Civic Tech: Fundamentals of Making Civil Society and Government Work in the Digital Space

Session for Youth Advocacy Academy on open culture and open data, and designing civil society projects in the digital space


Key Topics

On 28th February 2023, Sinar Project was a guest facilitator for this session for Malaysian Centre for Constitutionalism and Human Rights (MCCHR) Youth Advocacy Academy.

  • Increasingly more work around civil society involves working in the digital space, involving civic tech, open data, open data standards and collaborating in the open
  • Understanding of IPR law especially copyright and licensing is important because it's fundamental for open innovation, collaboration and sustainability
  • Capturing user stories is important step, to design projects and whether digital solutions are needed

Increasing role of civic tech and digital outputs for civil society work

As of 2021 95% of Malaysian households have access to the Internet and 89% for rural households. (ITU) Digital outreach and tools are therefore something that should be considered in the design of civil society projects, but also in terms of advocacy for provision of similar services by government, including enabling factors.

A frequently asked question related to Sinar Project work around legislative data is why, there are limited applications around access to and around the work of elected representatives. Developers need data to build such applications and when open data is not available, additional work such as scraping, crowdsourcing are needed just to get basic data. Our previous collaboration with civil society in Myanmar introduced concepts such as APIs, open data standards and how this availability leads to rapid development of such applications and websites.

Presentation on summary of open data, standards and platforms for open innovation was shared with participants

Open Innovation and Open Culture

Understanding of Intellectual Property Rights law especially copyright and licensing is important because it's fundamental for open innovation, collaboration and sustainability. Most civil society work now, will involve creation of digital content, from the initial proposals, to data, reports and media.

Basic knowledge around laws and practice around ownership and licensing are needed first, as they are the fundamental building blocks of open innovation. Participants were introduced to Open Culture and Open Content licensing. This was shared several years ago to another generation of youth activists under UndiMsia. Enabling factors and barriers for civic tech collaboration has been documented previously as Stories of Collaboration: Sinar Project x Local Partners with Code for All.

User Centred Design

Capturing user stories is an important step, when designing and planning projects and whether digital solutions are needed. A common challenge when integrating civic tech and digital components of a project is that, they are added as an afterthought with a laundry list of tech features, which may not address problems of target beneficiaries or applicable in the context of the projects.

Participants were introduced to the concept of capturing user stories, in non-technical language, and these requirements can be used to design solutions that address problems, for which a civic tech component may or not be needed, and if needed provide clear problems that a technical solution needs to address.

The following guided templates and real world examples from APNIC Foundation ISIF Grants programme and Sinar Project, can be helpful for participants designing projects and applying for their first grants.

An extensive detailed guide for implementing civic tech and digital projects has also been published with USAID, which covers in far greater detailed the steps from start to finish for civil society organizations.