I had the pleasure to speak with my Civic Tech Sister Yulia Razmetaeva from East Ukraine as part of a Civic Tech Series. Yulia is the head of the new Center for Law, Ethics and Digital Technologies in Kharkiv.
Yulia Razmetaeva: Hello! The project The Future of the Digital World, launched by the Center for Law, Ethics and Digital Technologies at Yaroslav Mudryi National Law University, is on air! I’m Yulia Razmetaeva, and today’s talk is dedicated to the topic of civic tech. Our guest, Clarisse Schroeder, works in the public sector, specializing in digital transformation. She is also a board member of OffeneKommunen.NRW, a non-profit organization promoting Open Government in North Rhine-Westphalia. Clarisse, I give you the floor!
Clarisse Schroeder: I believe that digitization, especially in the public sector, has no future if we don’t include Civic Tech. IT and all that goes with it – the transformation in our processes, but also in our culture, in our way to communicate – brings such a deep change to society that we cannot leave this topic to specialists alone. We need specialists in all different areas of information technology, but we also need dilettantes! A dilettantic view on these innovative topics is so necessary because we don’t want anybody to be left behind. So who is in a better position to design solutions than the civic society?
The big challenge is to integrate this huge potential of civic tech. What factors make the common good of IT work for everybody?
How could we involve dilettantes in civic tech?
By reducing the barriers to entry. For example, I am a digital migrant, I had my first computer when I was 23. My personal story went how things should work: everybody should be able to participate, that is: find open information, open data, open specification of our IT systems and infrastructure, but also be able to co-create and co-design.
And that is not just that the government calls: “We have a problem. Which start-up can give us the best solution?” It is that the civic society says: “We have a problem, we find a solution, and we develop problem and solution in an agile way together.”
So most civic tech projects were initiated by the civic society?
At least from what I know. There is funding. There are also governmental projects that promote civic tech. For example the project where we got to know each other. But the actual topics that are dealt with are really something that is just in the air, perhaps low-hanging fruits because there is data on specific topics, so it is relatively easy to create solutions based upon this data or other technical factors.
What is the biggest advantage of Civic Tech Projects?
The biggest advantage is that everybody can participate by consuming and using without barriers such as pay walls. In civic tech, everybody can bring in their needs and requirements for the further development of the solutions and the whole ecosystem. Civic tech is a means to fight the digital divide.
The digital divide is a big problem. I see some new forms of digital divide, for instance the gender gap. We call it the gender digital gap. One last question: how do you see the future of civic tech?
What makes me optimistic is that open source is on the rise. I regularly get press releases of entire administrations implementing open source. Open source means involving the civic society. Also, civic tech is well organized. We have very good structures. We find the time necessary, even though most of us work full-time and have other challenges in their lives. We are talking about a lot of time spent voluntarily without any remuneration involved. But since the cause is so rewarding, more and more very talented people of all ages and colors join civic tech. Civic tech is more than one movement. It is a whole range – some are more into open data, others are into radios, or journalism, and so forth. The network of civic tech is very strong and international, we help each other, that makes me optimistic.
I couldn’t agree more, one example being our Civic Tech Sisters network.
Absolutely. Yulia and I, we are part of the Civic Tech Sisters. Our goal is to empower women entering the field of civic tech. And of course we are not restricted to women but anybody interested in entering civic tech or with a specific question. We are a network and we are there for everybody who wants to join.
This gives us hope for our future with technology.