Civic Tech Seminar, Edinburgh

YEM UK was pleased to join our friends JEF Europe to host the first seminar of 2017, “Discovering Civic Tech” in Edinburgh! The 5-day event saw participants from all over Europe join local YEMers to discuss the pros and cons, challenges and future of technology and democracy in Europe. As part of a series of five international seminars co-hosted by JEF throughout the year, we were pleased to kick things off on home turf… and prove it’s not all bad news here in Brexit Britain!

With the help of our Edinburgh branch, we have been planning and organising for the arrival of our 35 guests since November last year. JEF Europe were then able to arrange for experts, trainers and speakers to attend and help our participants question what civic tech can do for them

During the event, we heard from a number of people who helped us to develop our ideas and encouraged us to connect with participants of different backgrounds and share our experiences. Together, we all tried our hand at online voting systems, using websites and apps to decide on the strengths and weaknesses of civic tech itself, as well as hearing from representatives of JEF and ECAS about how they have incorporated technology into their organisations and the European project in general.

A constant theme of discussion as the strengths and weaknesses of civic tech. Brexit and Trump were popular topics, with arguments such as misinformation and “post-truth news” coming under heavy criticism. Similarly, internet trolls, media monopolies, invasions of privacy and extremism were identified as downfalls of
the civic tech era, but were also countered with points such as the internet’s ability to facilitate free speech, provide connectivity for interest groups and facilitating political education. Rather than deciding that civic tech was either “good” or “bad”, the group agreed that there were both merits and caveats and that it is important to address both when using civic tech within our organisations.

To put everything we had learned to good use, we then produced sample ideas for applications to host civic tech-based project. In our groups, we produced a diverse range of ideas, from a concept similar to our Europe@Schools initiative to a Tinder-like app to match British citizens with EU spouses to secure passports post-Brexit!

The seminar ended with a European bar crawl and the promise of many more civic-tech programmes encompassing what we’d learned. We have now bid farewell to all our international participants and look forward to seeing them again at the next civic tech seminar in Oslo!

Stay tuned to YEM UK’s social media and newsletter to find out about more international seminars an opportunities… see you soon, somewhere in Europe!