curated resources that are important to the field we work in so that we can be up-to-date and informed” (user story)
Civil society actors often start at zero when working on a new topic or when establishing their organisation. The problem they want to address in society is identified and clear, yet the resources to make a meaningful impact are unattainable. However, these resources do exist. Whether the resource is know-how, technical skills, or other more experienced actors in the field, sharing of these resources can only strengthen both new and veteran civil society actors in Europe. A European civil society that is able to efficiently share and source validated resources, is one that can continue to grow and provide space for the multitude of diverse voices within Europe.
PROTOTYPE: To share and source information, a simple-to-use multilingual interface prototype was created that can provide quality resources to European civil society organisations. The prototype ensures that the legitimacy of resources will be guaranteed through feedback components, which could include fact-checking, defined guidelines, and certifications by experts. A further aspect would be to show in which context a resource has been helpful and in which not. The core part of the interface would involve a matchmaking option to find organisations that work on similar topics, or which could share relevant resources.
“We want to share our campaign/project that is a work in progress so that we can receive feedback and encourage others to contribute to it and/or help us to promote it.” (user story)
The path for an idea to become a developed project or campaign is long. In most cases it requires feedback, critique, and comments. Often, ideas fail because they simply did not have enough human interaction that could transform it into the next step. As a result, the EHCE wants to support the exchange of ideas within a safe, supportive and constructive framework. This will include the option to present an idea and to receive feedback for examining what is achievable and reasonable. Further, new partnership options will become visible and creativity will be enhanced.
PROTOTYPE: The ideas challenge team decided that ideas can be at different stages of their development. Taking this into account, they created two components of the prototype – one for idea “sparks”, which are ideas at a very early stage, and one for ideas which have already taken considerable steps to becoming a project. In both cases, initial questions would guide the EHCE user as they set-up a profile for their idea or project. After completing their profile, they then could interact with other users and receive ideas on how to develop their profile. The profiles will not be static; as the profile interacted with and applied more ideas, it would grow accordingly. In addition to these two spaces, there would be an option for members who would like to only give feedback and support. On a personalised notification page, a user could store all of their personal projects and sparks, feedback requests from other members, and discussion threads. Ultimately the idea would no longer be an idea, but an initiative or project and qualify for another section of the digital platform.
“We want to know which organisations are being funded by which donors so that we can have more transparency and understand where best to target our efforts.” (user story)
In many cases, how funding is awarded and distributed is unclear and difficult for less-experienced civil society actors. In countries with strong anti-democratic forces, public funding is cut and it can be a reputational risk to support critical civil society organisations. Nonetheless, even in democratic spaces that are welcoming of civil society, bureaucratic structures and demands of grantmakers limit engagement and impede creativity. For these reasons, the EHCE aims to democratise the funding process. It wants to enable funders and civil society actors to develop a common understanding of funding impact, priorities and methodology. The access to knowledge on application processes and funding opportunities, can support a wider array of European civil society actors.
PROTOTYPE: Regarding the EHCE’s wish to increase the chances of new and next-generation organisations to be funded, the funding challenge group developed a tool that would improve access to funding for its members and their ideas. Additionally, the ECHE funding prototype would be developed in a format that allows for the civil society actors to take a more active, instead of the traditional passive, role in the funding process. This active role will allow the users to better define the relevance of their project, the involved actors and locations as well as the overarching goals. The tool would also generate crucial outputs such as budget calculations or point out missing info within your proposal. It would also provide advice for each stage of the application process.
The Overarching Challenge: Matchmaking
One issue was central to all of the four challenges: matchmaking. During the hackathon, it became clear that all four challenges are interlinked through their need for increasing networking opportunities between the large array of civil society actors. A smart, digital platform can provide the opportunity for civil society actors to connect with the correct support, resource, funding, and people to thrive.
COMMUNITY can be built through matching civil society actors with similar interests.
RESOURCES can be shared and distributed between civil society actors, who match each other on the digital platform.
IDEAS can be critiqued, commented on, and worked on by people matched to the project from all over Europe.
FUNDING can be allocated and accessed by a larger, more diverse network, with the funding receivers playing a more active role, and through a digital landscape, the creation of funding matches that are transparent and better for all parties.
The four prototypes are centered around their networking and matchmaking capabilities. For each challenge the platform will offer possible intersection points for the challenges to be addressed and solved.
We will present the prototypes and our future vision for the European Hub for Civic Engagement at the Agenda Setting Conference on 13 January 2020. The event will concentrate on the identified common challenges of civil society actors and will demonstrate how civic tech approaches can address them. It will not only bring together civil society and civic tech, but also all other kinds of relevant actors, such as politicians, journalists and researchers, and through doing so, also form an offline version for that evening of what the EHCE aims to be. All interested people are invited to become part of the EHCE and join the journey in building a strong European civil society that works on the grounds of solidarity and collaboration.
© Marek Metslaid, 2019.