AlavateliCon – the world’s first global conference of FOI hackers

AlaveteliCon will be the world’s first gathering of FOI hackers from around the world.

Ask Questions by Christina B Castro

On 2nd and 3rd April, over 50 people from 30 different countries will come together in Oxford, UK – from as far and wide as Australia, Indonesia, Brazil and Albania. This diverse bunch of people will have one thing in common – they’re all building Freedom of Information websites, based on our Alavateli platform.

What is Alaveteli?

It’s the easily-accessible, open-source codebase that allows anyone to run an FOI website like in their own country.

When we launched WhatDoTheyKnow in 2008, our main focus was getting the site up and working for the UK. Its aim was simple: anyone can use the site to make an FOI request to a public body, and the whole correspondence is published online.

And it works – over 100,000 requests have been made to more than 5,000 authorities in the intervening four years.

It soon became apparent that people in other countries wanted to replicate WhatDoTheyKnow – and as an open-source organisation that favours governmental transparency everywhere, we’re very glad to help.

The trouble is, the original codebase from wasn’t very replicable. It was built for the UK political system, and it couldn’t be easily picked up and tailored to another country – not without a lot of hard work*.

And so Alaveteli was born, in a project led by mySociety developer Seb Bacon. You might think of it as the second generation WhatDoTheyKnow – built with international implementation in mind. Alaveteli can be shaped to any country’s FOI laws, translated into any language, and installed with minimal technical knowledge.

Why a conference?

In the five months since Alaveteli was launched, it has been installed in six different jurisdictions, with three more in active development, and several others on the way. As each international website has taken shape, two things became clear to us:

  • Every jurisdiction has its own idiosyncratic FOI laws, leading to a unique set of issues,

and at the same time:

  • Every install of the codebase brings up certain universal issues, that will apply to anyone in any jurisdiction.

In the spirit of these two opposing truths, we are bringing people together at AlaveteliCon. We want to share knowledge and stories, answer questions and ask them, too.

There will be practical hands-on sessions; there will be discussions about the future direction of the platform; and there will, above all, be an opportunity to forge an Alaveteli community, members of whom know one another by sight rather than through a mailing group.

It sounds great – can I come?

At this moment, the conference is fully-booked. However, you can put your name on our waiting list in case of cancellations.

Meanwhile, don’t despair – we’ll be posting photos and summaries of all the sessions on the Alaveteli blog.

Now I’m all excited about Alaveteli – can I install it for my own country?

Yes! As a first step, we suggest you join the Alaveteli mailing list and introduce yourself. Reading the Alaveteli blog is also a good idea, if you’d like to get some idea of what’s involved.

*It is worth noting that several coders in other countries did so anyway, with a lot of hard work.