Today I had a chat with Seb Bacon who is in charge of collaboration on clones of What Do They Know software. He is currently working with project from Kosovo we have mentioned earlier, but his work is more general. The main idea is to understanding the laws in each country to build a consistent software package. In the UK, for instance, authorities should usually respond to freedom of information requests within 20 days. In Kosovo, authorities have to issue a decision within 7 days, and will be fined if they don’t.
“The reality of all local implementations of ideas like What Do They Know is the fact that usually thinking short teems is easier on a national level. It is in everyone’s interest however to think in long term solutions and build effective teams that work internationally. This is really not so much a software issue, but a question of successful collaboration.”
Seb himself is a programmer, but at least half of his time is taken by talking to as many people as possible – now developers from Kosovo and What Do They Know team.
When asked about the tools used for this collaboration, Seb pointed out a mailing list and regular conversations over Skype. It’s early days of this collaboration so we can expect that this is going to evolve. There is also GitHub project repository for the software, which has a dedicated wiki.
In terms of promotion the collaboration has its own brand and website: http://alaveteli.org/ so we can expect all involved sites to link to it. The ultimate vision would be that the package can be used by any county. In which case all it would take for people who heard of it to navigate to the site, take the code and use it. One of the practical challenges to make it work locally is and will remain the fact that the software requires a lot of human input – at least 3-4 volunteers spending good amount of time on requests is crucial.
We will stay in touch with Seb to learn more about this process and with the developers from Kosovo to hear their thoughts on the local implementation so keep an eye on our blog.