Last Sunday, several mySociety team members woke up just in time to see the sun rise over the Andes – not our standard view in the morning.
We were on our way to Santiago, Chile, as were delegates from 27 different countries, all headed to the inaugural Poplus Conference. This was a joint event organised by ourselves and our Chilean friends Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente.
Long-haul flights don’t feature high on our list of favourite activities – so what was so important that we all happily put in the 7,000 miles to Santiago?
Before we can answer that question, you need to know what Poplus is. In short, it’s a project to create and share open source code that can help civic organisations around the world. You can find out more here.
While legal structures and ruling regimes vary from place to place, the needs of citizens are broadly constant: they require information, empowerment, and transparency.
The digital age has provided opportunities here, and there are many organisations like mySociety and Ciudadano Inteligente around the world: groups that harness the power of the internet to open access to civic and democratic processes.
Underpinning Poplus is the belief that we can make great efficiencies if we share our code – that way, there’s no need for each of these groups to rewrite what is effectively the same piece of software. Poplus aims to encourage the creation of ‘Components’ – small pieces of software that can be used easily, by anyone across the world.
Poplus – the next step
Poplus is a project in its infancy, and this conference was the next step in its growth. It brought together civic coders, and organisations with an interest in the code they create.
The Poplus project was initially conceived by Ciudadano Inteligente and mySociety – but in order to thrive, it needs many members from all over the world to play a part. The conference allowed us to present the general idea behind Poplus, and to ask for help shaping and refining it. Once some underlying principles had been agreed, we could become a true federation.
There were also many opportunities to listen to organisations, about what they needed from Poplus software, and their experiences running civic websites in their own territories. By the close of the conference, we had thrashed out some broad agreements, and there was a lot of excitement about carrying on the work to create Poplus Components – and the community around the movement.
Defining a Poplus Component
One important task was to define exactly what makes a Poplus Component: the conference offered us a real opportunity to get input from many different perspectives, and come away with a ‘gold standard’.
It was very useful to have developers and end users in the same room, talking about the process of creating Components, and the experience of using them.
You can see what we came up with in the photograph (click to see it bigger). Among other things:
- Poplus Components are small pieces of software which provide functionality for civic or democratic websites.
- Each Component solves a single problem.
- They are built to work in any country, making minimal assumptions about location.
- They are open source and free for anyone to use.
- They slot into any website, and may also inter-operate.
Just the start
The Poplus Conference was a great opportunity to nail down everyone’s thoughts. Now we have agreed on our shared purpose, the real work will begin. The conference fostered communication and sense of community, and we’ll all be trying to keep that alive.
A huge thanks to everyone who attended and contributed – and especially to Ciudadano Inteligente for being such welcoming and generous hosts.
- For a quick run-through of the conference as a whole, see it on Storify
- Or for a more in-depth experience, check out the #PoplusCon hashtag
- Session notes are here.
- There are photos on Flickr (with more to follow)
Header images – click to see larger. L-R: Setting up the timetable for the ‘unconference’; networking time; ample snacks for everyone; nailing down the essentials of what makes a Poplus Component; t-shirts ready for delegates; jotting down proposals for sessions; more networking; lunch among the autumn leaves; coffee time; chatting.