Kersti Wissenbach on ‘civic tech as activism’ @Protest Media Ecologies

The 20th and 21st of April, Kersti will attend the Protest Media Ecologies: Communicative Affordances for Social Change in the Digital Era in Florence, Italy. She will give a presentation titled “Civic tech as activism: The role of transnational communities for data-driven governance”:

New modes of engagement with data and technology have emerged over the last half-decade, which go under the label of ‘civic technology’ (or ‘civic tech’). Individuals and groups take advantage of the availability of data and related software to directly engage and intervene in governance processes. An example is the community around the freedom of information request tool Alaveteli, which supports citizens willing to exert power over under-performing institutions in currently twenty-five countries.

At its core stands the potential of technologies and data at civil society’s disposal to better execute their civic role within the democratic realm. However, the civic tech scene spans from activist groups to international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) and the business start-up scene. Civic tech activism is characterised by the collective building, utilization, and localization of tools to enable direct and inclusive citizen engagement in the most diverse socio-political contexts. A community expanding through such collective engagement enables context-relevant tactics catering for local communication means and cultures that enable civic-driven calls for government accountability. This is particularly relevant in less democratic countries.

This presentation will discuss how the action repertoires and collective identity dynamics of civic tech activism can create significant different power dynamics for opening up civil society space than other actors utilizing data and technology for governance processes. It will compare the potentials of civic tech activism with INGOs using technology for short-term interventions and tech start-ups selling open data platform software to governments that might or might not use those platforms to share politically relevant information with their citizens.


About ‘Protest Media Ecologies’

Our investigation focused on activists media practices in the framework of anti­austerity movements
in three Southern European countries ­ Greece, Italy and Spain. With this workshop we aim at sharing the knowledge produced through our research with other scholars that focus on topics related to the use of media in the context of mobilizations. We want to engage with the research of people working in the same field, to learn about your projects and findings, and together create research synergies that will deepen our understanding and theoretical considerations of protest media ecologies in Europe and beyond.

This two­day workshop is organized in the framework of the research project Protest Media Ecologies: Communicative Affordances for Social Change in the Digital Era at Lakehead University (Canada) and Scuola Normale Superiore (Italy), funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Insight Development Grant.