1. So that was TICTeC 2015

    Group shotTICTeC 2015 was mySociety’s first annual conference on the impacts of civic tech. It was a great day, packed with ideas, debates, questions – and even some hard evidence!

    Even if you were there, it was impossible to attend every session, so we know you’ll be glad to hear that we captured a lot of it for posterity. You can see the full range of videos, audio interviews, slide decks and more on the TICTeC 2015 page.

    Since the conference, we’ve been spending time  reviewing how it went, emailing many of the attendees to continue the useful discussions we began on the day, and figuring out how to make next year’s TICTeC even better.

    We’ve also set up a TICTeC Google Group as a forum for civic tech research discussions. Do sign up if you would like to join in.

    We’ll be putting out a call for speakers for next year’s conference in October, so make sure you are signed up to the Research newsletter if you’d like to be the first to hear about it.

    Roll on TICTeC 2016!

  2. Can you believe everything you hear? Fact-checking claims ahead of the election

    Full Fact

    A whole lot of facts are going to be bandied about by politicians, between now and the General Election. How do you know which to believe?

    Fortunately, there’s an organisation that’s dedicated to checking every statement, so that you can see the bare facts with no added hyperbole.

    Our friends at Full Fact are working day and night, scanning mainstream media outlets (radio, television, newspapers) and what is said in Parliament, logging any sightings of claims made by politicians.

    Their researchers then provide a professional assessment of each claim, along with a verdict on whether it can be said to be supported by the relevant data, not supported, or whether there’s not enough information to prove it either way.

    With a large team consisting of volunteers and experts, such a large number of facts to be checked, plus the likelihood of the same facts being used by different parties in different ways to suit their agenda, it’s essential that Full Fact have systems in place to help them keep track. That’s where mySociety Services stepped in.

    We’ve created tools for their volunteers to log sightings of claims and for researchers to link theses claims to the data and provide an expert assessment. That means that when the same issues keep reappearing, Full Fact will know exactly where to look to find the relevant facts.

    At the same time we’ve had an opportunity to standardise and improve the organisation’s coding practices, ensuring that as Full Fact grow their own development team they’re able to work without stepping on each other’s toes.

    Check out Full Fact’s valuable work here – and if your organisation’s workflow could also benefit from some streamlining, take a look at what we offer on the mySociety Services site.

  3. Boom times for FixMyStreet

    Each of the previous three months has been a record-breaker for FixMyStreet. In January, you made the highest number of reports in the site’s history… until February. And then that record was smashed again in March with over 17,000 reports across the month.

    FixMyStreet has been running since 2007, and it’s enjoyed increasing usage over that time, as you’d expect any site to do organically. The performance in the last few months, though—a 30% rise from the year before—has been notable. We reckon it’s been driven by a couple of factors.

    Grassroots outreach

    At mySociety, we tend not to go for big advertising campaigns (read: we can’t afford them), but you might have noticed that we put quite a bit of effort into spreading the word about FixMyStreet at the beginning of the year.

    Everything we did was low-cost and designed to help us promote the site to as many new people as possible:

    • We offered a number of downloadable posters and other promotional materials (if you haven’t seen these yet, go and take a look; we think they’re pretty nice)
    • We sent our users a stack of branded postcards that they could share with others to let them know about FixMyStreet
    • We also contacted a large number of community newsletters and magazines, serving towns, parishes and villages across the country: perhaps you saw us featured in your local publication.

    Users from council sites

    That all paid off, but there was another source of reports helping us achieve our record figures.

    That source was our client councils, who have FixMyStreet as the primary fault-reporting system on their own sites.

    Eight UK councils currently have FixMyStreet installed, with every report made on via the system on the council site being published on fixmystreet.com, and vice versa.

    Between them they’ve added just over 16,500 reports this year.

    Riding the wave

    So far this year, we’ve seen an overall average of 16,000+ reports per month, and there have been over 50,000 reports since 2015 began.

    Now, let’s hope all those reports get some kind of a response, because as the recent research we collaborated on showed, getting something fixed has the power to turn first-time reporters into conscientious, engaged repeat reporters. And that’s all for the good.

     

    Image: Jamie Taylor (CC)

  4. Before the election: make sure you understand how your MP voted

    Polling Station (way in) by Paul AlbertellaRight about now you may be considering whether you’ll be voting your MP back into Parliament in the coming election.

    Has he or she reflected your interests? One key way of checking that is to look at their voting record.

    We’d like everyone to know exactly how their MP voted over the last parliament, so we’ve made some changes to TheyWorkForYou that make votes easier to understand.

    See an example here, or read on to find out how to check your own MP’s voting record.

    A complex matter

    TheyWorkForYou publishes activity from Parliament each day.

    This content includes parliamentary votes, along with the debates that they are part of. But it’s not always obvious to the lay reader exactly what’s being voted on.

    Take a look at this debate, for example, on exemptions for smoke-free premises. By the time you’ve waded through the first clause,

    The appropriate national authority may make regulations providing for specified descriptions of premises, or specified areas within specified descriptions of premises, not to be smoke-free despite section 2

    – you may well be lost. And who would blame you?

    Making it nice and simple

    We don’t think you should have to be an expert to check your own MP’s voting record, and our new pages for each voting stance are here to help.

    For some time now we’ve given you summaries of how your MP voted on certain topics, with a link to the votes that helped us understand each MP’s position on that stance.

    Now we’ve created a page for each stance, and worded it in plain English so that anyone can understand exactly what it means.

    See for yourself

    Here’s how to see how your own MP voted (or we should say ‘previous MP’, since until the General Election, no MPs are now in office):

    Go to TheyWorkForYou.com and input your postcode on the homepage.

    twfy_votes_01

    You’ll be taken to the page of your (former) MP. Click on the ‘voting record’ tab.

    twfy_votes_02

    Choose a topic you’re interested in, and click the ‘Details’ link on the far right.

    twfy_votes_03

    You’ll see a plain English description of the stance, followed by descriptions of all the votes that were considered to contribute to it.

    twfy_votes_04_updated

    Want to see the context? Click on ‘show full debate’ and you’ll be taken to the full record of that vote.

    twfy_votes_05

    Let us know what you think

    These pages are still a work in progress, so we’ve included a feedback box at the top of each voting stance page. Do be sure to let us know if there’s anything else you’d like to see on them.

    If you have feedback about how your MP has voted, mind you, that’s another matter… one you might want to reflect at the ballot box.

    Image: Paul Albertella (CC)

  5. How responsive was your MP in 2014?

    Of course, there are many factors that you’ll consider before you cast your vote in the general election. But we think that one important quality in an MP is that they respond to their constituents.

    So you may wish to check your own MP’s performance on the latest WriteToThem responsiveness league table. Just put in your postcode and you can see how they did in 2014.

    Where the data comes from

    When you send a message to your MP using our site WriteToThem, you’ll receive an automated email two weeks later, asking whether or not you received a response. Every year, we take the data from these surveys and use it to assemble our responsiveness rankings.

    A downturn

    You might think that MPs would be doing the best they can this year, in the run-up to the election. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case: overall, responsiveness has fallen a percentage point since last year, with 46% of emails receiving no reply.

    Some caveats

    You can find all our data and methodology on the league table page.

    We know that messages sent to WriteToThem may not reflect all messages sent to an MP; we also know that not every message will require an answer. However, we think that, taken overall, our sample size of over 36,000 interactions can be seen as indicative.

    Image: Michael Scott (CC)

  6. Network Rail is subject to the Freedom of Information Act

    Image by Alison BenbowYou can now submit requests for information to Network Rail, and it is required to respond, by law.

    WhatDoTheyKnow, our website for submitting FOI requests, has listed Network Rail for some time—even though it was not subject to the Freedom of Information Act—for reasons which Richard explained in a 2012 blog post.

    As of March 24, however, Network Rail, which had previously been handling requests on a voluntary basis (although perhaps without quite as much adherence as we’d prefer) became fully FOI compliant. So, if there’s anything you’ve been bursting to ask them, now is the time.

    Browse past requests to Network Rail, or start a new one, here.

    Image: Alison Benbow (CC)

     

     

     

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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)

  10. 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