How We Mash Up g0vLondon

Yun Chen
10 min readJan 16, 2023

Target audience: civic tech communities

In the rains in London, we set up a sandwich board outside of Newspeak House, not knowing how many people would come. After all, this was the debut of g0v.london. No one knew what it was and how it would go. Not to mention, few knew how to pronounce g0v, which is pronounced as “gov-zero” as the o in the word “government” is substituted by the number 0.

Hope it looked cool? Photo: ael

A mother stopped by reading the sign with her ~9 year old daughter on the bike.

“Hi, welcome to g0v.london civic hacknight!” I approached her, “We are here to use technology to…”

“Hack democracy! I saw that,” she pointed to the board, “But how?”

“By everyone like you and me trying to build something together? Or even with her!” I smiled at her daughter and tried to give a civic tech example related to education, ”Maybe she can design a London walking tour in Minecraft or with AR for history class? Or perhaps she is already doing it?”

“Oh, I am studying extended reality,” the mother said, “That is exactly what I want to try but not knowing many people to talk about it!”

“Now you know where to find them,” I got the mother’s email and gave her g0v.london event link before they headed somewhere else. Saying goodbyes, I kept down and gave the little girl a g0v logo sticker.

“What is ‘nobody’?” the quiet girl suddenly asked. @Nobody is the embroidery on the side of my g0v cap.

“Clever girl!” I turned over my cap, “It is from g0v’s motto — Ask not why nobody is doing this, you are the ‘nobody’! Why is nobody making history class like a cool game? You are the ‘NOBODY’ to make one!”

“What do you think?” I handed her one more Nobody sticker.

“I like it,” she took the Nobody sticker and pasted it on her jumper, “Look, I am a NOBODY.”

Here are the stickers in every g0v event~ Photo by ael

That was how we attracted at least a comedian, punk artists, a bio-statistician, and an accountant from the street to come in along with developers, designers, journalists and public servants from civic tech networks on the first ever g0vLondon civic hacknight.

Theo is doing Civic Tech 101 breakout session. That is the cool g0v cap :P Photo by ael

That was in October 2022. By 10 January 2023, we have hosted 5 g0v.london civic hacknights with 20–30+ participants each time. There are some projects kicking off and more hacknights to come on Tuesdays, bi-weekly or weekly, depending on our capacity.

Photo by ael

3 months ago, I only planned to share g0v community stories to London in the week of g0v’s 10th anniversary to clarify international misconception that

g0v (a grassroots community from Taiwan)
= vTaiwan (a deliberation process hosted by Taiwanese government and g0v community)
= pol.is (a digital tool developed by an American startup/NGO).

The truth is, as a 6 years+ active g0v contributor, what I value about g0v is its open source, civic tech, participatory, and trying-to-be-decentralized community, larger than just a tool or a consultation process.

http://g0v.tw/en-US/about.html

But…

“People can’t learn new ways of participating through listening to a talk. People have to experience it,” argued by patcon, a good old friend from Canada participating in g0v and Civic Tech Toronto.

patcon was right, so it turned into organising a hacknight, an event format that Civic Tech Toronto has hosted for years and he has been one of the active organizers. On the other hand, I also wanted to curate the g0v hackathon and meetup experiecne I have been organising for years in Asia.

“Please, patcon,” I begged him, “I don’t want to make this into a community. There will be so much work. Just a talk. That is all.”

However, at the end of the day, two people living up to decentralized community spirits couldn’t do anything without building a community. For instance, patcon immediately bought the domain, g0v.london, while we were having the conversation.

Therefore, we stepped into the ongoing journey to merge what I insist in the name of g0v and what he insists on forming the magic Civic Tech Toronto has created over the years. Coming from two cultures sharing open source and civic spirits, we are so similar yet so different. And here we are attempting to cultivate g0v.london civic tech community together in London, with its own traditions.

How to start? We underestimated the heavy communication it would take to start something new. We were so used to hosting events in our own cities with light maintenance. It would be easy once there was a community. But there wasn’t yet.

I wanted to keep it light and as open as possible while patcon wanted to carefully curate the debut to set up the stage of g0v.london as a series of events and a community. My openness was more into no titles, no boundary and clear open source license while his openness leaned more on delegated power rotation, following the formats and being inclusive. I felt like I needed to explicitly state the values of g0v’s manifesto while he wanted people to learn from practices without being lectured.

“It is interesting to see how you and patcon debate, no, disagree with each other. You two are always trying to understand why the other thinks that way and then contend yours,” Ruth said. I asked Ruth to be the tie-breaker as patcon and I sometimes respected each other too much and couldn’t make any decisions to push it forward. There was one point that patcon was frustrated about why I couldn’t just let him do it entirely in Civic Tech Toronto’s way. He knew the recipe to throw a good hacknight.

“Would you intervene with anyone else throwing events in the name of g0v outside of Taiwan?” patcon asked.

“No, but we are using the name of g0v,” I insisted, “With my name and participation here in London.” I insisted on details such as I couldn’t introduce the g0v community as the only speaker of the night. I didn’t want to use the word “organisers” in the first place. Since I couldn’t represent the g0v community, I wanted to have more than two speakers on g0v introduction, which oppressed the time for participants to do real work in his opinion.

“Why can’t we just say this is a mash-up? It is neither going to be Civic Tech Toronto nor g0v.tw. It would be g0v.london,” I said after hours of overwhelming discussion, “And then iterate it.”

“We have solid common grounds in terms of community participation, open by default and documentation etc., so we have the luxury to go deep into these detailed arguments,” I reminded us, “We both want to build an open space and a community where people believe they can make a difference and take actions right here right now — just do something hands-on!”

“A space where you can try everything and it is okay if something doesn’t work out,” patcon added.

“A space that is fun to work with others,” I said.

“A space that is diverse, inclusive and accessible for anyone to participate,” he said.

“Sounds like we are on the same page!” I said, “Show me the welcome deck you used in Civic Tech Toronto. I actually still have no idea what is the ideal rundown for you.” We dug out all the community event organising documents we had used and explained why and how things worked in our experience.

I still feel stupid to spend so much time arguing on values and formats while we naturally engaged participants in hacknights and haven’t worked hard enough on the outreach to local communities. Nevertheless, I appreciated patcon’s efforts on accessibility and non-tech-centred approach; he appreciated my efforts on pulling strangers in from the street and engaging people on site.

I am not satisfied with the openness we are collaborating right now, but I know it is a process that we need to develop with the community here. We invited participants on site to help out something even before the event officially started it, for instance, buying pizzas and introducing g0v stickers at the greeting table.

Photo credit: Ruth

We had great vibes at the pilot events. Many came in without knowing what would happen, including someone just walked by the venue. More people came on the stage to pitch their ideas of breakout sessions. People were excited. We had one crazy mapping night, including a treasure map with a skeleton on paper and an accessibility map of bars. We also have contributors mapping the activities of over 600 civic tech communities in Britain and data regarding to immigrant arrests etc.

The inspiration and actions have been local and global at the same time. For example, international visitors brought in various practices in energy crisis and proportional representation on electroral system.

A group of data enthusiastists mapping public data and stories on immigrant issues in the UK.

patcon said it meant a lot to him to see the London special edition of g0v stickers as he had advocated g0v for years in North America.

“What is the difference this time?” I asked.

“We have two people to form a culture?” he said.

“I guess so. We can create open collaboration through interactions,” I said, “As you said, participation can’t be learned from lectures although I am not happy with the openness we are running now. But I guess it is different when starting a community.”

We just started it as two foreigners and still don’t know if the community momentum can be strong enough to become a weekly event in 2023. There are no long-term projects yet, but at least we are trying. I know I probably should have first written on what happened in g0v.london Civic Hacknight to attract more contributors — the vibes, the projects, and the amazing people there. Nevertheless, I am documenting the dialogue first for myself. It is difficult but inspiring to have such a dialogue with an old friend and I want to invite you to join this evolving, organic dialogue on community, openness, participation and more.

g0vLondon speciel edition stickers!! Designed by @hr.sp

“If you feel Civic Tech Toronto is so unique, what do you see in common with g0v?” I asked patcon after two hacknights and another two to come at the end of 2022.

“Documentations?” he answered, “And of course trying to get off the power?”

“Oh yeah,” I said, “We should put all these on HackMD. Gosh, we haven’t really got people to take collaborative notes yet.”

It is unforgivable for me not taking collaborative notes as that was how patcon and I started to work together — being the only two in an event to type out the notes in the corner.

True, quiet hacking by Ruth and JamCat. Photo by ael

👉 RSVP to g0vLondon’s next event: (We need every kind of people!)

👉 Follow @g0vLondon on Twitter

👉 Join g0vLondon discussion on Slack:

  • https://link.g0v.london/chat
  • Go to #london-hacknight channel in g0v’s Slack.
  • Don’t panic if you see some conversations not in English.
  • Or just ask how to go to #london-hacknight in #general channel. You are very welcomed to ask questions in English in any channels, such as #self-intro channel.

👉 Participate from g0vLondon collaborative notes:

👉 Watch speakers sharing in g0vLondon civic hacknight:

🤠 h/t to everyone jumping into co-organising and contributing:

Special thanks to Ed, Ruth, Theo, Hannah, Pipi/Ella, Harris, Shuyang, Matthew, Clément and more for taking active organising roles. And so many thanks to even more contributors who just naturally vonlunteered to buy drinks or clean up the venue.

(The co-organiser list was last updated at the end of 2022)

Please contact hi@g0v.london if you want to join co-organising.

👉 Come early to the next g0vLondon civic hacknight to draw your version of the sandwitch board on the street!

We invite different contributor to draw the sandwitch board in every g0vLondon civic hacknight.

P.S. The article was drafted in December, 2022. The co-organising dynamic has changed (as we wished). We have more committed co-organisers to discuss and run g0vLondon civic hacknights on the regular basis throughout 2023. The next note on co-organising will definitely be a group discussion beyond a two person dialougue.

Peter’s sharing on g0v community. Photo by ael.

g0v Manifesto in short:

  • We come from everywhere.
  • We are a polycentric community of self-organized contributors.
  • We are citizens collaborating to bring about change.
  • We live open-source.
  • We have fun and want to change the status quo.
  • We are you.

--

--

Yun Chen

Nobody in g0v.tw, PM of disfactory.tw. Caring #civictech #opengov #socialdesign. Now researching on Internet and open democracy.