After almost seven years at this wonderful organisation I will be stepping down as Chief Executive of both mySociety and SocietyWorks at the end of March.
It has been an absolute privilege and honour to lead the transformation of our group over my tenure and I’m full of all sorts of emotion in stepping down. Whilst there is never a perfect time to make a decision like this, it is something I’ve been thinking about for a number of months, and with a new strategy in place, now feels like the right time to make way for a new leadership to take things forward all over the next few years.
I’m very pleased to say that I will be leaving things in extremely capable hands, as my longstanding colleague Louise Crow will be leading the mySociety team as Interim Chief Executive. A decision will be made later in the year about longer term arrangements. In parallel, Angela Dixon will be taking on the role of Interim Managing Director of SocietyWorks, having joined us just a few months ago as Finance and Commercial Director.
Louise Crow, as many of you will know, has been with mySociety for over 15 years; first as a developer, then Head of Development and most recently as Programme Director, leading on the development of our Climate programme. She is an awesome leader: eloquent, experienced, trusted by the team and our boards, and familiar to many of you through the numerous partnerships and collaborations that we have been part of.
Whilst Angela Dixon has only been with us for a short time, she’s had an amazing impact already and is exactly what SocietyWorks needs for the next stage of its rapid growth serving local authorities across the UK. She’ll be focused on driving our commercial business forward and unlocking all sorts of savings and service improvements for council staff and citizens alike.
Together Louise and Angela are a formidable and passionate leadership team for mySociety and SocietyWorks and I am very confident leaving things in such safe hands.
There’s a lot to be proud of when looking back over the last seven years, not just for me, but for the exceptional mySociety team without whose support and hard work none of it could have happened. Together, our first job was to successfully transition from Tom Steinberg’s leadership – a delicate task to replace the original founder, but one that also brought new possibilities for change throughout the organisation.
And changes there have been! Over the last few years we’ve launched SocietyWorks, contributed to the democratic response to the climate crisis, and extended our many beautiful, elegant, and well used services to many more citizens across the UK.
I’m particularly proud of the research and analysis we’ve produced, and the insights — from ourselves and others — we’ve been able to share through our TICTeC events as the leading convening space for civic technologists across the globe. We’ve successfully expanded the scope of our Transparency Programme, launching Pro services for WhatDoTheyKnow in the UK and for our European Alaveteli partners.
Whilst I joined fully aware of the difficulties of sourcing charitable funding, over my seven years I’ve certainly had my eyes opened to the scale of the challenge. The critical lack of sources of unrestricted funds, and the particular difficulties of securing funding for our core democratic and transparency work in the UK continues to be deeply concerning in the light of the relentless undermining of hard fought for rights and active erosion of trust in the political process.
I’m grateful for the incredible support we received over the years from the likes of the Luminate and Hewlett foundations. And then as they withdrew from the UK, we responded by establishing relationships with a whole new set of funding partners including the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, Adessium Foundation, Swedish Postcode Foundation and others, and most substantially of all, in our work towards addressing the climate crisis, the support of the Quadrature Foundation and National Lottery Community Fund.
Beyond grants we’ve significantly diversified our income by establishing our wholly owned commercial business SocietyWorks to create a new local government service business working with over 30 councils and providing essential unrestricted funding in the form of profits donated to the parent charity – this has proven to be an incredibly successful strategy in securing the long term sustainability of our work. We would not be here today without the amazing efforts of the team to build such a strong companion business to the charity.
And underpinning all of this are the individual donations that we receive from hundreds of people each year, who value so much the help that they receive from our core UK services FixMyStreet, TheyWorkForYou and WhatDoTheyKnow. This is where the real impact of our work happens, with over 11 million people each year visiting and making use of our online services to understand how decisions are made on their behalf, how they contribute to better decision making, and advance the causes and issues most relevant to them and their communities.
What I’m most personally proud of and what I’ll miss the most is working with such an amazing, dedicated and knowledgeable team. I’ll be leaving an organisation much changed but still true to its activist roots, who still truly believe that people can and want to work together to build a fairer society.
I’ll be leaving a somewhat larger team, that is now equally gender balanced, with a greater diversity of background and experience, an experienced senior leadership team, and with our new board chairs Catherine Brown at mySociety and Mandy Merron at SocietyWorks rounding out a very different cast from the organisation that I originally joined.
I’ll give the final note of thanks to the many passionate volunteers who have helped us and continue to play a pivotal role in the day to day running of or services in the UK, the many generous board members we’ve giving their time freely, and to the organisers, friends and collaborators we’ve worked with over the years to develop, share and make use of all this tech for the benefit of society as whole.
In the first post in this series I introduced our new focus around repowering democracy, and in the second I outlined how we think we need to change as an organisation to make this happen. In this final post we’ll give an overview of the new behaviours we’ll adopt across the organisation so that we’re better able to help repower democracy.
Over the next 10 years, we might have two general elections; maybe three rounds of various local elections; and quite possibly a vote for Scottish independence in 2023 – but by and large the elected leaders, civil servants, community leaders and institutions we already have in place today are the ones who will be making the big decisions about democracy and climate over the next decade.
With this in mind we’ve identified seven cross-cutting behaviours we need to adopt in order to deliver our strategy. Below, we introduce each behaviour and the key events and outcomes we are seeking to deliver as we incorporate these into our day to day work.
1. Partner for impact and diversity
We can deliver our greatest impact through and with others. We look for partners with the ‘same goals, different skill sets’: organisations and groups that want to achieve similar outcomes to ourselves, but that might be approaching it in a different way, or have a distinct set of skills so we can each complement what the other is doing.
Understanding, learning from, and seeking to collaborate with the systematic connections and existing networks already active in tackling the democratic and climate challenges ensure that we can best understand the unique contribution we can make to drive the most positive outcomes.
2. Build community everywhere
We’ll seek to build community everywhere, inside and outside our organisation – stewarding and supporting the growth of participant communities around our existing services, enabling a greater sense of ownership by those communities. We’ll help users to help each other more, reach new users, and provide more evidence for the benefits of becoming active citizens.
Building community is a core concept for understanding how to put more power into more people’s hands and better understanding societal needs beyond the needs of individuals. To make this happen we’ll become a more porous organisation, helping us improve at working with and collaborating with others to achieve our shared goals.
3. Advocate for change
Our research work to date has played a relatively passive role in putting forward practical and actionable ideas for how things might be done differently. Considering the scale of the crises we face, we need to advocate and push for more significant and swifter change – pulling the levers of power where they are open to us; aligning with movements for change where they are not.
At its simplest this means getting the word out about how people can work with us, find common cause, and pool our resources in order to increase active pressure for change. We’ll seek to expand our public policy and public affairs skills directly and through partnering, increasing our capacity to really dig into institutions to identify key decision makers and allies.
4. A drumbeat of experimentation
We want to recapture the early approach to experimentation which kickstarted mySociety by placing new bets within each of our programmes, to try new approaches and engage new users and participants who might not be familiar with our work or how they can make use of it.
We will look for every opportunity to move quickly and experiment widely – doing what’s necessary to learn, putting that into practice and looking for ways to ‘put money behind what works’.
5. Everyday equity and inclusion
Whilst technology can achieve many things, it can often serve to reinforce structural inequality. Representation in civic tech suffers from the same shortcomings as the wider tech and civil society fields: with predominantly white leadership and staff, the majority of technical roles and positions of power held by men, limited opportunities for those from historically excluded and as a result underrepresented groups – particularly racially minoritised and disabled people.
We need to better understand and deliver our services in the UK so that they benefit more marginalised communities, and actively work to diversify our workforce – leading to better outcomes for everyone.
6. Home is where the heart is
We started in the UK and we still run our largest active services here. Over the past 18 years we’ve worked with fellow civic technologists around the globe as part of the civic tech community, sharing, adapting and collaborating on building a movement of technology led participation.
Through this strategy we are recommitting to incubating solutions to democratic and climate challenges here in the UK first of all – and working in the open to support partners to adopt this work elsewhere. Through TICTeC we seek to better connect and equip others to undertake effective, evidence-based and impactful work that enhances public participation, transparency and accountability.
7. A bigger idea of team
We have an excellent, experienced and committed team. But we are often thinly spread and constrained around our capacity to explore new ideas at pace and scale and we need to be more inclusive and diverse both as a team and through the partners and communities we serve.
If we’re going to operate in a way that is commensurate with the crises we face, we’ll need to find new and imaginative ways to do more; enhancing our collective skills further, with new staff who can help us collaborate more effectively and work better with others to achieve our goals.
We’ll invest in community building roles, with outreach and network skills to give us more capacity to better connect, learn and collaborate; we’ll rejuvenate our approach to volunteering, expanding the ways for more people to contribute their time in more meaningful ways to support and extend our work – becoming a more open and porous organisation along the way.
We’ll work in partnership with people, communities and institutions to harness digital technology in service of civic participation.
We’ve learned a lot about what we need to change in order to make the shifts we’ve identified, in order to be ready to repower democracy.
Our experience over the past 18 years has taught us that advocacy campaigns and policy influencing is more effective when it’s done in partnership, and that we offer a specific set of skills and experience that many organisations do not have inhouse. We plan to partner more with a broad range of experienced people and partners outside of the organisation.
We need to rethink our definition of the team beyond the confines of just the staff – our volunteers, board members, and not least the wider community of which we are all part helps forge a bigger, better definition of what mySociety needs to be.
We’ve recognised that we can’t just play one side of the game: it’s not enough just to empower citizens, we need to prime institutions to be capable of responding to that empowerment.
And along with all of this we’ll need to increasingly rethink where power lies, and where we refocus our activity beyond government and the public sector.
Where we go next
The thoughts outlined in these three posts set out the direction of travel for our work over the next few years – over the next few months we’ll be working through what this means for our existing programmes and services, how we live up to the three shifts and fully incorporate our new behaviours.
In developing this thinking we’ve drawn upon support from across our whole team, board members, staff and volunteers, with lots of input from external peers and advisors. I’m especially grateful to the New Citizenship Project who have helped us imagine what the #citizenshift means for our day to day work and have helped us work though how we might put that into practice.
If you have any thoughts on how you might help repower democracy, I’ll put all three of these posts on Medium for comments and further discussion.
Image: Ussama Azam
To realise our goal of repowering democracy, and to really consider how we can contribute to mitigating the worst aspects of the climate crisis, we need to change how we do things.
We’ll base these shifts on what we’ve learned over the past two decades; a recognition of the scale of the crises we face; and an understanding of how we might be part of a bigger solution.
The three interlinked strategic shifts that we need to make as an organisation are:
Design for the needs of society, not just provide tools for individual citizens.
Place more power in more people’s hands, not just make old power more accountable.
Prise open institutions, so they are better able to support and embrace meaningful participation.
Shift #1: Design for the needs of society
Building digital services for individual action has been a big part of our work to date, but we recognise that this isn’t enough to address the really big problems we face.
We need to better understand not just individual citizens’ needs, but the needs of communities as a whole.
Designing for society’s shared problems means understanding the wider system of potential partners and collaborators, assessing who has power and how it is exercised, understanding where tools and services might play a role, or where it might make more sense to amplify the efforts of others.
Undertaking this process will lead to engaged and informed systems of partners and collaborators who understand which tools are available to them to shift or create new power; who are able to radically imagine and deliver new ways of working together to tackle the pressing crises of democracy and climate.
Delivering for the needs of society sets the stage for meaningful participation by citizens and communities, especially those that are underrepresented or less likely to engage in democratic processes.
From picking a problem > to understanding needs From user needs > to community and societal needs From individual services > to enabling people to organise From suppliers and beneficiaries > to partnerships and coalitions From pre-packaged solutions > to being led by experimentation
Shift #2: More power in more people’s hands
It’s not enough just to hold power to account: instead we need to change how power is distributed and how it is exercised.
Getting more power into more people’s hands means creating more opportunities for meaningful participation in decision making; helping people to organise together to come up with solutions that work for all sectors of society.
We’ll contribute to this by drawing upon established communities of practice around our current programmes, so that people are able to work together for collaborative democracy and climate action at scale.
We will seek opportunities to work in coalition with partners to digitally supercharge their campaigning, mobilising and advocacy, through a repowering of democratic participation, so that we can better achieve our outcomes by working with others – leading to improved decision-making and sustained long-term participation and new impactful partnerships.
From holding power to account > to exercising new forms of power From individual actions > to collaborative movements From incremental change > to transformative shifts From sharing information > to solution building From calling for action > to helping drive change
Shift #3: Prise open institutions for meaningful participation
Thinking about how we put more power in more people’s hands leads us to consider where power lies and how much leverage we have to redistribute this power or create new forms of complementary power.
Public institutions hold a lot of power, within large and often rigid bureaucracies that struggle to shift their own behaviours quickly. Any meaningful repowering of democracy to make it work better for citizens, with deeper participation and greater accountability, can only be achieved with the consent and collaboration of these existing institutions.
Putting more power in people’s hands needs to be matched with the prising open of institutions so that they are capable of welcoming and supporting greater participation in decision making. Through our research and civic technology work, and through working with allies and agents of change inside of institutions, using evidence-based approaches, we will advocate for significant long-term policy shifts in how citizens and communities can meaningfully shape decision-making.
When central and local government are better able to engage with and involve citizens and communities in decisions that affect them and facilitate solutions coming from communities themselves we’ll know we’re getting this right – because greater participation between institutions and diverse representative groups of citizens leads to better outcomes.
From project based research > to influencing policy change From outside critique > to driving institutional change From calling for change > to enabling citizen participation From accepting balance of power > to prising open institutions From highlighting failure > to forcing changes to be made
What these three shifts represent
Together these three shifts represent HOW we plan to change as an organisation to be better able to contribute to a repowering of democracy.
Image: Sandro Katalina
Over the past year whilst we’ve been rocked and rolled by the pandemic along with the rest of the world, we’ve been spending some time thinking about where we’re going as an organisation and what we should be focusing on in the future. Alongside establishing the foundations of our climate programme we have been working on redefining the core principles around democracy and power that inform what we do.
This is the first of three posts where I wanted to get a bunch of this thinking out in the wild so we can start to get some feedback as we incorporate this into our day to day work.
Where we started was by defining our why, how and what:
Why: We believe people can and want to work together to build a fairer society – the web can help do this at scale.
How: Our role is to repower democracy: using our digital and data skills to put more power in more people’s hands.
What: We work in partnership with people, communities and institutions to harness digital technology in service of civic participation.
We’ll unpack those in a moment, but before we get too far into looking forward it’s worth looking back to mySociety’s beginnings.
Where we started
In 2003, when the internet still had a shiny new glow, it was viewed by many as the saviour of democracy (and much else besides). Sadly, this vision was more common amongst developers and democracy wonks than those in positions of power, and even today genuine democratic participation is limited. Government still doesn’t really know how to respond when people do want to get involved.
Outside the halls of government, it was becoming clear that the real potential of the internet was not just in propping up existing power structures, but in driving much more radical change. Industries and institutions were being revolutionised – people were able to self-organise and form new communities around the ideas they cared about.
A different model of democracy and society was possible.
It’s useful to refer back to an article by one of our former trustees James Crabtree from 2003, Civic hacking: a new agenda for e-democracy which was one of our founding inspirations. It translated this challenge to the political sphere, providing the spark for the group, led by Tom Steinberg, from which mySociety emerged.
The mySociety project
The mySociety project was animated by a series of shared questions:
- What if technology enabled people to come together and help one another meet civic challenges?
- How might the internet transform civic life and what might a transformed democracy look like?
- How might we create digital spaces and tools which people would want to use?
That original group of volunteers and friends has grown into an organisation capable of exploring these questions in the UK and around the world for millions of people.
By bootstrapping our work over the years, we’ve shown how people could and would contribute to a democratic society – given the opportunities, tools and spaces – and demonstrated an alternative vision to that provided by mainstream government, quickly building services that worked.
We’ve enabled the fixing of streets, the freeing of information, the accountability of parliamentarians. We gave ordinary people more of the tools they needed to participate in more everyday democracy.
We have so much to be proud of. But our work is not finished and our fundamental belief remains unchanged – that people want to work together to build a better, fairer future — and that technology can be harnessed to help do this.
Today’s problem: dual crises of democracy and climate
At the time of writing we’ve just come to the end of COP26 in Glasgow; which depending on your point of view was either another wholly underwhelming summit, where promises and commitments fell woefully short of what is necessary… OR it was an important snapshot of the current challenges facing each nation and a stepping stone in their journey towards making the necessary changes.
Either way, the crisis of the climate continues to be fuelled by the crisis of democracy — in its current form our democratic experience is just not up to the task of responding to the emergency.
The need for change across the whole of society is urgent, but it needs unprecedentedly bold leadership to build the consensus for necessary changes to happen. The scale and nature of the action required is really daunting.
With power concentrated in the hands of a few, rather than equitably shared throughout society, today’s model of decision-making fails to take into account what’s good for people, the planet and society as a whole.
From our perspective, representative democracy in its current form is proving inadequate to the task. In the UK our voting system is flawed and unrepresentative; often distant and unaccountable politicians work within a system that has resulted in polarisation, cynical division and disenchantment. What’s more our core democratic institutions are actively under attack by people who seek to undermine their effectiveness still further.
It’s not a lack of science that’s driving the climate crisis, it’s a lack of democracy.
We need a new democratic settlement — one that recognises the shortcomings of the current approach and seeks to put more power in more people’s hands.
It must be a repowered democracy that allows us to be better at taking decisions together — locally, regionally, nationally and internationally — reducing and mitigating the worst impacts of climate change effectively, and supporting transparent and accountable decision-making.
Combatting the climate crisis demands that we reconsider every aspect of the way we live our lives: the way we work, the way we travel, how we build and heat our homes – nothing short of imagining an entirely new form of society.
We need to collectively address these demands in the face of decades of predatory delay from established institutions and corporations, all the time beset by wilful and skilful misinformation, with leaders incapable or unwilling to advocate for how we can all gain from urgently reimagining our lifestyles and communities. The poor health of our democracy increases the risk of further delay at best, and a further erosion of our liberty at worst.
Repowering democracy means finding new and better ways to collectively tackle the problems in ways that work for society as a whole; creating space and permission for our leaders and politicians to make the difficult decisions that will be needed in years to come with our full support and participation.
Repowering democracy means improving the legitimacy, effectiveness and resilience of representative democracy so that it is better capable of incorporating, supporting and embracing the outcomes of participatory democracy — creating the conditions for citizen and community power to thrive and flourish.
The belief that animates mySociety is that the internet can shape a new politics where people solve their own problems together; not just make it easier to take part in existing politics.
Fundamentally we believe people can — and want to — work together to build a fairer society.
Repowering democracy demands that here at mySociety we reconsider our role in ways that help more people work together to build that fairer society:
- We’ll seek to evolve our portfolio of existing services to become hubs of motivated and empowered community building and action; developing new models of action to directly address the most urgent crises facing society; and expand the ways we operate, bringing in new skills and expertise beyond our core tech, delivery and research staff.
- We’ll look to adopt a model where we spend more time enabling participation and collaboration between people, communities and institutions — increasing participation and prising open institutions.
- We’ll increasingly seek to support others to deliver more meaningful impact with our help; adopting our shared technology and open approach, convening and enabling new communities of practice.
- We’ll help people understand and influence how decisions are made; not just provide better tools by which to choose and challenge politicians.
In summary, we believe that people can and want to work together to build a fairer society, to tackle the most pressing crises of our age. mySociety’s role will be to use our digital and data skills to help this repowering of democracy.
Image: Yuvraj Sachdeva
We’re aware that our Freedom of Information site, WhatDoTheyKnow, has recently been used by a number of people as part of a campaign initiated on the Legal Feminist website, encouraging people to submit FOI requests to authorities who have undertaken the Stonewall Diversity Champions process. This usage has provoked some commentary online, and complaints to our support team.
Straight off, we should state that mySociety positively and passionately supports the rights to equality and freedom from harassment for Trans people and their allies.
WhatDoTheyKnow’s site policies prohibit posting information that is unlawful, harassing, defamatory, abusive, threatening, harmful, obscene, discriminatory or profane.
But the issues that this use of our service has raised about what should and should not remain on the site are not straightforward. They present a challenge to our moderation policies, as we’ll explain in more detail.
First, here are the facts.
The post linked to above encourages people to request information from authorities who are Stonewall Diversity Champions.
Stonewall, for those who don’t know, grew out of the campaign against Section 28 in the 80s, and now describes one of its missions as to ‘work with institutions to create inclusive and accepting cultures, to ensure institutions understand and value the huge benefits brought to them by LGBT people, and to empower institutions as advocates and agents of positive change’.
This Legal Feminist campaign claims that forcing public bodies “to reveal the detail of their dealings with Stonewall” will have the effect of “putting some pressure on public bodies to withdraw from these schemes”.
As a result, several hundred FOI requests have been submitted to a large range of authorities through WhatDoTheyKnow.
How we moderate
We operate a reactive moderation policy on WhatDoTheyKnow and only respond to issues when they are brought to our attention, or we discover them ourselves through the operation of the service.
It’s unusual for us to know the motivation of people who use WhatDoTheyKnow to submit FOI requests. The site is, like the FOI Act, open to everyone (so long as they abide by our house rules).
One of the core principles of the FOI Act is “Applicant Blindness”. The ICO’s guidance states:
In most cases, authorities should consider FOI and EIR requests without reference to the identity or motives of the requester. Their focus should be on whether the information is suitable for disclosure into the public domain, rather than the effects of providing the information to the individual requester.
We often see requests being made on our service which appear to be pursuing aims that we may agree or disagree with as an organisation, or as individuals; however, we want our service to be open to, and used by, as broad a range of people as possible. We don’t want to just provide a service to those who share our view of the world.
Should these requests be removed?
Our volunteer user support team has been asked to respond to complaints that the FOI requests made as part of Legal Feminist’s campaign are vexatious, hateful and should be removed — and our support team has been striving to approach these complaints in the same way that they approach other complaints about the usage of our service.
As a charity, one of our objectives is to help citizens find out the information that they are entitled to have under the law.
As per our house rules, where requests that are unlawful, harassing, defamatory, abusive, threatening, harmful, obscene, discriminatory or profane are drawn to our attention, we will take action. We will also often remove or redact material that is extraneous to the FOI request itself, if it is vexatious or falls foul of our house rules.
In this case we reviewed two aspects of these requests to determine whether they contravened our house rules or contained vexatious or extraneous material – the body of the requests themselves and also the request titles, which each include a campaign hashtag.
On careful consideration, we determined that the requests themselves do not fall into any of those categories, being requests for information, sent to a number of relevant authorities.
We are satisfied that they are sufficiently focused as FOI requests, and appear to have a serious purpose, in that they have the aim of obtaining information from public bodies.
Once the requests had been made, the authorities began to respond and to release the information sought, if they hold it, as they are (broadly) required to do by law within 20 working days. As per WhatDoTheyKnow’s functions, these responses are also published on the site for all to access.
The requests have resulted in large amounts of information about how Stonewall works with public bodies being made easily available online. We believe that our site has a role to play in making that information available to everyone, enabling informed debate.
Considering the request titles, we determined that the inclusion of a campaign hashtag in the title is extraneous to the purpose of requesting information from public bodies and at odds with the sufficiently focused nature of the requests – seeking to bring pressure on public authorities rather than simply focusing on the requirements of a clear request for information.
For the reasons listed above, we have determined that these requests can remain on the site; however, we have removed the extraneous campaign hashtag from the title of each request.
Campaigning activity on our site
Whilst we very much support campaigners making use of their rights under FOI through our service, as per our current policies, WhatDoTheyKnow is not a platform for promoting those campaigns or a particular point of view. In other instances where our attention is drawn to extraneous material in correspondence we remove it, and we have taken the same approach here.
Image: Ricardo Gomez Angel
It’s not often that we recruit directly into our senior management team at mySociety, so we’re excited about the opportunity to find the right person to become our Finance and Commercial Director.
Could that person be you?
This is an exciting opportunity to shape the development of an entrepreneurial not for profit group, looking to develop new business models for supporting and working with the public sector. You’ll help us develop our programmes, and deliver actionable forward facing forecasts and financial information into the hands of key staff and our boards as we seek fresh business opportunities.
As Finance and Commercial Director, you’ll have direct responsibility for financial management, commercial strategy, and reporting across the group; balancing the needs of an effective charity delivering measurable impact, and a high-performing public sector commercial business delivering innovative services profitably and effectively.
And you’ll be working directly with me to lead our finance and commercial activity across the group internally, as well as helping us shape our business and organisation externally.
This role will straddle both our charity mySociety, and our trading subsidiary SocietyWorks. As such, the right candidate is going to need the entrepreneurial experience and commercial zeal needed to support a fast growing software product business, along with an understanding of how charitable funding works and the particular challenges that come with balancing restricted and unrestricted funding, juggling multiple delivery approaches to a variety of civil society and government actors.
We recognise that whoever takes on this position is likely to have more or less experience on either the charitable or commercial side – so openness to learning on the job is going to be really important.
You can see all of the specific details on the role and responsibilities in the Finance and Commercial Director Job Description. And to get a better understanding of the qualities we’re looking for, check the Finance and Commercial Director Person Specification.
So if you are interested in applying, or know someone who is perfect for this role please get in touch or send them this post.
This is also a rare opportunity for us to increase the diversity of our senior team and we welcome applications from all suitably skilled and experienced people and particularly from candidates from Black and minority backgrounds. We’d also support applications from those seeking part-time or flexible working arrangements.
As this role is a vitally important and strategic one for us we’ve taken the unusual step of working with a recruitment consultant to help us out – we’re asking candidates to apply directly to Simon Bascombe at Harris Hill by Monday 3rd May – full details of how to apply are in the Job Description.
Image: Micheile Henderson
On 18 January we received a letter from Robert Largan MP regarding our parliamentary site TheyWorkForYou. He requested that we ‘correct a misrepresentation’ in the way that the site displays how he and his fellow MPs have voted on measures to prevent climate change:
The letter was co-signed by around 50 members of his party, and identified three votes not currently included in our climate change vote calculations, with the request that they be taken into account on their voting records pages.
This was not an unusual message: we often receive emails from MPs to TheyWorkForYou, asking us to explain or reconsider the data we publish on them — and the most common subject is the voting records pages.
The only differences with this letter were that Mr Largan had gathered the support of so many other MPs; and that it was covered in the press and shared on Twitter quite a few days before we actually had receipt of it.
So we’ve treated it in the same way that we would any other, but given the amount of exposure the issue has already had, we thought we’d also share our considered response here. We’re glad to have this opportunity to illustrate how we run the site, and the judgements that we have to make in order to run the fairest, most factual service we can.
Image: UK Parliament
After a relatively lengthy search for a new Chair for the board of Trustees of mySociety, we are very excited to announce that Catherine Brown was appointed at our AGM on the 6th of July.
Catherine is a hugely experienced non-executive and executive Director; she was formerly Chief Executive of the Food Standards Agency and currently holds a clutch of board posts, including at Hubbub, Natural Resources Wales, the Legal Services Board and the British Science Association.
She joins our charitable board at an exciting time, as like all civil society organisations we are learning how to adapt to a new normal, with new challenges around the pandemic and the climate crisis, and long running questions over how we secure sustainable funding for our work today and the issues we choose to face tomorrow.
Catherine has been inspiring, thoughtful and knowledgeable in all of the meetings she has had with our board and team so far, and I’m very much looking forward to working with her closely over the next few years.
A goodbye and a thank you
The appointment of a new Chair sees our original Chair James Cronin stepping down. It’s a big change, as he has been involved with the organisation since its official inception back in 2003.
James has been the bedrock of the board for this whole period and has skillfully supported the organisation through all the change, tumult and innovation that you might expect from a small, underfunded but wonderfully ambitious charity.
Before mySociety came into being he was involved with FaxYourMP (the earliest version of WriteToThem) and TheyWorkForYou which was later incorporated into mySociety. He is also a founding director of the Open Rights Group and is an advisory board member of the NO2ID campaign – and most importantly helps run a chocolate shop, which will be missed at major holidays.
James has been a great mentor to me personally: he has always been here for anything the organisation needs; has been hugely supportive as we transitioned from my predecessor Tom’s original directorship, and oversaw all the many changes in approach and focus we’ve implemented over the past five years.
So hello to Catherine – it’s going to be great working with you. And heartfelt thanks to James – you’ve been amazing and will be a hard act to follow.
Image: Gaurav Dhwaj Khadka
With the charity formally known as UK Citizens Online Democracy now officially known as mySociety it makes sense that we reconsider the name of our wholly owned commercial arm, which until recently was known as mySociety Ltd.
So without further ado, let me introduce you to the newly christened: SocietyWorks.
SocietyWorks reaffirms our belief in citizens and society, creates a related but distinct propostion from the charity mySociety, and introduces a practical and relevant descriptor for a provision of local authority services. We think it works.
We have decided that now is the time to simplify the way we talk about ourselves whilst providing greater clarity and a more meaningful brand for our commercial work, especially for our local government partners.
And with fear and uncertainty all around — the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, and the fabric of our communities at risk — we can’t think of a more important time to make the case that society works.
Over the coming months we’ll be rolling out the new name with the intent of it becoming an overall brand for our local government services. FixMyStreet Pro will remain the core product offered by SocietyWorks, with additional services including feature add-ons and standalone services sitting alongside. These will include new products which extend the capabilities of FixMyStreet relating to Waste, Environment, and other place based services.
We’re also incorporating our information and comms based services, initially by offering FOI Works as part of our local government suite.
You can find out more about these new services as they become available at SocietyWorks.org.
Image: Pierre Chatel Innocenti
What’s in a name? Well for mySociety, quite a lot actually.
Which is why we’re excited to announce that mySociety will now be known as… mySociety.
Confused? Let me explain.
mySociety was founded on the belief that things are better when we work together, when people understand how decisions are made, and how they might contribute to better decisions leading to better lives for all of us.
We believe in helping people be active citizens, able to contribute to their communities and hold their elected officials to account – all in all we believe in society, and the role of citizens to participate and have their voices heard. Put that all together, and the name mySociety makes perfect sense.
Just as we help people be active citizens, so do those citizens together make society.
Those of you with a keen sense of civic tech history may know that our charity until recently wasn’t in fact legally known as mySociety – rather its registered name was UK Citizens Online Democracy (UKCOD), whose sole project was mySociety.
This has been the case since the original group was formed way back in 1996, and later reformed after a dormant period in 2003 by a new generation of trustees and volunteers, many of whom had previously worked together on independent online democratic projects such as FaxYourMP.
Over the last 17 years mySociety has continued to operate and improve our core UK services; TheyWorkForYou, WriteToThem, WhatDoTheyKnow and FixMyStreet. We’ve vastly expanded our international reach with versions of our services running in at least 40 countries and we help better understand how technology can benefit civil society through our original research and our international TICTeC events.
The next few years will see us continue to help active citizens play their role in combatting the biggest challenges facing society: the climate crisis needs active citizens, recovering from the pandemic needs active citizens, being anti-racist needs active citizens.
Image: Gaurav Dhwaj Khadka