Help keep WhatDoTheyKnow running, with your time or expertise

In our previous post, we identified WhatDoTheyKnow’s current need for sources of funding.

But WhatDoTheyKnow also needs more volunteers to join the team. Since the site’s launch, it’s always depended on a highly-motivated, active group of administrators who work to keep it running.

At mySociety, we’re very grateful for the work the volunteers do; for their part, they tell us that they find the work rewarding and interesting — but we’re always aware that we can’t, and shouldn’t, demand too much from them. The more volunteers we can recruit, of course, the less the workload will be for everyone.

We’ve identified three general areas in which volunteer help would be very welcome, and if you think you’d fit in to any of these, we’d love to hear from you.

General volunteers

Are you:

  • interested in FOI and transparency
  • happy to work remotely but as part of a team, communicating mainly via email
  • able to dedicate a minimum of a few hours per week to helping run the site

Each of our volunteer administrators give their time freely and are the only reason we can run the service day to day at all.

Being a volunteer is both rewarding but also challenging, as each juggles their day jobs and home lives. So the more volunteers we have, the more we can spread the workload between them.

If you have a specific interest in FOI or transparency, or indeed you’d just like to help support a well used civic tech service then we’d love to hear from you. There is always a diverse range of jobs and tasks needing to be done, even if you can only help a couple of hours a week. We all work from home and communicate via email and other online tools.

If you can help us a volunteer the first thing to do is to write to the team introducing yourself and letting us know about your relevant skills, experience and interests.

Legal support

Are you:

  • a law student or professional who can offer expertise in the day-to-day running of the site; or
  • a legal firm or chambers who could offer legal advice on an ad hoc, pro bono basis

Volunteers with legal backgrounds We take our legal and moral responsibilities in running WhatDoTheyKnow very seriously and we always welcome volunteers with experience of legal matters. Some of the legal aspects of running the site are handled routinely on a day to day basis by the admin team.

They may, for example, remove correspondence which could give rise to claims of defamation, or where personal data is disclosed by an authority mistakenly and they consider continued publication to be unwarranted.

The legal challenges thrown up by operating our service are varied and interesting. Joining us could be an opportunity for someone to get some hands on experience of modern media law, or for a more experienced individual, to provide some occasional advice and guidance on more challenging matters.

We often find ourselves balancing claims that material published on our site could aid criminals or terrorists, or could cause harm in other ways, and we do our best to weigh, and balance, such claims against the public interest in making the material available.

As material published on our website may have been used to support news articles, academic research, questions from elected representatives, and actions by campaign groups or individuals it’s important we don’t remove correspondence lightly and that we’re in a position to stand up, where necessary, to powerful people and institutions.

Legal firms that can offer advice As from time to time there are cases which are more complicated, we would like to build a relationship with a legal firm or chambers that can advise us on an ad hoc basis on defamation, privacy (misuse of private information) and data protection.

The ability to advise on copyright law and harassment law would also be an advantage. And we also on very rare occasions may need help as to how to respond to the threat of litigation.

Could you offer help in this area? Please do get in touch to discuss getting involved.

Administrative support

Are you:

  • a committed, organised, empathetic person who could volunteer a few hours (working from home) a week

In our previous post we mentioned that we’d ideally secure funding for an administrator who could handle our user support mail and deal with routine but potentially complex and time-sensitive tasks such as GDPR-based requests.

While we seek funding for this role, would you be willing to fill it on a voluntary basis? Please get in touch.

Lots to help with

So in summary, what we need to keep WhatDoTheyKnow running is money, volunteer help, and legal support. If you can help with any of these, or have some ideas of leads we might be able to follow, please do get in touch. It also helps to share this post with your networks!

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  1. I was wondering if you can explain something about your charity’s accounts? The UKCOD accounts show 6 employees on salaries of between £65001 and £85000. Why do you have so many highly paid employees when the total employees average about 25 staff? Couldn’t they take a pay cut to pay for more staff, rather than you appealing for extra donations to pay a (relatively lowly paid) administrator?

    I really hope that, as an open and transparent organisation, which is committed to openness and transparency in others, you will answer this question publicly. Thanks.

    • Hi James,

      Thanks for your comment.

      mySociety places a high premium on the skills and experience of our developers – essentially we’re a tech company, with around half of our staff in hands-on coding and development roles. All our output depends on their making good decisions, based on knowledge and experience.

      That places us in direct competition for employees with the big tech firms like Google, Facebook and the multitude of highly-funded start-ups.

      Much as we’d love to think that, because of the charitable work we do, highly-skilled coders would come to us for a much lower salary, we recognise that real-world circumstances more often result in folk choosing to go for the better-recompensed position.

      On the whole, we can’t aim to match the market rate with our salaries, but we do have to consider them as one factor.

      Thanks to our set-up, we do manage to save money in some ways: for example, because we don’t have a central office, we save a lot on overheads such as rent and utilities; and because we all work from home and are located across the country, we’re able to pay salaries that match the regional best, rather than inflated London rates, for many of our staff – and there’s no need for us to reflect commuting costs in the mix either, since the average mySociety commute is from the kitchen to the home office.

      On the other hand, the remote work set-up also means that we look for a reasonable amount of experience/seniority in staff, which also affects the salary.

      I hope that goes some way to answering your question.

  2. Greetings–as I am retired I have time to volunteer. The last 15 years of my working life were spent advocating on behalf of homeless people to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and advising and encouraging homeless people to effectively do so themselves. I was trained as a Simon Community Resettlement Worker in Northern Ireland, developing intimate working knowledge of Northern Ireland’s housing ‘Common Selection Scheme’. As this was several years ago its rules will have been modified (I was then frequently updated by the excellent Housing Rights Manual). If you think I can help please get in touch.