1. Watch this space for TICTeC resources

    IMG_2084IMG_2083IMG_2087IMG_2086IMG_2091 IMG_2093IMG_2090IMG_2088IMG_2095TICTeC-logos_general with year

     

    Yesterday was our conference on the Impacts of Civic Technology, and what a packed day it was.

    Don’t worry if you missed anything, though: we’ll soon have videos, interviews, photos and blog posts for you to digest at your leisure.

    Meanwhile, you might like to browse through the #TICTec hashtag on Twitter, where many delegates shared their thoughts and insights in real time.

    Thanks to everyone who came and made TICTeC into such a rich, useful and thought-provoking day. It wouldn’t have been the same without you.

  2. All set for TICTeC

    TICTeC-logos_general with yearWoah: TICTeC, the Impacts of Civic Technology Conference, is tomorrow. Tomorrow! That came quickly.

    We’re expecting 109 people from 26 different countries and 69 different organisations – all with a common interest in discussing and understanding more about the impact of civic tech.

    You can see the full agenda here, and don’t worry if you didn’t manage to get a ticket: we’ll be documenting everything in full.

    • For the as-it-happens picture, keep an eye on the Lanyrd page throughout tomorrow.
    • We’ll be following up with summaries, podcasts, photos and videos right here on the mySociety blog.
    • Be sure to tag your social media with #tictec and we’ll also document the best of that.

    See you tomorrow!

  3. Calling all teachers: downloadable lesson plans

    If you’re a teacher, looking to spend the Easter holidays planning lessons, our latest news could save you a little time.

    mySociety has collaborated with the Citizenship Foundation on the creation of materials for use in schools.

    These activities, written and tested in consultation with teachers, introduce students to concepts of democracy, citizenship and community. A number of the materials also show students how they can use mySociety websites such as WriteToThem, WhatDoTheyKnow or FixMyStreet to bring about change.

    We hope that you will find these activities useful. They span years 1 to 13, will fit into a variety of curricula from Politics to Geography, and are completely free to download and use. Access them here – and please do pass the word on to your teacher colleagues.

    Image: Rachel (CC)

  4. A ‘yay for Poplus’ moment: one bid, six countries

    Image by Dave WhitelandThe Knight Foundation’s News Challenge offers funding to innovative projects. We wonder whether they’ve ever had a bid whose collaborators span six different countries before.

    Well, now they have: the plan to extend YourNextMP to work in Guatemala, Chile, Argentina, Peru, Scotland, and Minnesota is a great example of the Poplus federation in action.

    You can read more about the plans on the bid page—and please click the little pink heart to give us ‘applause’!

     

    The bid

    In short, we want to build on the success that the YourNextMP crowdsourcing platform has had here in the UK.

    Right now, YourNextMP offers open data on every candidate for the UK general election. That data is being used by major media companies and internet giants, and underlies several innovative online tools. On top of that, it’s getting thousands of visits every day from people who simply want more information about who’s standing in their area.

    With some modification, other countries could use the same tech in advance of their own elections, giving their citizens the same opportunities to become more informed about those standing, and to develop still more useful online tools.

    This is a ‘Yay for Poplus’ moment

    Because Poplus is an international federation of organisations with similar needs, we can come together to forge plans that will benefit all of us, and then work together to make them a reality.

    Our plans wouldn’t just benefit those six countries, either. Like every bit of Poplus tech, it’d be available as open source software for anyone to use, anywhere in the world. And that’s what Poplus is all about: maximum impact from every bit of code.

    So now..

    Join the Poplus mailing list to find out more about Poplus activities

    Give some applause to our Knight Foundation News Challenge bid

  5. Helping Passenger Focus display bus satisfaction data

    Passenger Focus bus satisfaction survey

    Users of Lothian Buses are more satisfied with the value for money of their bus journeys than anyone else in the country.

    Passengers on the Oxford Park and Ride service find the seats the most comfortable.  And the drivers of Trent Barton in Nottinghamshire give a friendly enough greeting, according to 95% of passengers.

    These are the kind of insights that it’s now very easy to discover on the Passenger Focus website, thanks to the latest project by mySociety Services.

    It’s an extension of the work we did last year to help the transport watchdog display their train satisfaction data. We’ve introduced a new design which, we hope, makes it much easier to explore the results of Passenger Focus’ annual passenger satisfaction survey.

    We’ve used a new visual approach that is appropriate for the bus data: it makes it really easy to browse through 32 different survey categories, from cleanliness to safe driving.

    When you have that many categories, drop-downs aren’t really an option, and we’re pleased with what we came up with to make it easy to make the most important categories prominent, while still allowing easy and intuitive access to the others.

    We’ve also used responsive design, which means it performs beautifully whether viewed on mobile or at the desktop. Check it out for yourself here – be sure to resize your browser to see the mobile version kick in!

  6. A future for HassleMe

    Image by Heartlover1717HassleMe, mySociety’s nifty little reminders site, will continue to send ‘semi-unpredictable’ emails to subscribers – but under new ownership.

    Not gone yet

    Some canny commenters noticed that we’d tagged HassleMe in our post about closing down some of our sites, but then hadn’t actually included it in the list of projects that were due for closure.

    That came about because, although we’d initially added HassleMe to the list of sites headed for the dumpster, there was also some internal debate about saving it.

    A small cohort of mySociety staff members were so fond of the site that they wondered whether they might take on its running and maintenance in their own time.

    The good news is that the answer is ‘yes’, and thus HassleMe’s new owners are Hakim, Ian, Paul, and Zarino.

    If you have an active Hassle, you’ll have received an email to inform you of this change in ownership (and offer an opt-out, if you’d prefer).

    A bit of HassleMe history

    HassleMe began as a small piece of script, intended purely for internal mySociety use.

    Back in mySociety’s early years, there were only a few members of staff, almost all coders. They knew it was important to keep communicating with the public about what they were doing, but blogging often fell by the wayside in favour of other tasks.

    HassleMe was a coders’ solution: a programme that would periodically send an email to a random member of staff and tell them that it was their turn to blog.

    Crucially, the reminders were not equally spaced: they would come *about*, but not *exactly* as frequently as you’d set them to. This element of surprise seemed to make the reminders more effective.

    Clean the toilet, walk the dog, write a poem

    In time, HassleMe was turned into a public service, and people used it for all kinds of things.

    Perhaps it was the hassles set to the longest frequencies that were the most interesting. Hassles could be set to recur at frequencies up to ten years, and so people soon realised that they could send messages to a future self. Some of them were prescient:

    Are there men on Mars already? What are the plans?

    Check back in another ten years with that one, we’re almost there.

    Of course, we’re fond of all our projects, past and present, but we’re glad to be able to tell you that HassleMe has a future, under new ownership. If you’d like to set up your own little reminders, or send a letter to your future self, you can do so here.

     

    Image: Heartlover1717 (CC)

  7. Local government: you can shape your own responsible citizens

    Image by Troy McColloughWe already know that positive rewards make us more likely to repeat an action. Just like laboratory rats, when something feels good, we do it again.

    Our recent collaboration with a team of researchers at the World Bank goes to show that it’s no different when it comes to civic participation. The team analysed almost 400,000 anonymised FixMyStreet reports to prove the hypothesis that, if a user’s first report is fixed, he or she is more likely to go on and make more.

    So, just as a biscuit may give us a sugary high that we’re keen to experience again and again, the knowledge of having done ‘local public good’ is enough of a hit to bring people back to make another FixMyStreet report. In fact, they are 54% more likely to do so.

    A learning for local government

    What can our councils learn from this research? That responding to a resident’s report may have more than the obvious, immediate effect.

    By fixing a user’s issue, a council is increasing the probability that that citizen will become a regular reporter of issues, and possibly (although this wasn’t covered by the current research) a more engaged citizen all round.

    In short, it’s a two-way street. Ignore a report, and you run the risk of alienating a user enough that they never bother to engage again. Fix it, and you’ve proved the value of making contact.

    Read the full paper here.

     

    Image: Troy McCollough (CC)

  8. mySociety Services is expanding: seeking a Sales Consultant

    As mySociety Services continues to develop, we seek a new member to join the team.

    We’re looking for a Sales Consultant who will bring their own experience and give us the capacity to discover and explore new leads. As with all mySociety positions, it’s a work-from-home job, but will be based around the Bath/Bristol areas where several of the mySociety Services team are already situated.

    mySociety’s commercial work supports our charitable projects, so every new project for a client also does good in the wider world.

    Do you know someone who might fit the bill? Send them over to this page where they can see all the details.

    Image: Lauren Mitchell (CC)

  9. What new features would you like to see on Collideoscope?

    Cyclists in Copenhagen by Justin SwanOur project Collideoscope, in partnership with Integrated Transport Planning Ltd, has been collecting data on cycling incidents and near misses since its launch last October.

    We’ve recently secured a small amount of innovation funding from the DfT’s Transport – Technology Research and Innovation Grant and that means that we’re in a position to add new features and functionality to Collideoscope.

    Your chance to guide Collideoscope’s development

    We’d like to hear your suggestions for new features on Collideoscope—or perhaps you’ve spotted something that could work better.

    Please send your suggestions to hello@collideosco.pe, or use the site’s contact form. We need them in by March 18th, so you have two weeks to gather your thoughts.

    What Collideoscope already does

    If you’re involved in a cycling collision or near miss—whether you’re the cyclist, a motorist or a pedestrian—you can report it on Collideoscope.

    The site sends your report to the relevant local highways authority, and also publishes it online (where there’s the option to remain anonymous).

    More than this, though, Collideoscope acts a repository for data on incidents and near misses. In time, anyone will be able to use that data to spot accident hotspots, and the places where accidents are waiting to happen.

    This data is available to all, but is especially designed for councils, police forces, road planners, and healthcare providers in their efforts to conceive safer roads, more effective accident deterrents and better emergency care strategies.

    And what we’re planning to do

    We’ve already committed to a few developments. We’ll be:

    • developing better reporting to local councils;
    • working with the police to notify them of issues that might require their attention;
    • releasing anonymised reports as open data within the next 12 months

    …but we’re not planning on stopping there. Your ideas and opinions will guide further development and help us raise further funds for the site.

    We thank you all in advance for your time!

    Image: Justin Swan (CC)

  10. The story of Pledgebank

    Pledgebank  homepageThese days, when you think of mySociety’s major projects, you’d be forgiven for passing over the vision in purple that is Pledgebank.

    And yet, it’s among mySociety’s longest-running sites, and one that we had big plans for. It was a truly international project, too, with users in many countries.

    It even, as we’ll see, spawned one of the UK’s major transparency organisations.

    But all good things come to an end, and as we announced in a recent post, we’ll shortly be closing Pledgebank down.

    Before we do, it seems a good moment to record some of its history.

    The Pledgebank concept

    In November 2004, we announced mySociety’s second official project:

    The purpose of  PledgeBank is to get people past a barrier which strikes down endless good plans before they can are carried out – the fear of acting alone. It allows anyone to say “I’ll do X if other people also do X”, for example “I’ll write to my councillor if 5 other people on my street do the same”.

    However, there is no scale to big or too small, it could equally be used to say “I’ll start recycling if 10,000 other people in Britain also start”.

    Pledgebank officially launched on 13 June 2005. We’d opened a trial version of the site to a few users first, with early pledges including anti-ID card campaigning, carbon offsetting, and community river cleaning. People were interested. It was off to a good start. As the Guardian reported, even Brian Eno was a user.

    By that September, mySociety Director Tom was describing Pledgebank as our most popular site yet, and as of January 2006, there had been more than 200 successful pledges. In July 2006 the site won the New Statesman New Media award.

    Finding a niche for Pledgebank

    So that was all going swimmingly, and as time passed, we started building on the basic Pledgebank model.

    There were location-specific Pledgebanks, like Pledgebank London which urged folk to do a good deed for their city. Both the then PM Tony Blair and Mayor of London Ken Livingstone helped launch it, pledging to become patrons of a sports club.

    And, like FixMyStreet, we sold Pledgebank as white-label software for councils, allowing them to organise, for example, community snow clearance, and Royal Wedding street parties.

    Did we miss something?

    Here at mySociety, we’re not all about making the big bucks. But that doesn’t stop us from occasionally wondering why we never evolved Pledgebank into a lucrative service like Kickstarter or Groupon, both of which are founded on the very same idea: that there’s potential power in a pledge.

    Whether you back a project on Kickstarter, or put in for a hot stone massage on Groupon, you’re basically undertaking to buy something. But while Pledgebank did allow fundraising pledges, it didn’t take a cut of the moneys raised.

    At one point we did look into using an escrow service, but we decided in the end that each pledge organiser could sort out collection of any payments. And thus, we never quite became Kickstarter. Oh well.

    Simple concepts have many possibilities

    Pledgebank might have been founded on a simple concept, but, like so many simple concepts, it turned out that there were endless features we could add to it.

    At launch, SMS text messages were an important part of the site, and one that we spent considerable time and effort on. It was 2005, remember, and as we often said in our blog posts at the time, many people either weren’t online or had no desire to be. We wanted the site to cater for them too.

    And almost immediately after launch we added another feature: the ability to subscribe, so you’d receive an email when someone set up a pledge that was near you, geographically. This was ideal for those pledges with a local aspect, such as saving an ancient tree, or getting together to clean up a community.

    Then there was the international aspect. Pledgebank was mySociety’s first in-house project to be translated.

    In true mySociety style, the translation was crowdsourced and ultimately overseen by our diligent volunteer Tim Morley. As I write, just prior to the site’s closure, it is available in 14 languages, from Simplified Chinese to Belarusian, and including Esperanto.

    And it was taken up, enthusiastically, in many countries. Even now, we still sometimes have to deploy Google Translate in order to reply to Pledgebank’s user support emails.

    A site to change the world

    Over its lifetime, Pledgebank has been the starting point for many people to make the world a better place, in ways both large and small.

    Before we say goodbye all together, let’s take a look at some of the surprising, sometimes amazing, things it helped bring about.

    The smaller pledges were sometimes just as interesting:

    …and many more. Over time, Pledgebank became an archive of inspirational, utopian, and sometimes plain eccentric pledges. It brought thousands of people together in common causes, and multiplied the power of a single person’s desire to do good.

    We’d love to hear how you used Pledgebank: let us know in the comments below.