Who uses WhatDoTheyKnow?

WhatDoTheyKnow is mySociety’s Freedom of Information site. You can use it to make FOI requests, and it publishes them – and the responses you receive – for everyone to see.

You might think that making a Freedom of Information request is something that only journalists or investigators do. But actually, one of WhatDoTheyKnow’s aims is to show that anyone can access this right. If there’s something you want to find out, and the information is held by a public body, WhatDoTheyKnow makes it very easy for you to request it.

Jonathan, a WhatDoTheyKnow userWhatDoTheyKnow is mySociety’s most-visited site, with around 100,000 people viewing the information on it every week. Not all of those people make FOI requests, but they are all benefiting from the information uncovered by those who do.

And who are those ‘people who do’?

Meet Jonathan

Jonathan works for a digital company in Brighton, as a project manager. He first became aware of WhatDoTheyKnow at a local conference on open data in the city.

I make FOI requests as a Brighton citizen. Mostly I ask about data that is held by the council. For example, I’ve recently made requests about parking revenue, council pay levels – that sort of thing.

These are topics that are of clear interest to everyone in the city – but why does he make these requests?

It is about getting the data into the public domain to start an informed debate.

Public authorities don’t always provide data that is requested (and not always because they are being difficult, or inefficient – there are a number of situations where they are not obliged to). So, has Jonathan received the information he has asked for?

The most important data that I have asked the council to release has been refused. But I am still hopeful they will eventually release it.

All of mySociety’s websites hope to lower the barriers to civic participation; we hope that we encourage people to access channels of communication that they may never have previously considered open to them.

In Jonathan’s case, he says that if WhatDoTheyKnow wasn’t available, he would have made his requests by email – he’s already switched on to the existence and potential of the FOI act. But, he says, WhatDoTheyKnow is “a fantastic resource”.

When information is requested via email, it stays almost entirely hidden from view, unless the recipient chooses to publicise it. But on WhatDoTheyKnow, information becomes fully visible to everyone – all part of starting that ‘informed debate’ that Jonathan mentioned.

Thanks very much to Jonathan for telling us how he uses WhatDoTheyKnow.

This post is part of a mini-series, in which we meet people who regularly use mySociety’s websites.


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