1. The mySociety Call for Proposals: The winner and runners up

    mySociety is pleased to announce the winner of our 2006 call for proposals, plus our thoughts on the best runners up, and various other lessons.

    Winner

    Our winner, and the next major site we are planning to build is the Freedom of Information Filer and Archive; a searchable, readable, googlable user-created archive of FOI requests and their responses. Think of a combined TheyWorkForYou and WriteToThem.com for FOI requests and their responses, and you’ll have our vision.

    This idea was actually submitted twice, once by Phil Rodgers and once by Francis Irving (a mySociety coder).

    We believe the idea is especially powerful in a form extended somewhat beyond that submitted. We think that the best way to build a top quality archive is to simultaniously build the best possible “File an FOI request” tool, and then publish both the requests and the responses made through it in the archive. From the private desire to easily file FOI requests we hope that we can generate the public benefit of an easy to use archive.

    We asked our community of users and friends to list their top three projects, and the FOIFA was named more often than any other single project as the winner: 9 out of a total of 22 people who left a comment expressing their preferences. The core team, core volunteers and trustees agreed with the users, and so we have a winner.

    Logistics

    mySociety will start building the system in early 2007. We will try to fund it in two ways. First, we will approach donors, most probably foundations, to see if they are interested in supporting it. Secondly, we will see if we can set aside some surplus from contract work, such as branded versions of the other sites. And lastly, we’ll work with any volunteers who are willing to dig in.

    Our initial estimate is that the site will take 120 full time developer days to design, build and launch to beta, for a total cost of about £25,000 including servers, management time, gathering of contact details, buying of sweets, motivational calendars and so on. The cost of running it thereafter are hard to gauge at this point, and will depend on usage patterns and the final spec we settle on.

    In the run up to building and launching it we’ll gladly talk to anyone who wants to be involved, including public sector agencies who we hope might use this system to publish responses to requests made via other channels.

    Runner Ups

    In no particular order, these are some of the other ideas that had some legs. We’re putting them here to suggest to the world that there might be something well worth exploring here.

    1. A to B travel, by Murray, is a sort of collaborative journey planner, where people share information on journeys that they’ve made. Unfortunately, too much of this site is already done by the big and expensively run government site Transportdirect.info , but it has nice ideas that are worth someone doing. In particular the idea of local knowledge and general comments on different journeys is an excellent, and Seat61.com shows that there is some considerable appetite for journeys explained in a human form. Often I don’t want the fastest journey from A to B, I might want the best view, or the most pleasant form of transport, or the one that can be broken somewhere notable.

    We’ve also come up with a feature that this site could add. It is the idea of registering to express an interest not in a specific journey, but in a general journey: “I go from Manchester to London a few times a year, and I might want to share a car in future”.

    2. Get Out! by Mary Reid. This proposal was about building a site that would contain a user build database of places to go in the UK that would contain something nice and easy to do if you had an hour or two to spare and wanted to get out of the house.

    We’ve felt for a while that there is a great problem with knowledge of local activities being hopelessly fractured across the UK Internet, spread across a million different sites and so worth much less than the sum of its parts. A site that could become a reference place to store interesting things to see, and a reference place to find them could be excellent indeed. Maybe a rebuild and extension of our little back o’ the envelope site YourHistoryHere.com?

    3. Write To Your Newspaper by Francis Irving (again)

    This proposal was about a site that makes it much easier to write to local newspapers. It is undoubtedly a good thing, but it simply didn’t beat the FOI archive because we felt the demand and public benefit just wasn’t as great as for FOIFA. One of mySociety’s volunteers has actually already written some code in this area, and we certainly think it should go further.

    4. TheyWantToWorkForYou by Seb Bacon – a site where people could find out prospective politicians rather than current ones was voted for by a few people. We think it would be a good idea for such a system to exist, but the scale problem is enormous. With 20,000 current councillors, just imagine how many candidates there are at each election, and the massive problem of trying to get them to give structured views. What is missing here really is a strong motivation for candidates to go to a certain site and enter info themselves – it just doesn’t exist, and probably couldn’t without the major backing of someone like a big newspaper,or the BBC. NB, we also feel strongly that such a site would have to be permanent, and not just run at elections.

    Lessons Learned from Running the Call

    Just some thoughts about the process, really here for anyone else who might be planning to run a call like this and who stumbles across us via Google.

    1. First time round, in 2003, the call for proposals got 250+ proposals, whereas this time it had more like 100, even though mySociety has moved from completely unknown to somewhat better known. Clearly despite BBC and Guardian coverage, we did something not as well this time. This might simply have not been hammering every list and person we could with personally crafted emails, or it could have just been blind chance.

    2. We should have determined and published the judging process before the call for proposals was put out. Nobody seems to have been especially upset by our drawn out and ill-planned selection process, but it would have meant we would have made our decision much more quickly.

    3. We should have set a timetable for all parts of the process.

    4. We should have made some sort of web based voting gadget to engage people slightly more with the deciding process (despite knowing that online voting is mostly bunk, of course).

    5. We could have made a shortlist and then asked the authors to do more work in polishing up their ideas.

    If you’ve any further questions about the call for proposals, or the Freedom of Information Filer and Archive get in touch with us at hello@mysociety.org

  2. a to b route planning for indian railways

    Author: Michael Evans

    What NEED does this meet?

    need for travellers and citizens in rapidly deveoping economy to get best use from transport system.

    What is the APPROACH?

    current railway website is indexed by train number and difficult to navigate. A route based service has a distinct benefit.

    What are the BENEFITS to people?

    far quicker determination of journeys. better resource for businesses.

    What is the COMPETITION?

    depends on upgrade to india railways website.

    What BUDGETS & LOGISTICS are required?

    quite straightforward to applying a route planning system. network appears limited and data is clearly scrappable.

  3. ILLEGAL OPERATION of SYSTEM

    Author: Julie Shrive

    What NEED does this meet?

    THE WHOLE COUNTRY

    relates to trying to contact you and e mails coming back when the fax your MP is being illegally maladministrated by PAs MPs with no DISCRETION

    What is the APPROACH?

    What can be done about PAs to MPs ignoring DISCRETION or NOT directing
    > to MP what he should be dealing with. or them deferring They are
    > illegally maladministrating like everyone else since derregulation-
    > Thatcher – and IT and is Civil liberties abuse NO DISCRETION .

    How about getting a petition together for PM from all l those whose MPs are
    > doing this and find lawyers operating same system. But you will need to
    > monitor otherwise it will never get there!!!
    The BNP doesn’t need to get in it is here.Why are the least able in society – cheapeat labour running it unmonitored like robots[ reading off computers] directed by the corporate solely ?
    >

    >

    What are the BENEFITS to people?

    ALL society is taking its lead using consumer based approach using the dreaded CALL CENTRE on corporate remits buying in the unqualified professionals on CONTRACT who have not taken oaths of discretion so defer . When lawyers , politicians & jDoctors do this it causes human rights abuse access & provision fair trial
    .It is not current research practice to rely totally on dubious statistics complied by the unqualified ethically .

    What is the COMPETITION?

    It is not economic to have Call centres that do not address Discretion as those who need it do not go away.NB Charities & all regulatory organisations operating same system

    What BUDGETS & LOGISTICS are required?

    Could be done initially via your website You could ask MPs, Lords MEPs to join & promote starting with LAs / PCT/SHA Bring back system before Thatcher where the public had direct contact & those in charge accountable . Those full time should not be just the corporate ??!!

  4. London Sport Program

    Author: Jitka

    What NEED does this meet?

    This is a program which would make recreational sport in London easies and people would be more informed what is going on in their area or in discipline they are into. By simply putting in your post code, or sport discipline, date or ability, you find out where is your nearest sport facility, sport shop, bike shop, or just something happening etc.. People be also able to post their experiences with different stuff to do with leisure in London. This website should be as friendly to use as possible. You can find many websites which deal with different types of sport but would be good to have something simple and friendly to use. Also finding people doing the same thing in the same area, would be great. There is for example the Friday Night Skate, which is well organized, so everybody knows about it. There are other things which people don’t know about or just simply find partner to go rollerblade, run or cycle on a particular day. Information on the www would fill up by users and can be flagged by quality and popularity, so you can always know what is good and what is bad.

    What is the APPROACH?

    Start mapping areas where is what happening and make rough information. Then it would depends on the users what information they would put in. The look should be really simple and easy to use and searching in the database as well.

    What are the BENEFITS to people?

    People would find what is going on in terms or leisure and sport in their area or in discipline or on a date they want to find out the information. Finding partner for doing particular sport on a particular date would be also very beneficial as well.

    What is the COMPETITION?

    I think that London as a host for the 2012 Olympic games should have more active sporty people. In my opinion people would get more involved if there would be more information what is available.

    What BUDGETS & LOGISTICS are required?

    I’m not sure about the technical requirements, hosting etc. It will take lots of work at the beginning and than basic maintaining.

  5. Drug brands information

    Author: Julian Todd

    What NEED does this meet?

    The international public, as well as NHS organizations, are remorselessly targetted for the sale of inappropriate pharmaceuticals at inflated prices. The corporations work within a system of legalized monopoly and hide important information. We need a presentation of the facts drawn from different sources that can be used as the first line of defence. It would also point out what information we do not know, suggesting the questions that investigators should be looking into.

    What is the APPROACH?

    Very helpfully, new pharmaceuticals are given new invented unique names, so it is very easy for software to tag them, and track their appearance in the news media, and watch as the companies post their propaganda onto places like wikipedia and build their marketing campaigns. It is well documented and utterly predictable that the money is available to promote a drug that is in patent against one that is out of patent, even when it is undeniably more dangerous and less effective.

    We need an automatically updated chart like publicwhip that scrapes the patent and trademark databases, and lists who owns them, on what date the patent expires (**very important), links to all news publications citing the drug in chronological order, cost of drug per patient, cost of manufacture (**usually a blank, drug companies refuse to divulge this, or blatantly lie about it — see the case of AIDS drugs that Cipro began to manufacture), names of the doctors who have conducted the drugs trials, list of similar drugs, evidence of who invented the drug (**often the drug company just buys it in from a taxpayer supported university, and then pretends that they spent 500m pounds on it).

    What are the BENEFITS to people?

    It will expose the big picture of this this market commodity in one page. Those who are using particular named drugs, have been prescribed particular named drugs, have been virally marketed at to ask their doctor for a particular named drugs, will have a source that’s slightly more structured than just typing the name of it into google, and getting a pile of links, none of which includes price or patent expiration data. This would be easy to make it possible to inform oneself on the pattern a sudden set of negative publicity against a drug (after years of good publicity) that is shortly to go out of patent in order to convert people to the next patented drug — which will be more expensive but might not be better.

    What is the COMPETITION?

    Public Citizen runs the worstpills.org site. This proposal is a simpler across various sources of information.

    What BUDGETS & LOGISTICS are required?

    The software may have wide applications, across products outside medicine. We need to scrape trademark and patent data into a single table, and scan across all of bbcnews sites or online paper news sites for a chronological list for each known unique name. This on its own is better than the google shambolics.

    The other data, such as prices and manufacturing costs, could be lifted from the wikipedia, if people include the data there in slightly structured and scrapable form. ie, rather than make our own wiki, use the one that’s there already to gather and host the data.

    One day I hope people in these companies may start to leak info about the manufacturing and research costs on actual particular instances, so we can have an informed public debate about these matters, not just layers and layers of excuses and faked expenses from the most profitable companies in the world.

  6. job publishing

    Author: Neil Phillips

    What NEED does this meet?

    It’s expensive to advertise jobs in traditional media (print, or online job boards), which means that low-wage jobs are not advertised, or are advertised only incredibly locally (a poster in the shop window).

    What is the APPROACH?

    I propose a project which aims to help employers either directly advertise their jobs online (at their own web presence, less likely), or directly into the projects website in a format which other sites can syndicate (I’d anticipate being able to email or phone-in situations vacant ads too). Basically, cutting out the advertising cost, and therefore incentivising people to list their vacancy.

    Once job postings are available, other sites would be able to syndicate the jobs and therefore come up with answers to more local questions:

    “Show me all the jobs within walking (or public transport) distance which operate within school hours, and require IT skills”

    “Show me all the gardening jobs in tower hamlets”

    “Show me all the jobs in a one mile radius”

    I see this working with a new breed of job aggregation sites, perhaps with (eugh) value-added elements like CV screening, intial phone interviewing etc for higher job-value employers.

    The intention would be that jobs could be syndicated to online and offline (e.g. local newsletters) and government agencies (e.g. JobCentrePlus).

    Here’s a picture which might help explain what I mean.

    http://neilphillips.com/mysociety.jpg

    What are the BENEFITS to people?

    1) The cost of advertising a vacancy is reduced to nil
    2) More jobs are advertised
    3) More people are able to see the jobs nearest to them (travel is a huge impediment to the poorer, older, younger or disabled job seeker).
    4) There is likely to be a better fit between people looking for jobs and people finding jobs.

    What is the COMPETITION?

    Competition:
    Newspapers, existing online job boards.

    This idea is an improvement because it helps both ends of the job market (employee and employer) and shifts the value-added element to cv screening, interviewing and aggregation (more specific search) rather than sheer volume of eyeballs on the site.

    What BUDGETS & LOGISTICS are required?

    The budget for the site itself could be incredibly cheap ($10k + bandwidth), more with a call-centre type operation.

    However, what this idea is really about is making something quite difficult and expensive, into something simpler. I’m relying on what mysociety does best: spreading the word.

  7. Building A Better Home…

    Author: Ted Lewis

    What NEED does this meet?

    People today are crying about getting taken for their dollar by purchasing homes that are defective. I purchased land back in the 1980s and it’s time to develop it.If you are looking for people who are looking for other avenues of investment, you might want to look at what I’m doing in the Dorchester, MA area.

    I have ‘Incorporated in Las Vegas, NV USA, for legal purposes and to show legitimate business Enterprise, with eventual expansion to the Las Vegas area in the future. I am looking to build
    Two-two family ‘Condo’ units in the metro-Boston, MA area, on land I own. The units will sell for between $380,000.00 and $400,000.00, price range. These are and will be the state of the art units with many features most modern homes of a higher price range contain. I can do this because I do not have to include the cost of buying the land.

    My ‘Business Plan’ is to raise monies that will aid in the procurement of a construction loan: construction is to start this summer,
    your monies will go into a protected account and serve as collateral for my construction loan – twelve months, I’m looking for fast sales and pre-construction sales; when the project is sold, the account is closed, you are paid with an earned interest rate of 18% on your principle. This is a contractual Agreement.

    I feel the re-payment schedules are straightforward and simple: You invest:

    $10,000.00 twelve months or sooner you are paid $11,800.00
    $20,000.00 ” ” ” ” ” ” ” $23,600.00
    $25,000.00 ” ” ” ” ” ” ” $29,500.00
    $30,000.00 ” ” ” ” ” ” ” $35400.00
    $50,000.00 ” ” ” ” ” ” ” $59,000.00
    $100,000.00 ” ” ” ” ” ” ” $118,000.00
    $480,000.00 ” ” ” ” ” ” ” $566,400.00

    Your money is never touched, but acts as collateral for the construction load.

    Should the project not sell at the advertised prices, and then it is sold at market value and the investors are paid and I absorb the lost.

    Ted Lewis
    CEO ‘Living Life At A Different Level’

    What is the APPROACH?

    The financial backers money is used as collateral for a construction loan. Once the project is built and sold [by Christmas 2006]. all monies are returned as noted in a signed agreement plus 18% interest.

    What are the BENEFITS to people?

    This is a completely built home with all applicances and finished from basement to top floor: plans can be sent to interested parties, now!

    What is the COMPETITION?

    People need homes, and they need good homes, now. It has been noted via the newspapers that in the coming year there will be 50,000 new jobs, the inflow of these professional people will drive the home building market crazy.

    What BUDGETS & LOGISTICS are required?

    $435,000.00 complete.

  8. A to B Travel

    Author: Murray

    What NEED does this meet?

    There are many different ways to get from A to B. Walking, training, flying, driving, taxi, coaching or blagging a lift with someone. Every time, I spend ages running through all the options, working out the various pros and cons.

    It would be great if I could share this information with others.

    For example, my current trip takes me from Edinburgh to Cardiff. KLM want £1,250 for a flight via Amsterdam. Using some not very advanced local knowledge, and a willingness to do a little driving, I can get to Bristol and hire a car for £125 all in.

    Another : if there are four of you, travelling up to 100 miles can often be almost as cheap in a taxi as on the train.

    Lastly, London is the classic example here. How often have you (or known someone) spend 30 mins, on three tubes to do a journey that would probably take 2 mins to walk?

    What is the APPROACH?

    People enter their start and end points, and their suggested routes.

    They can rate them by various factors, enter approx costs.

    Then, I can search the site, and find the recommended best way to travel.

    It would aggregate known travel blackspots, and as it matured, the site would be a logical place to bolt on “a ride sharing dating service”.

    What are the BENEFITS to people?

    Transport in the UK sucks. Driving is often the easiest and cheapest, and it shouldn’t be that way. It is not only better for the environment, it is a heck of a lot more fun to travel different ways.

    It would help share all that “local knowledge”, learned the hard way with other infrequent travellers, visiting tourists or people new to your area.

    What is the COMPETITION?

    None that work.

    I should be clear – this isn’t about air-fare aggregation. People might want to enter the cost of their journey, including airfares, taxi costs (you might get a cheap flight to London – then pay twice as much to actually get from the airport to London Central). Over time, these will add up into data that might be useable somehow.

    Yet another example: best way to get cheap return tickets from London to Edinburgh? ATM, buy singles. The specials are released 10 weeks prior to travel. 71 days before travel, you could pay £200 for a standard ticket. 70 days before travel, you can go first class for £60.

    What BUDGETS & LOGISTICS are required?

    I’m sure you guys know better than I would ;)

  9. Hybrid virtual real democracy

    Author: Ricardo Johansson

    What NEED does this meet?

    If there are two or more individuals in a community who desire to pull themselves out of the hole of apathy and powerlessness, they can introduce a hybrid system of physical/virtual decision making (already developed in NSW Australia). The virtual part is www.1062.org. This hybrid system is fair to both computer literate and non-computer literate citizens. This system has the potential for enabliing the community members to exercise whatever level of authority they choose.

    What is the APPROACH?

    These individuals can introduce a campaign to their communities that allows the community to sign a specific performance contract with candidates that requires the candidate to use this hybrid system that enables community members to exercise their civic responsibilities and participate in the local government decision-making process. This contract (already designed and introduced in NSW Australia) may specify what decisions a politician can make using his or her own discretion and what decisons require specific authorization from the people – before he/she casts a vote in chambers.

    What are the BENEFITS to people?

    If you could divide the local government decision-making process into two catagories: decisions made by local representatives without the consent of the people and decisions made by local representatives requiring prior approval of the people, what would be included in those two catagories? This is the choice of each community. It will make the local governance process much easier for both the community and the politician. If a politician breaches the contract, it is no longer the typical response: “vote for somone else when my term is finished.” The people can command real control in real time in a real democracy. The politician may be sued in a court of law for breach of contract.

    What is the COMPETITION?

    None

    What BUDGETS & LOGISTICS are required?

    Already built

  10. Write to your newspaper

    What NEED does this meet?

    A central place to help people write a letter to their local newspaper. For individuals, it makes it easy to find out what local newspapers you have, and it saves you having to look up the address. For organisations (e.g. campaigining charities) it makes it easy to encourage your supporters to write to their local newspaper.

    What is the APPROACH?

    The same interface as WriteToThem. Enter your postcode, it shows newspapers with circulation in/near that area, and brief info about them. You choose a newspaper, and write your letter to the editor. A few weeks later, it mails you to see if your letter was printed or not.

    What are the BENEFITS to people?

    It will encourage more people to publicise and share their problems and opinions in their local community, via their local newspaper.

    What is the COMPETITION?

    The newspaper society has a database of local newspapers http://www.nsdatabase.co.uk/. But it has no feature to search by postcode, or to directly write to them.

    What BUDGETS & LOGISTICS are required?

    Fairly cheap, as we already have part of the code to screenscrape the Newspaper Society database, and maintain changes to it.