Technology to connect people
By Martin Malcolm,
I have always been interested in how digital shapes our lives, and how we in turn shape the digital world. Not simply social media, but the often very mundane or functional digital ‘tweaks’ to public processes and systems that can have significant consequences for the accessibility and adoption of services, and the ability of citizens to better hold their representatives and institutions to account. I wanted to understand more, because every day I saw how digital would shape our lives in ways we could not yet even conceive of.
"The experience was energising and intellectually fascinating. Being given the time and freedom to immerse myself was educational and valuable in a way completely different to my previous experiences with academic research or squeezed work schedules. It was a transformative experience."
In 2015, I was honoured to receive a Churchill Fellowship to find out more about novel approaches to online engagement in Australia and New Zealand, where I had been in contact with groups trialling different and innovative services.
The experience was energising and intellectually fascinating. Being given the time and freedom to immerse myself was educational and valuable in a way completely different to my previous experiences with academic research or squeezed work schedules. It was a transformative experience.
Returning to work at mySociety, I was able to maximise the benefits of my Fellowship, and amplify what I had learned to influence a more thoughtful and accessible approach. I carved out a full and rich programme of work in digital democracy development, advocacy and adoption that spanned seven years, multiple countries, and attracted commissions from the United Nations to work with governments and parliaments in developing nations.
Wanting to share evidence of impact, I founded an annual global conference (TICTeC), and built a global network of academics, developers and policy-makers. This conference was the first of its kind which focused on real world impacts of civic technology. Stefaan Verhulst, a professor at New York University, noted that: “TICTeC is a crucial milestone in the development of civic tech and open government, because it takes stock of what we know, what works, and how.”
I used the transferable skills I had developed, the contacts I had made and the prestige that came with the Churchill Fellowship, to build my personal interests in other areas, including the underlying technologies supporting digital tools and platforms, and the regulation of technologies that have substantial influence over how political and civic information is disseminated.
These interests have evolved as I have become more aware of where in our digital infrastructure real impacts derive from, and where I might personally be able to have greater impact on the development of accessible and responsible digital. This led me into the field of Open Source Software (software that is freely available for the user to modify) development and stewardship, an area that has historically been undervalued and under researched, but is one of the biggest influences on how our digital world is shaped.
In 2021, I joined the Rust Foundation as CEO, and am now able to work with the biggest tech organisations in the world to secure and sustain global digital infrastructure, and to work towards broadening participation in developing the digital building blocks of our shared online spaces. I was also invited to join the board of OpenUK, an organisation that’s purpose is UK leadership and international collaboration in Open Technology, to promote talent and achievement, and to join the Advertising Standards Authority’s Council, where I have a fascinating role in helping to shape how advertising is regulated in a fast-evolving digital landscape.
"I was delighted to be able to give something back this year as a member of the Tech for All panel, interviewing candidates applying for a Fellowship, and felt privileged that I and my fellow panellists were able to support the next cohort of talented and inspiring leaders. I cannot wait to see how this year’s Fellows develop, grow and lead, as a result of this wonderful experience."
Much of my ability to catalyse change over the past eight years began with my Churchill Fellowship. Even though it was difficult to articulate exactly what impact I would have when I applied for the Fellowship, the selection committee saw the potential not only of my project, but the potential within me to become a leader in this field.
I was delighted to be able to give something back this year as a member of the Tech for All panel, interviewing candidates applying for a Fellowship, and felt privileged that I and my fellow panellists were able to support the next cohort of talented and inspiring leaders. I cannot wait to see how this year’s Fellows develop, grow and lead, as a result of this wonderful experience.
The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.
By Martin Malcolm,
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