mySociety has teamed up with the Open Society Institute (OSI) to help people in Central and Eastern Europe build transparency and democracy websites suited to the needs and realities of their countries. In the UK mySociety runs a variety of sites such as TheyWorkForYou.com, FixMyStreet.com, and our Freedom of Information website WhatDoTheyKnow.com. As a result of running these, we know that there are lots of people outside the UK longing to build similar sites that help increase transparency and accountability in their own government institutions.
We have now launched a Call for Proposals for participants in Central and Eastern Europe, similar to the one we recently ran in the UK. The big difference is that this time we’re not looking for projects that we will build. We’re looking for projects you want to build, but that for lack of funds or lack of the right skills, you can’t get started yourself, so could use our help.
Over the coming months we will be selecting a series of projects to fund and mentor — up to ten in total. At each of four monthly intervals, starting November 15th, OSI and mySociety will convene to consider and choose from the proposals submitted so far. To help us understand project strengths and weaknesses in the given local or national context we can draw on the knowledge of regional OSI staff, but we’ll also be paying very close attention to the public comments on the submissions — so please join in the discussion. The shortlisted projects, and the people behind them, will then undergo a formal vetting process, during which project funding details will be requested (but we can help you with that if you’ve no previous experience of budget planning). mySociety will work closely with the winning projects to develop specifications for the launch version of the tool, advise on technology choices and usability decisions, help hire suitable technical talent if needed, and help connect winners to the nascent but growing international network of transparency and accountability website builders.
It’s crucial to note that this call isn’t solely for existing NGOs: the process is absolutely open to submissions from individuals or groups with no prior direct experience of working in the transparency and accountability sector. Experience from around the world suggests that some of the best websites in this field have been set up by individuals with no specific NGO background, such as New Zealand’s TheyWorkForYou.co.nz. Others are run by NGOs with strong track records — we will not discriminate either way. We will, however, look most favourably on applicants who already have access to the advanced programming skills required to build sites like this.
The criteria are simple, though demanding:
- The projects have to generate some kind of meaningful transparency, accountability, or democratic empowerment of another kind.
- The projects must seize the unique benefits that the Internet brings with it, such as scalability, two way communication, easy data analysis and so on.
Projects will be required to follow Free/Open Source licensing and development practices and to adhere to appropriate Open Data principles. Projects making use of mobile communications tools will also be considered. And although projects will obviously be delivered in appropriate local languages, proposals through this website must be in English.
If you are based in one of the eligible countries and have an idea for a project (or, even better, more than one!), please submit a proposal. Even if you don’t, please help us spread the word! Tell everyone you know about this. Blog it. Link to it on Twitter or Facebook. Go to local events and make sure everyone knows about it (or ask us to come talk about it) — just talking about it could be the difference between someone building a KildareStreet or an OpenCongress in your country and them never getting started. For more ideas on how to help, please join our mailing list, or follow us on Twitter.