It’s surprising how many people know about our websites, but haven’t heard about one of their useful features: email alerts.
In previous blog posts, we’ve described how you can set up alerts so that you receive an email every time:
- Your chosen topic is mentioned in Parliament;
- A specific Peer or MP speaks in Parliament;
- Someone makes a FixMyStreet report within your chosen area.
What do most people subscribe to? Mentions of their own town or city; speeches by their own MP; and FixMyStreet reports within their own area. It makes sense – of course we are interested in the issues which affect our own community.
Now here’s another way to be the first to know about what’s going on in your local area: you can subscribe to alerts from WhatDoTheyKnow.com, and receive an email every time someone makes a request for information to your local council (or any public authority of your choice).
Alerts about Freedom of Information requests
WhatDoTheyKnow is our Freedom of Information site. It allows people to ask for information from public bodies such as councils, state schools, the NHS, et cetera – and it publishes both the requests and the responses.
If you ‘follow’ your own local authority, the site will automatically send you an email whenever anyone makes a request to it (condensed into a daily digest).
Because people use the Freedom of Information act to find out about things that really matter to them, these alerts can be a great way of keeping up with local concerns. If you’re a journalist, a councillor, a local activist or just an interested member of your own community, they can be both fascinating and invaluable.
If you’d like to ‘follow’ requests made to your own local council, here’s how:
1. Go to WhatDoTheyKnow.com
The homepage is at www.WhatDoTheyKnow.com.
2. Search for the authority you want to follow
As you can see from the homepage screenshot above, WhatDoTheyKnow currently covers more than 15,500 authorities – everything from local councils to Government departments, state schools and more. The easiest way to find the authority you need is to use the search box on the right of the page:
In this case, there is only one result for my search term, ‘Brighton Council’.
Below this result, I can also see previous FOI requests made to my council. Here’s where I get a taste of why this alert subscription might be so useful and interesting to me, as a local resident. There are requests about bus subsidies, allotment waiting lists, council salaries, school catchment areas… and lots more.
If you prefer, you can refine your search results by selecting “requests”, “users”, or “authorities” below the search box – in this exercise, we are looking for your local council, so you should click “authorities”.
On the right hand side of the page, you will see the title: “Follow this authority”, then the number of people who are already doing so, and a green ‘Follow’ button.
This button allows you to sign up for email alerts.
Below it, as you can see, there is also an option to access an RSS feed – this is useful if you use a “Reader” or “News Aggregator” to keep up with blogs and other feeds from a variety of sources.
But today, we’re signing up for an email alert, so click the green button.
4. Sign in or sign up
At this point, we ask you to sign up or sign in.
If you already have a WhatDoTheyKnow account, all you need to do is log in, and you’re done – your alert has been set up.
If you don’t have an account, it’s as simple as filling in your email address, name, and picking a password.
The site will then send you a confirmation email with a link in it – clicking on this helps to confirm that you are a real person, and that you have entered a genuine email address – which you’ll need, if you are going to receive alerts!
You are now registered, and you’ll receive an email once on every day that anyone makes a request to your local council, or an existing request is updated (eg the council responds, or someone leaves an annotation).
Every email alert has a link at its foot, which you can follow to ‘manage’ your alerts: if you want to stop receiving one or more of them, just click ‘unsubscribe’.
Of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to your own council. If you have a particular interest in any authority – perhaps your children’s school, a government department, or local public bodies- you can sign up to alerts in exactly the same way.
No matter how many alerts you subscribe to, they all arrive in just one email, so they won’t clog up your inbox.
In a forthcoming blog post, we’ll also be looking at how to subscribe to topics or keywords, and how to use operators to get a slightly more refined alert.
Image: Herr Sahrif (CC)