8 steps to understanding and implementing Alaveteli

This guest post by Romina Colman from Argentina is a translation of her original article at La Nacion

Launching a website that can change the history of access to public information in Argentina requires just three elements: the open source software Alaveteli, an enthusiastic team, and a few weeks of work.

Here, in eight points, is the key to understanding why Alaveteli has excited advocates of transparency everywhere.

  1. It can be developed in countries whether or not they have a right to the Freedom of Information. In places which have an established Right to Information law, Alaveteli helps strengthen and extend citizens’ access, through the publication of thousands of public documents. In places with no history of FOI, it helps people to put pressure on the State to create a law.
  2. Why the name? Alaveteli is the town where the first ever Access to Public Information law was passed. mySociety chose the name to express the idea of “free for everybody.” Development began in 2011 when a team, led by Seb Bacon, decided to take the open code from the UK site WhatDoTheyKnow, and improve and adapt it so that  it could easily be replicated in different contexts.
  3. Anyone can participate in the project. Yes, you will need access to programmers and FOI experts. But take a look at Turbo Transparency, a brief guide explaining what Alaveteli is, how it is used and why it should implemented in other countries. Above all, it highlights the need for people who are passionate about open government, and accountability for the many tasks that government performs for its people.
  4. It serves as a public archive. Any site using Alaveteli will request documents from the State, but it will also serve as a repository for everything that an authority provides to users. Other advantages include the ability to search, to track the progress of any request, to comment, and even to set email alerts which will send a message every time a keyword or topic that interests you is mentioned.
  5. You’ll need some legal advice  and money. To begin your adventure, and to ensure the success of the site, you will need the services of a lawyer. But not full time. You’ll also need funds to run the site.
    Tuderechoasaber, the latest Alaveteli implementation, raised its minimum project funding of 4,100 euros in just 30 days, and today the money is still coming in. All thanks to Goteo.org, a crowdfunding site that finds people to collectively fund development initiatives for the common good.
  6. It’s very flexible. Alaveteli can be modified for use in areas where requests for access to information must be submitted in writing, as in the case of Argentina.
  7. Your project will need organisation. To ensure that things get done, it is vital to have someone leading the initiative. That person will have to centralise and coordinate multiple tasks and resources: programmers, volunteers, a media contact, all working together as a team. Beyond that, one of the principles of Alaveteli is to create a great community, providing support to all who need it. That’s why mySociety is offering help to those taking their first steps with Alaveteli.
  8. And it will need maintenance. After launch, the site will have to be maintained and updated.


Alaveteli in numbers

  • So far, the UK site WhatDotheyKnow has processed more than 111,000 requests for information.
  • Alaveteli has been implemented in five jurisdictions and many others are in progress.
  • 100 requests were made on the very first day Turederechoasaber.es launched.
  • The Alaveteli code has been translated into 8 languages.

Dolores Lavalle Cobo, a lawyer and specialist in access to public information, says Alaveteli revolutionises the concept of what it means to share information, and creates a change of mentality in the people.

She’s not exaggerating. This software is a testament to how technology, enthusiasm and a commitment to transparency can create a tool without limits for citizen participation.

Meanwhile, public policy consultant Germain Stalker agrees with this definition: “Alaveteli universalises access to information, allowing the public documents held by the State to acquire real and tangible value.”

Nothing is more certain than this. Demanding transparency is a task for the people, and the platform has awakened interest in what governments do, as never before.

The only hope is that Argentina can get on board. A project has been started and the will is there. Perhaps in this way, together we will achieve national access to Freedom of Information in 2012.