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CIVIC TECHNOLOGY MANIFESTO

A call to action from Barcelona

#civictechbcn

@CivicTech_BCN

Why a Civic Tech manifesto?

From city services to critical infrastructures, professional interactions to our most intimate social relations, our lives have become digitalised. Keeping up with the news feels like reading science fiction. At times, our cybernetic scenario even seems to outpace the dystopias we see on shows like Westworld or Black Mirror. As a result, new questions regarding the impact of algorithms, digital platforms, artificial intelligence, surveillance and security have taken center stage in both our public debates and our private concerns.

This has led to an increased demand for transparency and accountability in data processes, and an awareness of the need for alternatives. In Europe and around the world, citizens, civil society organisations and even corporations are pressuring institutions to subject data-intensive technologies to democratic accountability and building more responsible ways of doing tech. The most ambitious of these policies so far is the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which goes into force today. By restricting data sharing and emphasising ethical principles of data minimisation, purpose limitation, privacy by design and informed consent, GDPR constitutes a major step forward in prioritising digital rights, the interests of citizens and moving towards better accountability and better technology.

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From Barcelona and Europe, we want to build on the momentum created by GDPR and increased public awareness of privacy, digital rights and technological bias to put forward a new way of doing tech that is based on the principles of accountability, trust, transparency, privacy and social cohesion.

Civic Tech or No Tech

Current definitions of civic tech focus primarily on the ability of information and communications technologies to improve public-private governance or e-government by facilitating more horizontal, egalitarian participation in public affairs.

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Digital technologies can also provide mechanisms of transparency by making government actions, expenses or relations with private companies easily accessible to the public online. We support this understanding of civic tech and believe it has contributed to creating alternative narratives and practices. However, we also believe that the challenges we are currently facing demand that all tech adheres to civic principles. Civic values must be integrated into a broad range of aspects, from the design and implementation of new technologies to their public uses and applications. With this manifesto, we outline a holistic vision for orienting the digital field around sustainable social and democratic processes

The development of new technologies and technological processes must be oriented by collective interests. Our privacy, security, rights and freedoms must be its top priorities.

A shared vision

Principles and mechanisms shaping alternative and sustainable models of technology-based society need to be explored and defined. We want to promote this process and contribute to setting new standards that lead to increased trust between those defining, developing and implementing technology and those using them.

We believe that by providing a visible platform and promoting a civic tech ecosystem for all those committed to building better technologies, for those helping us understand how technology and data processes are impacting on our societies, and for those who strive to open the black-box society,[1] we can give shape to a new approach to technology, innovation and data. By collectively establishing a clear set of principles and values to be embedded in technological processes and adopted by technology actors, we can begin to provide clear references to address the crucial question: what does it mean to do it well?

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With this manifesto we want to call on all individuals and organisations sharing our concern for current technological dynamics to join us in promoting a secure, rights and values-based approach to technology.

Our plans: Barcelona Civic Tech House

We are surrounded by people who want to do things well. Engineers, mathematicians and physicists who understand that ethics, privacy and an understanding of the legal and social impact of their developments is crucial to building better tech -and are doing so.

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Social scientists committed to using their knowledge and tools to grasp how technological processes are impacting in our societies and mitigating negative externalities. Non-profits that fight for digital rights day in and day out. Companies, large and small, that are seeking ways to build trust with their partners and citizens by improving their data practices. Funders who want to put their resources where their mouth is and contribute to this endeavor. We want to get them all together.

We have secured a great historical space in at the heart of the technology community in Barcelona, just footsteps from the sea. We will open our doors in October 2018 with 1,000 square meters of civic tech space that we can expand as we grow.We want to bring all these actors together, virtually and physically, to provide visibility to the narratives and practices that are emerging. We want to open up the tech agenda by co-creating socially desirable futures andfostering positive impact. 

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Are you Civic Tech?

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You can be an individual, a start-up, an established company or a research organization. What will determine your role in the community is a series of elements that relate to your intentions but also (and crucially!) to your practices. You may or may not be developing tech products, but if you do, they will need to adhere to a set of practices related to your mission, values, product and impact.

Mission Values Product Impact
Address UN Goals Transparency and accountability Problem-led Explicit, measurable and measured regularly
Promote research and action on the interaction between data and society Good for workers and diversity Privacy-enhancing, accountable data processes and mitigation of algorithmic bias End-user involvement
Long-term planning Sustainable and secure Risk and impact assessment (ethical, societal, security and algorithmic aspects)
Legal compliance Open source
Social return GDPR-compliant

If this sounds good but you’re not there yet, we can help! Changing our digital future will not happen overnight and defining the standards and practices that are needed will take time. Sometimes new social consensuses will need to emerge, and the ones already in place may change over time. Many will find themselves at different points in the ‘civic tech’ scale. This is fine and part of the process we’re kickstarting

Join us!

Would you like to join us physically at the Civic Tech Hub? Let us know!

Would you like to join us virtually providing expertise, ideas and practices? Great!

Can you support us financially? Let us know or donate here

Contact Us

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