TechSoup Community Challenges
transparency & accountability through tech
For more than a decade, TechSoup's NetSquared program has brought together civil society and technologists to 'harness the web for the greater good' through online grand challenges and offline meetups.
Our Challenge model, initially run for global audiences with partners like USAID, Microsoft and Yahoo!, has evolved into a localized educational and community building process as we have grown into new countries, technology itself has become nearly ubiquitous, and local data have become more available...
This site shares some of how we have worked to motivate and engage citizens across Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans through processes designed to source, validate, refine, build and launch their best technology-based transparency and accountability related interventions.
our transparency and accountability challenges began with a simple question.
"The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment". Robert Maynard Hutchins
From mass street movements to small local initiatives, social technology offers us a unique opportunity to engage citizens in improving governance, transparency and accountability. Our Community Challenges methodology has been designed in partnership with a variety of government and foundation stakeholders, civil society and technologists to thrive in this reality - - democratizing social change dialog through social media while leveraging an empowering, accessible web-space where leaders can engage online communities in testing and refining the solutions and services they deem most relevant, important and useful.
More than 2,200 tech-driven transparency and accountability ideas have been proposed through our work, and nearly 200 apps built. Since 2010, hundreds of thousands of Romania, Czech, Slovak, Western Balkan, Turkish, Ukrainian and Georgian citizens have visited our websites to propose or vote for projects. Winning projects have gone on to influence public policy as their leaders engage thousands more, network, learn and develop new projects with their communities.
Goals and Objectives
Community Challenges convene activists, NGOs, journalists, programmers and others to learn-by-doing, network, identify and refine transparency and accountability related problems that could be solved through technology before joining a competition whose winners will be built, launched and mentored. Through a series of online and offline campaigns, meetings, trainings and a challenge we aim to:
Social media campaigns attract leaders and introduce their ideas to the online public as we convene partners and participants in offline camps and meetups, building connections within the community and hosting workshops on tech skills.
As ideas are presented, citizens are invited to help refine, co-create and test ideas. Through our process, citizens learn about the issues, debate solutions and vote on the projects they deem most relevant long before we get to building.
Once a set of ideas has been selected through online voting and jurying, local programmer communities are tapped to build apps through a series of code sprints. A short list of beta-version projects are voted on before we invest mentorship and funds into winning projects.
Steps in our process:
Case Study: Lost Money
Bani Pierduti (Lost Money): an example from Romania
One of the first Community Challenge finalists, Bani Pierduti offers citizens and local governments a suite of applications focused on increasing the transparency and accountability of local finances. Through Bani Pierduti, participatory budgeting, tax-tracking, freedom of information act request and citizen reporting applications are available in web, social media and mobile formats. The project has engaged thousands both online and off, been adopted by several local government offices in Romania, and won an Ashoka Young Entrepreneur Award in 2012. Over the last 5 years, Funky Citizens has become a platform for numerous citizen engagement apps which have begun shaping the face of civic engagement in Romania.
Community Challenges and Results
ReStart Education: 2012
'ReStart Edu' added un-conferences to the Community Challenge process as we worked with university students to define and develop applications which might increase transparency in their educational experience.
Things brought together Turkish youth to design and build community organizing tools to address and solve challenges they perceive. Winning projects included an ecommerce platform for traditional goods, a tool to dialog with local administrations and another for sharing information securely.
Apps4Warsaw launched our open-data engine, the world's first fully portable civic data machine, upon which developers built more than 70 public-service apps using realtime Warsaw city data.
The Apps4Warsaw engine and methodology are now being applied in Ukraine and will soon roll out across Europe.
During Boostr it became apparent that we needed to work with our communities on their data skills. DatAcademy provided hands-on training to dozens of trainers around the Balkans, spurring the development and launch of a range of election monitoring apps and contributing to the formation of a regional network.
Since 2015, TechSoup has worked with challenge winners from across the region to build a regional netowrk of civic tech leaders intent on learning from each other to propagate the best in tools, technologies and techniques from around the region.
Ilidza and Zenica have committed to answering citizen questions within 72 hours through an application called ‘Center 72.’ Unique in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Center 72, was designed for TechSoup’s www.communityboostr.org challenge and seeks to improve municipal management while strengthening the partnership between local authorities and citizens. Available on mobile phones or computers, Center 72 is based upon a contract between the municipality and a local NGO, creates a clear link between citizens and public servants -- encouraging more transparent and accountable public service delivery. Launched in Ilidza on October 25, 2013, citizens of the municipality have submitted 53 reports, all of which were answered. In March 2014, the Center 72 was deployed in Zenica and more than 50 requests for service followed in the first 15 days…
By the numbers...
Beta sites selected and built
Social media impressions
Visitors on Challenge sites
Citizens registered to comment or vote
Attendees of offline events
Programmers volunteering to build beta sites
because trust is built offline...
An increasingly important part of the Community Challenge process, Camps offer value in and of themselves. Since ReStart Edu in Romania we have convened numerous participant-driven events like TechCamp Sarajevo and Boostr Camp, each of which brought together participants from multiple countries across the region, international trainers and a variety of stakeholders from other sectors, to increase their knowledge about transparency and accountability tech while getting to know their peers. Read more about Boostr Camp.
we don't do this alone
A sample of our partners from Civil Society, the Private and Public Sectors...
A range of Embassies have engaged in Community Challenges as a part of their digital diplomacy efforts. American Ambassadors in particular have played a crucial role in the development of regional initiatives.
The C.S. Mott Foundation
Foundations like the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the National Endowment for Democracy and German Marshall Fund have partnered to support the Communities program costs incurred by both TechSoup and its local partners.
a word from some of the programmers who have volunteered over the years...
more than 100,000 programming hours have been donated to date
Data, Propagation and Cross-Sector Collaboration
Our Community Challenge process has reached and engaged citizens online and off, in a variety of cultural and technical geographies, in dialog about citizenship, rights an democracy, challenging them to design and lead their own tech-enabled solutions to the problems they deem most relevant.
Since we started, open government data has come and potentially gone as a powerful addition to the social tech space; spaces have increasingly closed and pure necessity for investment in reworking relations between citizens, activists and their governments has become apparent. Our oft-repeated mantra - 'tech is just a tool' - has also proven true. Social benefit apps sit in a funny space that falls somewhere between the sustainability-before-all civil society sphere and the multifarious, fast-to-market for-profit app development world. Apps are, understandably, often focused on solving short-term problems by young activists and programmers. Simultaneously, they are often similar to apps already designed by others struggling with similar issues.
Taking factors like these into account, we are increasingly focused on building cross-sector networks to strengthen and deepen our processes while creating suites of apps, built on common data-platforms, that can be quickly translated for launch and testing in new geographies.
As these app suites are localized, they help us understand where citizens will engage and identify gaps for more targeted design processes. If run in partnership with more analog, traditional stakeholders focused on structural change, these processes match the strengths of those who know how to change laws with the tech-savvy who implicitly understand web dynamics and, perhaps more importantly, rapidly build constituency through social media and may ultimately engage the polity in policy.