Speaking at today’s Activate conference in London, Stephen King from the Omidyar Network just announced a grant of extraordinary importance to mySociety.
Over the next three years, the Omidyar Network is granting mySociety an amazing $2.9m.
This unprecedented donation is tied to clear targets which, when translated relate to the following goals:
- Internationalising our current British websites, and helping people around the world to build sites and apps that will drive greater transparency and accountability.
- Growing an ever-stronger commercial team, to help cover our costs which remain unfunded (still substantial).
- Continuing to grow the impact of our UK sites.
If you’re someone who’s ever given us £5 or £10 to support our work, or who’s given your time volunteering on any of our projects, we have a special message for you: we would never have been able to get to the sort of scale of support that today’s grant represents if people like you didn’t believe in us all along. Thank you, and thank you for your continued support – our growing ambitions to make ever greater positive impacts on the world means we need more friends than ever, not fewer.
We’re Open for Business, Partnerships and Conversations
The overall impact of this grant, plus continued support from groups like the Open Society Foundation, Hivos, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Indigo Trust – and many smaller donations – is a huge increase in our overall capacity. We can build more software, help more partners, work with more clients, give more advice.
So if you’ve thought about working with mySociety, or using our open source tech for your own goals, there’s never been a better moment. Get in touch or talk to us on Twitter.
On Wednesday this week, mySociety’s Tom and Paul were in Southampton, competing in the Geovation finals.
Geovation is an initiative coordinated by Ordnance Survey which gives out funding to projects that help “communities address their unmet needs through the application of geographic data, skills and expertise”. When we discovered that the theme this time was “How can we improve transport in Britain?” we knew we had to enter.
As many of you will know, mySociety has been working for some time on FixMyTransport, a project for reporting problems with public transport. Taking much of what we’ve learned from FixMyStreet, we are, in the trademark mySociety way, building a website that will make the process easy, whilst hiding all the complexities out of sight.
FixMyTransport is well under way, and we’re hoping to launch shortly. But with Geovation funding, we hoped to be able to roll out an accompanying mobile application.
This is incredibly important because, after all, the best time to make a transport report is immediately you experience the problem.
mySociety has, of course, always been into maps and geodata – we use them in what we hope are fun and innovative ways across many of our sites, including (obviously) Mapumental, and (less obviously) TheyWorkForYou and WriteToThem. We’re also rather fond of public transport.
We also really enjoyed meeting the other contestants, particularly Cyclestreets whose project looks like it will be one to watch.
At the end of the day, we were delighted to learn that we had been awarded £27,000 to develop a simple, intuitive, cross-platform mobile application for FixMyTransport. We can’t wait to get started. We really believe it’s going to be of real benefit to public transport users across the UK (and possibly further, given the open-source nature of all our work).
If you’d like to stay up to date with FixMyTransport as we build and launch it, you might want to be one of the very first to “like” our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter.
Statistics were recently released on the performance of UK central government departments with respect to their handling of freedom of information requests. The latest figures are for the second quarter of 2009. We have been able to use these to calculate the fraction of all requests which are made via mySociety’s freedom of information website WhatDoTheyKnow.com.
- 13.1% of all FOI requests to “Departments of State” in the second quarter of 2009 were made via WhatDoTheyKnow.com. In absolute terms this was 753 out of 5769 requests; this is up from 8.5% in the first quarter of 2009.
- 32.3% of FOI requests to the Home Office (which includes the UKBA and the IPS) were made via WhatDoTheyKnow in the second quarter of 2009. In absolute terms this was 206 out of 638 requests.
- The latest figures show that in twelve of the UK’s twenty-one Departments of State more than 10% of FOI requests were made via WhatDoTheyKnow.
What these statistics mean is that an ever increasing fraction of the information released in response to freedom of information requests is being archived and made publicly available by WhatDoTheyKnow.com. Hopefully this will reduce the number of duplicate requests being submitted and ensure the information released is made available to the widest possible audience which in-turn should increase the chances it is acted on.
Only forty-three central government bodies have their freedom of information performance monitored centrally. This is a tiny fraction of the three thousand or so bodies currently listed by WhatDoTheyKnow.
The volunteer team behind our Freedom of Information (FOI) site
WhatDoTheyKnow.com, has used statistics released by the Ministry of Justice to discover the proportion of all FOI requests being made via the site.
They found that in the first quarter of 2009, 8.5% of all requests made to central government departments were made using WhatDoTheyKnow. In absolute terms that was 514 of 6019 requests.
The breakdown by department is given in the below table. Notably, one in five FOI requests to the Home Office (122 of 643) were made via WhatDoTheyKnow.
WDTK = WhatDoTheyKnow; Source for total FOI request statistics : Statistics for Q1 2009 (released on the 25th of June 2009); Extended table covering all monitored bodies available.
The Ministry of Justice only monitors, and provides statistics on, 44 bodies’ compliance with the Freedom of Information Act; WhatDoTheyKnow currently lists 2910. We cover a wide range of local bodies including Primary Care Trusts, Local Councils and the Police. There is no national monitoring of how many FOI requests are made to such bodies, or how well they perform when responding to requests.
If you want to see such performance statistics, please help categorise more of the responses made via the site. It can be quite addictive!
Thanks to Richard Taylor for doing this research – see his blog post for some more details, including some information about Scotland.
UPDATE: If you approve of what we did this week, and what to help make sure we can still do it in the future, please pledge to support us: http://www.pledgebank.com/supportmysociety
The vote on concealing MPs’ expenses has been cancelled by the government!
In other words – we won!
This is a huge victory not just for transparency, it’s a bellwether for a change in the way politics works. There’s no such thing as a good day to bury bad news any more, the Internet has seen to that.
Over 7000 people joined a Facebook group, they sent thousands of emails to over 90% of all MPs. Hundreds of thousands of people found out about the story by visiting TheyWorkForYou to find something they wanted to know, reading an email alert, or simply discovered what was going on whilst checking their Facebook or Twitter pages. Almost all of this happened, from nowhere, within 48 hours, putting enough pressure on Parliament to force change.
Make no mistake. This is new, and it reflects the fact that the Internet generation expects information to be made available, and they expect to be able to make up their own minds, not be spoon fed the views of others. This campaign was always about more than receipts, it was about changing the direction of travel, away from secrecy and towards openness.
Today we stopped moving in the wrong direction. Tomorrow we start moving the right way. Sign up to our news mailing list (box on the right) to get updates on what mySociety gets up to.
FixMyStreet has a lot of RSS feeds. There’s one for every one-tier council (170), one for every ward of every one-tier council (another 5,044), two for every two-tier (county and district) council (544), and two for every ward of every two-tier council (20,296) – two per two-tier council because you might want either problems reported to one council of a two-tier set-up in particular, or all reports within the council’s boundary.
Then there’s an RSS feed every 162m across Great Britain in a big grid, returning all reports within a radius of that point, the radius by default being automatically determined by that point’s population density, but customisable to any distance if preferred. That’s, at a very rough approximation assuming Great Britain is a rectangle around its extremities, which it’s not, 19 million RSS feeds, lots of which will admittedly be very similar.
Every single one of those feeds can be subscribed to by email instead if that’s preferable to you, and are all accessible through a simple interface at http://www.fixmystreet.com/alert.
However, none of these RSS feeds was suitable for the person who emailed from a Neighbourhood Watch site and said that all they had was a postcode and they wanted to display a feed of reports from FixMyStreet. Given you could obviously look up a FixMyStreet map by postcode, it did seem odd that I hadn’t used the same code for the RSS feeds. Shortly thereafter, this anomaly was fixed, and if you now go to a URL of the form http://www.fixmystreet.com/rss/pc/postcode you will be redirected to the appropriate local reports feed for that postcode (I could say that adds another 1.7 million RSS feeds to our lot, but given they’re only redirects, that’s not strictly true). And after a couple more emails, I also added pubDate fields to the feeds which should make displaying in date order easier.
It’s great to see our RSS feeds being used by other sites – other examples I’ve recently come across include Brent Council integrating FixMyStreet into their mapping portal (select Streets, then FixMyStreet), or the Albert Square and St Stephen’s Association listing the most recent Stockwell problems in their blog sidebar. If you’ve seen any notable examples, do leave them in the comments.
My house mate just said that his friend, who is at sixth form college, just had a PSHE (personal, social and health education) lesson in which they studied the website TheyWorkForYou.com.
Apparently it is good and I should go to it.
Ian has used PledgeBank to start a residents association for a new block of flats in Cambridge, UK.
Wow! The video timestamping site on TheyWorkForYou has been live for just under ten days, but you’ve already managed to timestamp almost 14,000 clips – that’s almost 40% of our entire video archive!
Thank you for all the good work – and especially to our top timestampers. David Jones, Alex Hazell and Lee Maguire are currently the top three in the overall rankings, but there are five more people who have timestamped more than 500 clips, another seventeen people who have done 100 clips or more, and more than 100 people who’ve done anything from 1 to 100 clips. And of course, there’s also a fair few anonymous people who haven’t yet registered, so their individual contributions to the “anonymous” total of 3349 clips are not recorded on the league tables. Remember, we’ll be handing out prizes to the top timestampers, so get registered before you timestamp your next video!
We’re starting to collect a list of notable clips that we can use to compile a “best of parliament” video gallery – if you would like to nominate a particular speech, please leave a comment below or send an email to email@example.com – just tell us the name of the MP speaking, and the URL of the page where this speech appears on theyworkforyou.com. We’ll put the best of them together and publish a list later this summer.
Last week at the SustainIT eWell-Being Awards, we picked up an award for FixMyStreet. The judges said it was “[a]n excellent example of an independent website which empowers the general public in their dealings with their local council. It is a relatively simple application, yet highly effective and replicable.” One example the accompanying Independent supplement mentioned was “a community in Great Yarmouth which joined forces through FixMyStreet to clear their local unused railway track. The site made possible a dialogue between community members and the council’s community development worker, who organised a “clear up” day where locals could get involved with rectifying the situation, with tools, insurance and even a barbeque provided.” It’s great to see that sort of thing happening on the site, and also great to be recognised in this way.
In a spirit of celebration (though more to celebrate the endorsements the campaign has received), TheyWorkForYou now covers the Scottish Parliament – see the TheyWorkForYou news for more information.