1. Freedom of Information to support social change

    Rethinking our approach to marginalised communities

    Read our new report
    ‘Using Access to Information to support social change’

    Freedom of information is for everyone: that’s something we believe, and something we’re taking concrete steps to ensure.

    As we celebrate the millionth public FOI request on WhatDoTheyKnow, it’s important to consider how we can ensure the next million can benefit a broader range of people to do more towards social justice.

    Historically our userbase has skewed towards those who already hold privilege, with white, well-educated, affluent males most represented across all our UK services. This demographic has fluctuated a little over time, but not as considerably as we would like.

    Cover of mySociety's report Using Access to Information to support social change by Jen BramleyThanks to a grant from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, we are taking proactive steps to address this imbalance, with the primary aim of supporting marginalised groups in using FOI as one of their tools for social change. 

    Jen Bramley, our Partnerships Manager, is leading on a programme to firstly research into such groups’ needs and their perception of FOI; and then identify and deliver the training that will be most effective in giving them the hands-on skills required to include FOI into their campaigning toolkits.

    The first part of that activity is completed. The research confirmed some perhaps predictable points around making the very concept of FOI clearer to these communities who may not have come across the term before; and ensuring that the language and interfaces on WhatDoTheyKnow are made more accessible.

    But there were other learnings that we would have come to without speaking directly to our subjects. For example, we heard that some communities’ longstanding mistrust of authority extends to the idea of having any interaction with them, even within the rights conferred by the FOI Act; and that people in more deprived demographics are more likely to access the internet via mobile phone, making it much harder to access and understand dense documents that might have been released — and all the more so when they are in bulk.

    Finally, there is a desire to see more positive accounts of people using FOI without the subject having to jump over several barriers to get the information they required. While we may see such stories as an inspiring narrative encouraging us not to give up, it’s also understandable that to people approaching FOI for the first time, such stories could seem offputting and unattainable.

    We’ll be using everything we learned to inform future development on WhatDoTheyKnow. These improvements will be possible thanks to the time and experience generously given by our interviewees.

    You can read the full report here.


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  2. What’s on WhatDoTheyKnow?

    In celebration of our millionth public FOI request on WhatDoTheyKnow, we’ve been examining many aspects of the service — and now we come to that huge archive of released information, built up by members of the public asking for what they wanted, and receiving data in response.

    So, what’s in there?

    The thing is, we don’t know. 

    Well, that’s not to say we have no idea: of course we do occasionally look at what’s being requested and released via WhatDoTheyKnow. When we find something interesting, we often tweet about it. But with requests being submitted at an ever-increasing rate, there’s no way that we can inspect every single one.

    We do, however, have some thoughts about what you can find in the massive public archive that is WhatDoTheyKnow, and it’s not just ‘information that people have asked for’. The meta-benefit of having a big corpus like this free and online is that it provides a lens for examining our own society.

    So for example, some of the information just waiting to be analysed by curious researchers, linguists or historians include:

    What sort of things people want to know Machine learning technology can now allow a researcher to take a huge dataset like WhatDoTheyKnow’s million public requests, and analyse it. What topics do the most people ask about, which authorities do they make what type of requests to, which type of wording is most likely to gain a response, and all sorts of other questions are just waiting to be answered — should a curious enough researcher want to get their teeth into it.

    And incidentally – if an authority analyses the requests made to it over the years, it would also find useful intel on what data it could be publishing proactively, so people don’t even have to submit an FOI request, and they don’t have to expend effort responding to them.

    Lessons about how language changes When you have a million questions, and a vast number of responses from authorities, you can start to understand shifts in our language. For example: when did information officers start including pronouns in their signatures? That may not be relevant to the information being released, but it still marks a significant change in social history. And when did society settle on ‘covid’ rather than ‘coronavirus’, ‘Brexit’ rather than ‘leaving the EU’? We reckon there’s a huge value to any linguist or historian who takes a look.

    Widely useful information There’s at least one type of information that we know is useful to hundreds of people every year: the acceptance rates at various universities. 

    Every year, prospective students start to worry about their chance of getting into their preferred institution; and every year (usually on Reddit) they are pointed towards previous releases showing the data; or, where it doesn’t exist, advised to put in their own request for it.

    That’s just one example of how information, once published, has a spread far beyond the single person who requested it. There are many more, not least in Wikipedia citations.

    When contracts are due for renewal Another common use of the FOI Act is by companies or startups looking for commercial information — such as when a contract is up for renewal so they can submit a tender; or whether certain authorities have a need for the product they’re developing.

    A request sent across a number of authorities in the area, or even across the country, can be a very efficient source of intel. 

    Your esoteric pet subject What are you into? Politics?, Public transport? Cookery, bats, or seagulls perhaps? Whatever it is, you can search WhatDoTheyKnow and see if anyone’s uncovered interesting information about it. 

    If not, maybe you’ll think of something you’d like to know — and don’t forget you can set up an alert, so you’ll receive an email whenever someone mentions your chosen keyword in a future request or response.

    What authorities don’t actually have a record of. We blogged a while back about what it means when your request comes back as ‘information not held’. Sometimes this can be as revealing as the information itself.

    Datasets behind news stories. When journalists or researchers use WhatDoTheyKnow or WhatDoTheyKnow Pro to gather data that helps them break a story or write a paper, we always encourage them to link their article or report back to the responses on the site. Because, yes, they’ve found one story, but there may be more to discover in there, and there are always people motivated enough to look. Equally, we’ll link back from the site to their story – look out for the ‘in the news’ section in the right hand column of every request page.

    These are just a few examples of the riches to be found in plain view on WhatDoTheyKnow. If it wasn’t for the UK’s Freedom of Information Act, and for WhatDoTheyKnow’s ability to make information truly free, none of this would be available. But it is, and that’s great, so why not dive into the search bar and see what you can find?

    Tomorrow, in the final post of this series, we’ll be looking at what we’re doing to bring WhatDoTheyKnow’s benefits to the communities that need them most.

     

    Image: Fabio

  3. You can use WhatDoTheyKnow for the good of the climate

    As we look back on a million public requests, we’re also looking to the future and how WhatDoTheyKnow might be leveraged for the most important issue of our generation — the climate.

    The climate emergency is a “wicked problem,” that is to say that it is a challenge with incomplete, contradictory, and often changing requirements. When you add misinformation into the mix, with politically-driven narratives that seek to derail progress (indeed, question the need for progress), it is easy to see why the release of factual information might be a vital tool in our journey to decarbonisation.

    There is, as it happens, a legal mechanism that was designed specially for requesting information about the environment. The Environmental Information Regulations (EIRs) are similar to FOI in that they allow you to request information from authorities, and they can be used when requesting anything — broadly — to do with the environment. 

    Happily, they cover more authorities and have a higher bar for refusal than FOI. Equally happily, you can submit an EIR request on WhatDoTheyKnow, just as you can with FOI requests. Find out more about EIRs on WhatDoTheyKnow.

    With that in mind, no matter who you are — a company, a campaign or just a concerned citizen — there are ways in which you can put the EIR to the service of the climate. Here are just a few of them.

    • If you’re a startup in the climate sector, you might ask authorities about contract renewals, research whether any competitors exist, or request data that will inform your product development. There are many more such uses, but hopefully that’s enough to get you started!
    • If you are running a climate-related campaign, you may also find EIRs helpful. You can get the facts and figures that underline your arguments; find out richer data about your issue; or even get minutes from meetings where decisions have been made about your cause.
    • If you’re an individual who would love to do something for the climate, but don’t know where to start, how about holding authorities to account, for example over divestment from fossil fuels in their pensions? Ask a question, get the facts  — and then maybe write to your councillors, or even ask a question at a council meeting to get the point home.
    • If you’re a journalist, you can use WhatDoTheyKnow (or WhatDoTheyKnow Pro if you want to keep your findings private until your story goes out) to uncover the truth  — or even corruption — around climate issues. For inspiration, take a look at what journalist Lucas Amin found out with a series of dogged requests.
    • If you’re a researcher, or just someone who loves stats, remember that you can fill in any gaps in your information with WhatDoTheyKnow. Just see what Climate Emergency UK did when they needed information from every council in the country, to inform their Scorecards project. That was a massive endeavour, but the principle can be applied to any quest for information.

    Yesterday we considered what the world would look like if WhatDoTheyKnow had never been launched. Come back tomorrow for thoughts about what’s in that massive archive of requests and responses, and how society as a whole can benefit from it — beyond the obvious utility of simply accessing useful information.

    Image: Matjaz Krivic / Climate Visuals Countdown (CC by-nc-nd 4.0).
    Startup Climeworks uses Co2 from an incineration plant in their greenhouses.

  4. What would the world look like without WhatDoTheyKnow?

    Yesterday we shared the news that WhatDoTheyKnow has processed its millionth public request. 

    The site’s been around since 2008, nearly as long as the UK’s right to information, and we think it’s fair to say that we’ve had some impact on the world during that time.

    Let’s go back, just for a moment, to 2006 when mySociety ran its open call for suggestions of new websites we could build. Imagine we’d bypassed the ‘Freedom of Information Filer and Archive’ suggested by both Francis Irving and Phil Rodgers, and instead had plumped for one of the easier ideas. And in this scenario, let’s imagine that no-one else went ahead and made an FOI site either.

    So, in a world without WhatDoTheyKnow:

    Information would be released to the requester only. Here’s the most obvious difference: instead of being automatically published on WhatDoTheyKnow, any information received would come directly to the person who requested it. 

    If someone else wanted the same information, they’d have to ask for it again. And every time it was requested, authorities would have to send it out all over again.

    This one simple thing that WhatDoTheyKnow does – publishing responses – both puts information into the public domain, and saves authorities from the bother of duplicating their efforts.

    Information might not be released by email. Of course, when you make a request on WhatDoTheyKnow, it goes to the authority by email, and, almost always, the response is sent by the same means. But in our alternate universe without WhatDoTheyKnow, information might come much more regularly through the request-maker’s own letterbox.

    In WhatDoTheyKnow’s early days, one of the big battles we had to fight was for email to be accepted as a valid FOI request — not to mention email that came from a WhatDoTheyKnow-generated email address. Guidance from both the Ministry of Justice and the Information Commissioner now confirms that such requests are not only valid — and in 2016 an independent commission concluded that publishing responses to FOI requests “should be the norm”.

    Many fewer people would have heard of FOI, and FOI would be the preserve mainly of journalists and researchers. Let’s face it, FOI still isn’t as well-understood as we might like it to be — even though our research found that one in ten adults in the UK has put in a request at some time.  

    But without WhatDoTheyKnow, we believe the concept of FOI would be even less recognised. Fewer people would have stumbled across it when looking for answers; even those who had heard of the Act might find it difficult to figure out how to access it. It’s probable that only trained professionals such as journalists and researchers would be using FOI on a regular basis. 

    We wouldn’t be there to help people with FOI issues. WhatDoTheyKnow’s amazing team of volunteers answers a massive number of queries every day — questions from users of the site who are puzzled about how to make a request, what to do when they receive a refusal, or what an exemption means. 

    If it wasn’t for WhatDoTheyKnow, the chances are that the small part of the general population who did figure out how to make a request would give up as soon as they received a refusal or a request for clarification.

    People around the world wouldn’t have access to FOI sites, either. If we hadn’t built WhatDoTheyKnow, we’d never have packaged it up as the open source Alaveteli codebase  — and motivated individuals around the world wouldn’t have had a simple way to set up their own access to information websites. We’re proud to say that Alaveteli sites are running in more than 25 jurisdictions globally, from Argentina and Australia, to Ukraine, Uganda and Uruguay. 

    Our right to information would be weaker. We’ve defended the FOI Act through successive governments, with winds blowing FOI in and out of favour. We’ve given evidence in Parliament, stood up for FOI via inquiries and fought against its erosion with campaigns. 

    We believe in the right to information as a basic tenet of democracy and accountability, and we’re prepared to do whatever it takes to defend it.

    So, with all that in mind, aren’t you glad that WhatDoTheyKnow does exist? 

    Come back tomorrow to find out how WhatDoTheyKnow can be used to tackle the overarching issue of our times: climate.

    Image: Fons Heijnsbroek

  5. A million public requests on WhatDoTheyKnow

    Pop open the bubbly — this is huge! Yes, it’s a big day for us, as the number of Freedom of Information requests on WhatDoTheyKnow ticks over to a mahoosive one million. That milestone was reached at 05:34 this morning, when a request to Kent Police was published.

    WhatDoTheyKnow's homepage, showing the million count

    A million public requests! It’s proof of the value of FOI, and of the need for WhatDoTheyKnow. In essence, this big round number represents the vast archive of publicly-available information, built up by hundreds of thousands of individual users over the site’s 15 year lifetime. They’ve asked — and continue to ask — for information from public authorities, at the current rate of two-and-half thousand requests a week.

    Why? Because, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, they can; and, perhaps more importantly, thanks to WhatDoTheyKnow, it’s easy. Normal. Unintimidating.

    According to our polling, one in ten UK citizens have used FOI. People are doing good things with WhatDoTheyKnow  — we celebrated several of them at our recent awards, and over the years we’ve written about the varied and often surprising ways in which people have used our service to change the world. As a small sample of the many amazing uses we’ve seen, here’s how WhatDoTheyKnow has helped people to:

    But the impact doesn’t stop there. We know from the massive ratio of visitors to requesters that the main use of WhatDoTheyKnow is in viewing information that others have made public. This means that for the same cost to the public purse of processing an FOI request, information has been made much more public and discoverable. 

    Over the past nine  years, 660,000 requests have had 107 million page views (160x). WhatDoTheyKnow is, in systematic terms, a cheap way of getting more benefit from the hundreds of thousands of pieces of public information that have been released through FOI. That benefit will multiply, long into the future, with an archive that will always be available.

    And that’s what we mean when we say that information can be free. Free, as in free to fly; and free as in provided at absolutely no cost to anyone who can make use of it. 

    Thank you to everyone who’s played a part in WhatDoTheyKnow reaching this meaningful milestone: the volunteers who help run the site; the developers who helped to build it and those who continue to refine it; the information officers who gather and respond with information; the funders who understand the worth of our service; and of course all those citizens who, collectively, have asked for information and, together, built up this unparalleled library of knowledge. 

    Here’s to you all, and here’s to the ten millionth request — which given the exponential rate of growth, will not take ten times as long for us to reach.

    If you’d like to assure the future for easy access to information, then please do make a donation. Thank you.

    Next post in this series: what the world would look like if WhatDoTheyKnow had never been launched.

    Image: Ivan Lopatin

  6. 20th anniversary awards and event

    Wednesday night saw a steady stream of people making their way to one corner of a small square in London. mySociety staff, past and present; friends and associates; stellar users of our services; funders, journalists — in short, folk who had played a part in mySociety’s early years or subsequent history — assembled in Conway Hall to celebrate our twentieth year as an organisation.

    It was a wonderful opportunity to look back, sometimes with a slight sense of wonder, but also with some pride. It turns out that when you put together so many people with a bit of mySociety in their history, they have a lot to talk about, even if they come from quite separate bits of our timeline.

    Traditionally, we put out an online impact report at the end of the year, covering the previous twelve months. Well, this year we’ve gone all out and covered our whole history as an organisation. Guests had special early access to this, with a print booklet left on each seat. Don’t worry if you weren’t there: we’ll be putting it out as a digital version closer to our usual December publication date.

    The report doesn’t just present our history though; some sections look toward our future mission and purpose — something that Louise Crow, our Chief Executive, also folded into her speech. Anecdotes, facts, call-outs and thoughtful sidenotes contributed to an engaging and informative spin through the ‘eras’ of mySociety which you can read here.

    Award winners

    And of course, there was the presentation of our awards. A couple of weeks ago, we told you which people and projects had been shortlisted; and now we can reveal the winners.

    Driving Institutional Change award 

    The award was collected on behalf of Richard Bennett, aka the Heavy Metal Handcyclist, by his partner Eryn and sister Perin, and represents his activism and generosity in sharing knowledge with others to make the world more accessible for everyone.

    You can read more about his work in our blog post of 2021.

    Accelerating Climate Action award

    This award was taken by Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming, in recognition of the way they’ve turned climate data into tangible climate action, using both our CAPE site and our MapIt API.

    We wrote a bit about that in this post.

     

    Exposing Truth award

    Journalist Jenna Corderoy was recognised in this category, for her bold and sustained work in uncovering the Cabinet Office’s ‘FOI clearing house’ – bringing about change, using FOI, for the benefit of FOI.

    You can read more about the Clearing House here.

     

    Impactful International Use award

    We awarded this one to Ukrainian FOI service Dostup do Pravdy (Access to Truth) – in their absence. The award was collected by our head of Transparency, Gareth Rees, and we’ll make sure it gets to them safely.

    We’ve had a long relationship with Dostup; but our most recent coverage of their work can be seen here.

    Campaigning for Justice award

    The final award was given to Eleanor Shaikh for her tireless research uncovering injustice and official cover-ups around the Post Office Horizon scandal, which we recently wrote about here.

     

     

     

    Of course, we really wish we could have given an award to all of our shortlistees, who are all doing such excellent work in their own areas. It was great to see so many campaigners, researchers, journalists and organisations chatting away and comparing notes over their methods: we hope the evening has resulted in some useful connections.

    We were extremely touched by all the winners’ words when they came up to the podium to accept their awards. They indicated that our services had allowed them to attain breakthroughs that they either wouldn’t have managed without us, or which would have taken a lot more time and effort.

    For us, the evening was a chance to see the living, breathing results of our lines of code and theories of change – ideas that we believe should help people to make a difference, but which are unproven until we hear of such incredible achievements. We are honoured to be a small part of that.

    Might you be a part of our future?

    Be part of our Board! As all of this activity makes clear, mySociety still has an awful lot to do — and a clear direction to take. If that sounds like something you’d like to be part of, you might be interested in our current Trustee and Non-Executive Director vacancies. As a Trustee or NED, you use your expertise and a little of your time to help steer our direction and input on all our activities. Find out more here.

    Help us extend our impact further! Could we work together to achieve more? Part of our mission is to form mutually beneficial partnerships with other organisations, with each side supporting the other. If that sounds like something you’d like to explore further, drop us a line.

    Finally, here are a few photos from the evening – click to see them at a larger size.

    There was also a professional photographer in attendance, so we’ll make sure to come back and share those images once they’ve been processed – especially those of the award winners, which, it turns out, mobile phone snaps didn’t do justice to!

    Thank you so much to everyone who helped make this such a joyous and moving event, from our shortlistees to our guests, and all the staff members who pitched in to make it go smoothly.

    Photos: Sally Bracegirdle and Lizetta Lyster

     

  7. Come on board

    Giving your time and expertise as a member of a charity’s board can be an amazing opportunity – to expand your horizons, to dig into a new sector, and, of course, to do good.

    We’re currently looking for new board members, on each side of our organisation – a non-Executive Director for our commercial arm SocietyWorks, and Trustees on the charitable side, for mySociety.

    If you feel like now might be the time to step up and do something new and exciting, please do have a look at the job ads linked above, where you’ll find a lot more detail on the kind of people we’re looking for, and copious information on what the roles involve.

  8. Shortlist announced for mySociety’s 20th anniversary awards

    The ways in which people and organisations have used mySociety’s services through the lifetime of the organisation have been impressive, inspiring and sometimes astonishing.

    So, to celebrate our 20th anniversary, on 15 November we’ll be presenting awards in five categories, showcasing impactful usage of their services through the years.

    • Driving Institutional Change
    • Accelerating Climate Action
    • Exposing Truth
    • Impactful International Reuse
    • Campaigning for Justice

    The shortlist is as follows:

    Driving Institutional Change

    • The Give Them Time campaign used WhatDoTheyKnow to get the law changed over funding for nursery care in Scotland.
    • John Graham-Cumming In 2009, John used the petitions website that mySociety had built for 10 Downing Street, resulting in Gordon Brown apologising on behalf of the British Government for its treatment of the computer scientist Alan Turing.
    • Richard Bennett used WhatDoTheyKnow, coupled with the Equality Act, to make pathways more accessible for wheelchair users, sharing his methods so that others could do the same.
    • Privacy International The ‘Neighbourhood Watched’ project used WhatDoTheyKnow to reveal the unchecked use of surveillance technology by police forces across the UK.

    Accelerating Climate Action

    • Zero Hour Using mySociety’s WriteToThem software, they’ve garnered the backing of over 150 MPs for their draft Climate and Ecology Bill.
    • Sustain used data from CAPE, our Climate Action Plans Explorer, to analyse the degree to which local authorities are including food within their strategies to cut emissions. 
    • Save the Trees of Armada Way Plymouth’s grassroots campaign fought against the removal of much-loved trees in the city centre, using WriteToThem to send emails to the local councillors — apparently, the most emails they had ever received on a single subject. 

     Exposing Truth

    • Jenna Corderoy Jenna is shortlisted for her investigation — using WhatDoTheyKnow — of the Cabinet Office’s controversial Clearing House, a secretive unit that screened  and blocked FOI requests made by journalists and campaigners, often on matters of serious public interest.
    • The Bureau of Investigative Journalism Their Sold From Under You project used crowdsourced and FOI data to reveal how much publicly-owned property was sold off by councils across England, in an attempt to fill funding gaps caused by austerity measures. 
    • Lost in Europe worked with people running FOI sites on our Alaveteli platform, in 12 different countries, to uncover previously unknown statistics around how many children disappear at borders

    Impactful International Reuse 

    • Dostup do Pravda/Access to Truth The Ukrainian Freedom of Information site continues providing access to information even in the difficult circumstances of war.
    • vTaiwan, Public Digital Innovation Space, and the Taiwanese Ministry of Digital Affairs The Taiwanese government uses mySociety’s SayIt software to make deliberations on difficult subjects public and accessible to citizens.
    • DATA Uruguay The organisation has built both FixMyStreet and Freedom of Information sites on mySociety’s codebases, changing the way their governments  communicate with citizens at both local and national levels.

    Campaigning for Justice 

    • Doug Paulley is a lifelong campaigner for rights for disabled people, using FOI to fight against access discrimination, especially around public transport.
    • Eleanor Shaikh has dedicated hours and hundreds of FOI requests to finding out the truth behind the Post Office Horizon scandal, with her findings making front page headlines.
    • After Exploitation use Freedom of Information to uncover the failings of the government’s measures to protect vulnerable detainees.

    Of course, every single user of our services is a winner in our eyes – but watch this space to find out who takes home the award in each category!

    Image: Rene Böhmer

  9. Council climate scorecards are back — and this time they’re measuring action

    Today, we’re happy to join in the excitement around the launch of the Council Climate Action Scorecards.

    Just over 18 months ago, we were pointing at the first iteration of this work by Climate Emergency UK (CE UK), which marked every council’s climate action plan according to a detailed schema. Back then, we were impressed by the scale and quality of what they’d pulled off, and pleased to have been a partner in delivering the work.

    But if that was impressive, what’s been achieved this time around is even more so. While climate action plans are simple documents, with all the information in one place, unpicking how climate action is progressing at the local government level is a much more complicated matter. 

    Once again, CE UK amassed a large cohort of volunteers, trained them up and set them the task of obtaining information about the state of play in every council area via a variety of means: news stories, meeting minutes, websites and strategy docs; and where the information couldn’t be found by any publicly-available source, with FOI requests. It is a real testament to people power, coupled with one of mySociety’s longtime favourite methods of breaking daunting tasks into more manageable chunks by crowdsourcing.

    To ensure the data is meaningful, CE UK have completed the work with the oversight of an advisory panel, of which our Head of Research Alex Parsons was one member. mySociety have again played an active part in the project, building a tool on which volunteers assessed action, developing and designing the website, and helping send the FOI requests to multiple councils via our WhatDoTheyKnow Projects tool.

    We hope that the Council Climate Action Scorecards will help councils and other key actors such as central government to see where they could be doing more, and to knowledge-share with others. More than that, we hope that campaigners, researchers, journalists — and individuals who want to understand how their councils are doing on climate — will dig into the data and learn more about both the local and nationwide pictures.

    At mySociety, our Climate team‘s focus is set by the fact that around a third of all emissions are estimated to be within the power of local authorities. That’s why we have gladly put time and resource into supporting CE UK’s fantastic work.

    Image: Markus Krisetya

  10. The Climate and Ecology Bill is gaining traction – with the help of WriteToThem

    You might know our WriteToThem service as an easy way to contact your representatives – which it definitely is! But did you realise that it’s also doing heavier lifting, helping proposed legislation gain support in Parliament?

    We’ve already seen how Power for People have mobilised their supporters this way: and Zero Hour is also running a successful campaign around a draft Bill. 

    zero hour logoZero Hour’s campaign centres around the Climate and Ecology Bill, in which they lay out a comprehensive and joined-up approach to the climate and nature emergency. A cornerstone of their strategy relies on getting their supporters to contact their representatives and ask them for their backing. 

    We asked Amy McDonnell, co-Director of Zero Hour to give us a bit more background and to explain the thinking behind the Bill. 

    Amy explained, “It’s the only current or proposed legislation that tackles the interconnected nature-climate emergency together.

    “We formed the campaign to provide a pathway to getting cross-party support for a legislative solution that will ensure that the UK delivers a science-led, people-powered plan on biodiversity and climate.”

    We were interested to know more about how rallying individuals can pave the way to change. 

    Amy told us, “We’ve always depended on our grassroots movement. MPs really care about what their constituents think, and writing to them is incredibly impactful. Moving forwards, we know that we can only win with people on the ground by turbocharging our activity in Parliament.”

    So how did they make the decision to bring WriteToThem onto their website? 

    “We knew that we needed an integrated tool on our site. The WriteToThem tool was key, as we recognise that people’s priorities are stretched and time is precious. So we used WriteToThem to ensure that supporters could contact the MP where they live with the click of a button. 

    “This has been incredibly effective, with thousands of our supporters asking their MPs to support the Climate and Ecology Bill. Having the mechanism to write to MPs with ease has been crucial to the success of the campaign to date, providing insightful responses and opening opportunities for our team to have engaging conversations with members of all political parties on how we can all work together to create an integrated strategy to tackle nature-climate emergency together.”

    WriteToThem doesn’t allow for mass, identical messages from users, and we were curious to know whether that had created any kind of challenge. Quite the reverse, as it turns out:

    We’ve found that fewer, personalised messages are a lot more impactful than thousands of standard emails, which can easily be blocked and ignored.

    “Our approach has always been to maximise not just the action taken by our supporters, but critically the impact that our supporters can make. Through providing guidance on how to personalise messages, we can avoid emails being dismissed or reaching spam folders.”

    And that has a knock-on effect on the way campaigners feel about taking action. 

    “The effectiveness is leading to visible progress, and that’s critical in ensuring that subsequent supporters see there’s a point in taking action on the campaign. So, we created the tool in a way that allows them to craft a personal messages about why the CE Bill can deliver a prosperous, nature-rich UK, that benefits nature, jobs and health for all, in their own words — and it will go directly to the right representative.

    “We know this has proven fruitful, as we commonly get meaningful responses from MPs which move the campaign forward — they can create an opportunity for further conversation about meeting our shared objectives on climate and nature.” 

    And WriteToThem helps in other fundamental ways, too:

    “It reduces the barrier of users having to search for their MP’s details and contact them in a more manual way. It saves supporters time. 

    “We knew mySociety was a very reputable and trustworthy organisation that could deliver the reliability we required in providing functional tools to best engage with the political system and felt the tool was a perfect match to get the engagement we were seeking from the campaign. The choice to use WriteToThem has been instrumental in the success of our campaign.”

    So would they recommend it to other campaigns looking to follow a similar model?

    “Absolutely. We would wholeheartedly recommend campaigns utilise WriteToThem as it’s a reliable and convenient tool for ensuring your campaign is not only seen by a maximum number of representatives but also vitally providing engaged responses. 

    “We can say without question that the tool increased the frequency of our supporters contacting MPs. This has provided invaluable leverage; opened doors and raising the profile of the CE Bill for us to build support which now stretches across all major parties.”

    Indeed, support now comes from 132 MPs, 40 Peers, the Mayor of London, 240 local councils, 192 scientists and 500 organisations — you can find Zero Hour’s full list of supporters here.

    “Frequently when we call MPs’ offices about events, briefings and other matters, office staff mention they have received numerous emails on the Climate and Ecology Bill, and that is a testament to the power of the WriteToThem tool, as MP’s have a large number of competing campaigns and prioritises in their inboxes daily. So, if you are looking for a way to easily connect supporters with their MP to increase awareness and engagement on key campaigns, it’s very effective.”

    Well, we couldn’t hope for much more than that! We’re very glad to have helped underpin such an essential campaign.

    If you’d like to find out more, head to zerohour.uk. And if you feel inspired to write to your MP about the Climate & Ecology Bill, you can do so here

    For those who would like to be kept up to date with all Zero Hour’s activities, the best way is to sign up as a supporter.

     

     

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    Image: Nuno Vasco Rodrigues / Climate Visuals Countdown (CC by-nc-nd 4.0)