Our Freedom of Information site is perhaps the most dependent on volunteers. Our dedicated team have become highly knowledgeable about the FOI act in this country, to the extent that one of them has given evidence at a Parliamentary Justice Select Committee.
We don’t require that degree of commitment from all our volunteers, though! Less remarkable, but still vital, are the daily tasks that keep the site running – things like moderation, user support, and helping define the site’s sometimes hotly-debated policies. Here’s a blog post that describes specific tasks in a bit more depth.
As with our other sites, work is done from home, with discussion via email (although we generally meet you face to face when you first join the team, and there are regular pub meets for socialising and/or discussing site policy).
The work might appeal to people with an interest in law, civic rights, or who just have a lively curiosity about the way public authorities work.
Got just a few minutes to spare? There are many informal ways you can help, right now! All of our core volunteers started off doing the following sorts of tasks, and it’s a good method of finding out whether you enjoy the work before making a commitment.
- Try the classification game, an easy way to help us get the site in order.
- Help out other users – read recent requests and add annotations to offer advice.
- When responses are provided as attachments, or where pertinent information is buried among the rest of the text, add annotations pulling out the key elements, so that other readers can see them more quickly.
- Suggest public bodies for us to add to the site (which could be in your own interest, if there’s a particular area you wish to research); it’s particularly useful if you also provide the relevant contact email address, but other details such as links to the body’s homepage, and FOI page, are also useful.
If you’re outside the UK
We also help groups set up their own Freedom of Information websites, using our Alaveteli code. Our volunteers share experiences and help people understand what to expect once they’re running and moderating their own site.
Please do tell anyone who might be interested in building such a site. Once a project starts, there are of course multiple roles to get involved in, from development to translation to PR.
Meet our volunteers
John is a good example of someone who started off doing one-off helpful tasks around the site. In his own words, he “kept on sending names and email addresses of public authorities to be added; eventually [the site's administrator] got fed up and made me an admin so I could add them myself.
“I have found the contact details of hundreds of public bodies and added them to the site. I also enjoy writing descriptions for public bodies to help our users. I play the classification game. Recently, I have spent quite a bit of time hiding requests that are not FOI requests.”
Volunteering for WhatDoTheyKnow takes “about four hours a week. This is just a guess because it varies so much. One of the great advantages is that you can do as much or as little as you like each week so it fits around your other commitments.”
There are some strong motivations for the work John does. “I have always been interested in how the UK public sector works and what all the different public bodies do. Through my involvement with WhatDoTheyKnow I have met some incredibly talented and inspiring people.”
John would welcome more volunteers on the team. “We have over 5,800 public authorities on the site. A relatively small number of the public authority pages have reasonable descriptions. The existing volunteers are pretty tied up with take down requests, user enquiries etc, etc. If we had more people it would be great to get them writing these descriptions. It would help our users and hopefully get us more traffic via search engines.”
Find out more