How to find a web developer to help you launch a transparency or democracy website

Will Work for Love by Bixentro

Image by Bixentro

There are quite a few people around the world who are interested in running websites like , and in their own countries. This high level of interest is why we have set up DIY mySociety – to make it an easier to get started running your own similar sites.

One of the most common barriers to launching a new website is the lack of technology skills. This post is about finding those skills in your city, country or region.

The Basics

You don’t have to be a web developer to run a website based on mySociety code, but you do need access to someone with developer skills if you’re going to launch your own successful site.

When people are thinking about setting up a new mySociety-style website, they often assume that it can’t be done, because they aren’t technical, and they don’t know anyone who is.

Even if you’re not a coder, you might still be the right person (or group of people) to run this project. Are you good at motivating people, communicating, and organising? Then you have invaluable skills for this kind of enterprise. But that doesn’t remove the need for technical skills.

Why do you need a web developer?

You need a developer because it takes specialist skills to set up a website based on mySociety’s software.

Our software helps by saving developers months or years of work that they would have to do if starting from scratch. But it does not eliminate all the technical work – you will still need someone who knows how to build websites.

You need a web developer to:

  • Install the software on a computer
  • Configure the software to work in your local language(s)
  • Make changes to the wording and graphic design of the site
  • To add or remove features that are important to users in your country, city or region

You will need a developer to work on the project not only at the start, but for regular maintenance and improvements once it’s up and running.

What are my options for getting a developer to help?

If you are not a developer yourself, you have three basic choices for getting hold of some help.

  • Pay a developer to set up your website
  • Pay a web company to set up your website
  • Ask a volunteer to set up your website
Obviously the third of these options looks the most attractive, but please be aware that when you are asking somone to volunteer on a website like this you are asking them to work for days and weeks for free – this is not a question of helping our for an hour or two once a week.
Working with an individual vs a company is also a decision. An individual will normally charge less per day worked, but an agency may reduce your risk of hiring someone who just can’t do the work at all. It is a balance. If you find someone who you think might be good, but you’re not sure, please don’t hesitate to ask mySociety for help in deciding.

What are you looking for in a web developer?

Judging web developers thoroughly is a tricky, expert task. However, the following rules of thumb will help you:

1. Check that they care about using the internet to help with democracy or transparency. If they are excited then they are more likely to stick with the project, and make it succeed. Do not assume that just because they know about computers, they do not care about the rest of the world!

2. Ask them to show you some kind of website or mobile app that they build entirely or mostly on their own. If they can’t show you anything then that might cause you concern. If they have something good, that’s a good sign.

3. If they really keen to win your business or volunteer, they might be willing to try setting up a basic version of the website before you start working together. If they can do this then that’s a pretty good sign that they might be the right person to help you in the longer run.

4. If they tell you “there’s no need to re-use mySociety’s software – I can build this new website from scratch more easily”, this is a bad sign. Less good web developers often underestimate how hard it is to build a website like mySociety runs, and saying this is a common give-away that you are talking to someone who might not be very likely to succeed in launching your website.

 Where on earth can I find someone?

Whether they are being paid or are volunteering, the question remains: where do you find such people? The answers might surprise you – it’s not as simple as ‘put an advert in the newspaper’.

Linux User Groups are found in many countries around the world, and often contain people interested in working on interesting projects.

OpenStreetMap is a global map that is made by normal people who live around the world. It has many local branches, and can also be a good place to mail or meet to find local people to talk to.

Digital democracy and transparency mailing lists are email discussion forums for people with common interests. Developers often join mailing lists that deal with their areas of expertise or passions, so emailing a message to see if people are interested in working with you is a good way of reaching out quickly to people who are interested in the same kinds of projects as you are.

To find such mailing lists, try searching the internet for phrases like “Digital democracy mailing list” and “transparency mailing list” in your own language, or try one of the mailing lists below to see if there is anyone interested in working with you in or near your country:

The Open Knowledge Foundation is a network of regional groups which bring together people interested in open data, including developers. Joining your local group – or starting a new one – will help you meet people with common interests. You’ll find a list of all local groups at the foot of this page.

BarCamps are workshop-style events, often focusing on web applications, open source technologies and open data – and are a great place to meet people with the skills you need. They happen all over the world – search for ‘barcamp‘ + the name of your city or region. If there are none near you, you can organise your own.

CityCamps are a specific type of Barcamp. They bring together local government officials, municipal employees, experts, programmers, designers, citizens and journalists to share perspectives and insights about the cities in which they live. You can check whether there’s a city camp near you here – and if there isn’t, you can start one.

If you try all the above approaches, and try to meet with local people from all these kinds of group where you live, it will not be long before you find some sympathetic people who may well be interested in your project.

Lastly, Ask here

If you’re looking for developers or any other people to join your project, feel free to leave a comment at the end of this post – make sure you say where you are and what you’re hoping to achieve.