1. Got a list of postcodes and need to match them to administrative areas?

    It’s a more common problem than you might think: given a list of postcodes, how can you match them to the administrative and electoral areas, such as wards or constituencies, that they sit within?

    MapIt’s data mapping tool gives a quick, easy and cheap solution: just upload your spreadsheet of postcodes, tell it which type of area you want them matched to, and the data is returned to you  — complete with a new column containing the information you need.

    The tool can match your postcodes to every type of data that MapIt offers in its API, including council areas, Westminster constituencies, parish wards and even NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs).

    If that doesn’t sound like something you can imagine being useful, let’s look at a few hypothetical use cases (and if you have an actual case that you’d like to tell us about, please do let us know  — we’re always keen to hear how our tools are being used).

    Organisations, charities and campaigns sometimes need to match postcodes to administrative areas

    Membership organisations, charities and campaigns usually collect the addresses of supporters, but don’t commonly ask them who their MP is (even if they did ask, most people in the UK don’t actually know the name of their MP).

    But when a campaign asks followers to contact their MPs, it’s helpful to be able to suggest an angle based on whether the MP is known to be sympathetic to their cause, or not — indeed, there’s arguably no point in contacting MPs who are already known to be firmly on board.

    So: input a spreadsheet of supporters’ postcodes, and get them matched to the associated Westminster constituencies.

    For more advanced usages, organisations might match the MapIt tool’s output of postcodes with other datasets to discover the answers to questions like:

    • Which members in a disability group have fewest GPs in their area, and might be finding it difficult to get help for their condition?
    • Which supporters of a transport charity live in regions less served by public transport, and would be likely to take action to campaign for improved bus and train services?
    • Which people affiliated to an ecological organisation live in predominantly rural areas and could help with a wildlife count?

    Researchers sometimes need to match postcodes to administrative areas

    Researchers often need to correlate people, institutions or locations with the boundaries they fall within.

    They might have a list of postcodes for, say, underperforming schools, and want to find out whether they are clustered within authorities that have similar characteristics, like cuts to their funding or an administration that has a political majority one way or the other.

    Teamed with other datasets, MapIt can help towards answering important questions like the number of people each CCG serves, how unemployment rates vary in different European regions, or average house prices within parliamentary constituencies.

    Journalists sometimes need to match postcodes to administrative areas

    Investigative or data journalists may obtain long spreadsheets full of postcodes in the course of their work, perhaps as a result of having submitted Freedom of Information requests to one or more authorities.

    Perhaps they have the address of every university in the country, and there’s an election coming up — during the summer holidays. Knowing that students will mostly be in their home constituencies, they might be able to make informed predictions about how votes in the university towns will be affected.

    Or let’s say that a journalist has gathered, from local councils, an address for every library scheduled to close. This could be compared with another dataset — perhaps literacy or crime rates — to draw conclusions over what impact the closures would have.

    Part of a wider service

    The MapIt machine

     

    The one-off data mapping tool is just one service from mySociety’s MapIt, which is best known for its API.

    This provides an ongoing service, typically for those running websites that ask users to input geographical points such as postcodes or lat/longs, and return tailored results depending on the boundaries those points fall within.

    MapIt powers most mySociety sites, for example:

    • When you drop a pin on the map while using FixMyStreet, MapIt provides the site with the administrative boundaries it falls within, so that the site can then match your report with the authority responsible for fixing it.
    • When you type your postcode into WriteToThem, Mapit gives the site the information it needs to to display a list of every representative, from local councillor up to MEP, who represents your area.
    • If you search for your postcode on TheyWorkForYou, MapIt tells the site what your Westminster constituency is and the site matches that to your MP. You can then be taken to their page with a record of how they have voted and everything they’ve said in Parliament.

    Give it a try

    Find out more about MapIt here or have a go at uploading a spreadsheet into the data mapping tool.

    If you’re not sure whether it’s the right tool for your needs, feel free to drop us a line — and, as we said before, if you are already using it to good effect, please do let us know.

    Image: Thor Alvis

  2. AlaveteliCon 2019: Apply to join us in Oslo

    We’re delighted to be hosting the third AlaveteliCon, our Freedom of Information (FOI) technologies conference, on 23 and 24 September 2019 in Oslo, Norway.

    A few days ahead of International Right to Know Day (28 September), AlaveteliCon will bring together activists, journalists, technologists and campaigners from across the world who use Freedom of Information laws, data and technologies to create public-interest investigations and campaigns.

    This time we’ll be including a focus on catalysing collaborations on cross-border European public interest investigations and campaigns, in order to strengthen the use of FOI across the region. This focus is in part due to our latest Transparency project, funded by Adessium Foundation. This Transparency project seeks to enable journalists, campaigners and citizens in Europe to make greater and more effective use of their right to access information, in particular to generate public interest stories and campaigns that hold power to account.

    Here are some of the other things AlaveteliCon attendees will get up to this time:

    • Exchanging insights and ideas on how to run and improve open-source Freedom of Information platforms such as WhatDoTheyKnow, MuckRock and FragDenStaat
    • Hearing how journalists and campaigners around the world have used FOI to power high-profile investigations and campaigns
    • Making connections with journalists and campaigners who would like to collaborate on cross-border investigations that hold governments to account
    • Learning about data sources available on FOI platforms around the world, waiting to be analysed and turned into public-interest stories
    • Hearing tips from FOI activists on getting governments to release information in their countries including going to court
    • Contributing to the further development of mySociety’s open-source FOI toolkit for journalists, Alaveteli Pro, which helps journalists and campaigners to manage their FOI investigations
    • Connecting to a global network of FOI experts and advocates
    • Working together to plan potential joint activities to celebrate International Right to Know Day on 28th September 2019

    Apply to attend

    As spaces at AlaveteliCon are limited, we’re asking those wishing to come to fill out this application form to tell us what unique perspective they can bring that’s relevant to the above conference themes/topics.

    Are you a journalist or campaigner who wants to collaborate on FOI-generated investigations? Or interested in setting up an FOI platform in your country? Or want to learn how to use FOI to its fullest potential? Or interested in any of the above topics? If so, then please submit your application by 2nd September at the very latest.

    We’ll let you know if you’ve been allocated a place by Friday 6th September at the latest. However, we will endeavour to reply to you sooner than this.

    AlaveteliCon is free to attend, but delegates will be required to arrange their own travel, accommodation and costs in Oslo.

    Many thanks to Adessium Foundation and NUUG Foundation for supporting AlaveteliCon.

     

     

  3. Introducing TuNa Bakonzi

    The Democratic Republic of Congo: low internet penetration, and low awareness about Freedom of Information. In short, not the most obvious place for an FOI site on our Alaveteli platform.

    And yet, here’s tunabakonzi.org, brand new last month.

    Tuna Bakonzi is an FOI site for the Democratic Republic of Congo

    Henri Christin from Collectif24 is TuNa Bakonzi’s founder, and we were keen to talk to him about his reasons for launching a site when the prevailing conditions are apparently so adverse.

    How did you find out about the Alaveteli platform?

    “I discovered Alaveteli through AFIC, the Africa Freedom of Information Centre. When Collectif24 organised the National Symposium on Access to Information in Kinshasa, there was a presentation on askyourgov.ug [an FOI site for Uganda, also run on Alaveteli]; that’s what gave us the idea to do the same for the DRC. And that prompted me to get in touch with mySociety!”

    Why does DRC need such a site?

    “In DRC, everything is centralised on the capital city, Kinshasa. The country is very large, and while there’s been good efforts towards political decentralisation, there hasn’t been the same in terms of administration. So TuNa Bakonzi should help with that.

    “It’ll facilitate the demand for easy information in a country where access to basic social services, access to authorities’ offices, is just not guaranteed to everyone.

    “This service will promote accountability and give citizens control in the fight against corruption. In a country where there are no public policies on internet governance and journalists are regularly exposed to false information, it will also allow requests for information directly from the source.

    “Finally, it’s a barometer for transparency. It will show whether a public institution is transparent, by way of the answers it gives — or does not give — to citizens’ requests.”

    There’s not yet an FOI Act in DRC — can the site still have a purpose?

    “Although there is not yet an Access to Information law, Collectif24 has published a collection of international, regional and national instruments on the right of Access to Information in the DRC.

    “With regard to these instruments and the DRC’s Constitution, which guarantee the right of Access to Information for every person, the public administration is, in principle, supposed to give information to citizens.

    “In addition, the Government of the Republic is committed to the principles of governance and transparency. As a result, we’ll be adding the public institutions of local, provincial and central governments to the site, as well as private institutions that have a public function. The site can also support the implementation of the law, once it’s actually been passed.”

    Are you using the site to campaign for a change in the law?

    “There’s a precedent when “the facts precede the law”. Through this site, we want to promote access to information in practice, and through this we’ll advocate for the vote to be passed in law.

    What is awareness of FOI like in the DRC?

    “Collectif24 has been working on the question of FOI in DRC since 2009. Previously there was a general perception that FOI really only applied to journalists; but thanks to our work we believe that DRC citizens now know that it’s a fundamental human right.

    “It’s also worth noting that we’re the only organisation in DRC that works in this area, but we have no funding to develop awareness programs covering the whole country. We also need to publicise the site, but it’s a technical and financial challenge for us.”

    How was the launch?

    “We officially launched in partnership with the Catholic National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO). Representatives of civil society organisations, parliamentarians, journalists, students and members of the public administration were invited to CENCO’s Saint Sylvestre Hall.

    “After presenting the project and the importance of the site, the computer scientist who did all the site development made a presentation. Q&A was followed by a session to show how to use the site. All the participants appreciated the initiative and the service. The ceremony closed with thanks to OSISA [The Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa] for the funding and to mySociety for the creation of the Alaveteli platform”.

    Who do you think will use the site?

    “Everyone can use it. Yes, we have to recognise that internet penetration and connection in the country is weak. So at first we expect users to be the groups that have more access to the Internet: we definitely expect actors in civil society, journalists, researchers, politicians, international organisations, professionals and administration staff to use it”.

    What are your hopes for the project?

    “My wishes and dreams for this innovative and unique site in the DRC are that it becomes the place of contact between the governors and the governed; that it is a tool of citizen control and accountability which contributes to the fight against corruption and improves the governance of the DRC.

    “For that to happen, we must publicise it as much as possible, but we do face security, technical and financial constraints:

    “In terms of security: Collectif24 is not yet able to protect the site in the case of cyber attack; technically, we need a permanent expert for maintenance. And then, financially: we need funding for increasing awareness, hosting, better storage space, and updating of the institutions’ details, and so it goes on!”

    How’s it going so far?

    “Right now, we’re seeing a start. People are asking the questions they want answers to.

    “But the authorities are not responding because they have not yet been sensitised to the concept of FOI.

    “Additionally, we need to increase the number of institutions available on the site — but most Congolese institutions do not have official or reliable email addresses. There’s no documentation in the DRC to provide information on institutions at all levels and their contacts.

    “So this is the next piece of work that Collectif24 intends to do: we’ll produce a directory if we can get a sponsor to fund it, and this will of course facilitate adding institutions to the site.

    “Collectif24 must work to raise awareness among the population and the administrative staff; organise training on the use of the site. We want to create online user manuals to help people understand how to use it; add public institutions on a regular basis.

    “To do all of this, it’s important to develop a program of advocacy and lobbying to the authorities to get the site recognised. We must work to make this site the official FOI service for the DRC.”

    Thanks so much to Henri for talking to us — as always it was fascinating to hear about the challenges Collectif24 are facing: some unique to the country, and some universal across all FOI sites the world over. We wish him the best of luck with this brave but clearly worthy and much needed project in the DRC.


    Image: Kinshasa street scene by Monusco Photos (CC by-sa/2.0)

  4. TICTeC Local 2019: Join us in London

    Following on from the success of our first TICTeC Local conference in Manchester last year, we’re delighted to be hosting the second TICTeC Local on 1st November 2019.

    Thanks to support from London’s Chief Digital Officer, Theo Blackwell, we’re thrilled to be hosting TICTeC Local 2019 at London City Hall, home to the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.

    TICTeC Local is part of mySociety’s global The Impacts of Civic Technology Conference (TICTeC) series, which has been examining Civic Tech at the local, national and global levels since 2015. TICTeC Local narrows the lens, focusing on where and how Civic Tech connects with and impacts local communities and local government.

    What are the digital innovations that are helping local communities and local government to foster citizen engagement, drive efficiency, and combat social and environmental problems? Join us at City Hall this November to find out.

    Call for Papers now open

    If you’d like to give a presentation or run a workshop at TICTeC Local 2019, please submit your proposals now. You have until Friday 6th September 2019.

    We encourage presentation submissions to focus on specific digital innovations that are helping local communities and/or public authorities to foster citizen engagement/participation, drive efficiency, and combat social and environmental problems.

    We welcome examples from across the UK and from around the world, but the focus must be the local level.

    We will prioritise submissions that focus on the specific impacts of these digital innovations, rather than those that simply showcase new tools that are as yet untested.

    Workshop proposals should be relevant to the conference theme. Submit your proposal now.

    Register

    Registration is now open. Tickets are free for the public sector. Early bird tickets provide a significant discount, so it’s well worth registering before early bird ticket sales end on 13th September 2019.

    Sponsor

    mySociety is a charity and relies on sponsorship and ticket sales to make events like TICTeC Local happen. If you’re interested in hearing about sponsorship opportunities at TICTeC Local or our global TICTeC events then please get in touch to discuss further.

    Keep an eye on the TICTeC Local website for full details of proceedings as they are announced. You can also sign up for updates and we’ll let you know when speakers and agenda details are announced.

    We look forward to seeing you in London in November! Meanwhile, if you’d like to see what TICTeC Local is all about, you can browse all the resources from last year’s conference.

    Image: Wojtek Gurak (CC BY-NC 2.0)

  5. Research report: better FOI and SARs management for councils

    Last week, we shared research into the state of Freedom of Information in local councils. The standout finding? That the volume of FOI requests to local authorities has more than doubled in the past decade.

    The resulting increase in transparency of our councils, along with the work many have done to ensure that they are providing more and better services to citizens, can only be welcomed. But of course, such an increase also brings challenges, which will be best met with robust systems and tools to maximise efficiency.

    Fortunately, while mySociety’s Research team were crunching those figures, the Transparency team have been working in parallel on a project to explore and prototype around better case management of FOI and Subject Access Requests in local authorities.

    In partnership with four councils, and funded by the Local Digital Fund, this project looked at user journeys for council staff who handle information requests, to determine whether the development of a new digital tool was likely to foster efficiencies.

    The resulting reports are now available to read on the mySociety research portal. One early discovery was that most existing digital case management solutions are not ideal for the very specific needs of FOI handling in local councils, for various reasons that are outlined in the reports.

    But problems with request handling are not due only to a lack of suitable digital tools. By observing and speaking to people dealing with information requests across the four councils, the team was able to identify the offline systems and qualities that are likely to lead to better case management, and to pin down the issues that prevent such outcomes.

    Another major finding came while assessing the viability of designing a digital tool that would better serve councils’ needs. The team were made aware of an existing piece of Open Source software developed by the Ministry of Justice, and ascertained that one practical way forward would be to build on this tool to supplement it with the features identified as lacking elsewhere.

    Along the way, the team amassed much information on the variations in the way that different councils handle requests, and considered metrics which any council would be wise to monitor in order to understand the efficacy of their services and where weak points exist.

    Every council will benefit from reading these reports, and of course if the recommendations are put in place, the improvements that should follow will also benefit all citizens who seek information.

    Meanwhile, we would very much like to take our own findings further, and develop a digital offering based on the MoJ tool: we think it could be genuinely transformative for councils, and, being Open Source, the outcome would be available to all. If you’re from a local authority who might be interested in exploring this with us, do get in touch; we’re also planning to add the potential project to G-Cloud so that a wider audience of councils see it as a potential option if they’re searching for request handling software.

    Read the FOI and SARs management reports now or get in touch if you want to talk further!

     

  6. Calling translation superheroes!

    Can you help the international FOI community?

    mySociety helps people run Freedom of Information sites in 25 jurisdictions around the world, on our Alaveteli platform.

    These partners are usually keeping their sites going with little resource or funding, and we want to upgrade everyone to the newest version of Alaveteli so that they won’t need to manage this substantial task for themselves.

    There are improvements and new features in the updates, which is exciting for our partners and their users — but of course, with every new feature come new, small strings of text that help explain it to users, label the buttons, describe any errors that occur, etc, etc.

    And although we’re good on coding languages, sadly we can’t say the same about most of the actual spoken languages that need translation. So if you are fluent (ideally as a native speaker or equivalent) in any of the languages listed below, and you would like to do something both interesting and extremely worthwhile, we would be very grateful!

    Translation is done via a system called Transifex. Those who are able and keen to contribute to the global Freedom of Information movement should drop us a line on alaveteli@mysociety.org with an idea of your availability and commitment, and we can get you set up.

    We need translators fluent in:

    • French (France and Rwanda versions)
    • Spanish (Spain, Colombia and Nicaragua versions)
    • German (Germany)
    • Turkish
    • Nepalese
    • Kinyarwanda
    • Macedonian
    • Romanian

    If you speak languages other than these, you can find the full list of languages here and we’re sure any of our partners running sites would be grateful for the translation help — but the above languages are our priorities as these are the sites we help by hosting ourselves.

    We’re aiming to get things upgraded as soon as possible, and certainly in time for International Right To Information Day in September, so we’re looking for translators with availability over the coming three months (May, June and July 2019). If this sounds interesting and fun to you please do get in touch.

    Image: Yogi Purnama

  7. Understanding Freedom of Information in local government

    Over the last year, mySociety’s research team has been trying to build a picture of how Freedom of Information functions in local government. This research project became our report into FOI in Local Government (which can be read in full here).

    One of the key questions for this research project is how many FOI requests are received by local government.

    We believe that use of WhatDoTheyKnow has benefits beyond people who submit requests because requests made through the site are available publicly — increasing the sum of knowledge available to all. Given this, a good metric for us to understand is what percentage of all information being released through FOI is being stored on WhatDoTheyKnow. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of good data in this area that allows us to make a clear comparison.

    The Cabinet Office release annual statistics about FOI requests made to central government, which can be used for comparison. In 2017, 16.8% of requests sent to central government were sent via WhatDoTheyKnow — but this represents a very small volume of all use of WhatDoTheyKnow. 88% of FOI requests were sent to public authorities outside  central government, suggesting that the majority of FOI activity is elsewhere, but there is no official figure of the total number of FOI requests received by all public bodies.

    In 2010, UCL’s Constitution Unit estimated a figure for all local authorities in England of 197,000 FOI requests received. We wanted to understand if this was still a good baseline for FOI requests to local government and gain new understanding of local authorities beyond England.

    To do this, we sent an FOI request to every local authority (except those in Scotland, who publish these figures in a central repository) asking for a set of FOI statistics for the year 2017.

    This presented an immediate set of problems. There was a split in how authorities understood ‘2017’, with internal statistics recorded in a split of financial and calendar year — a choice that has a demonstrable difference in the volume of FOIs recorded that year. A minority of councils did not respond to the FOI requests – which unaddressed would lead to an under-count in the total number of FOI requests.

    To correct these problems, using the requests that were returned and other sources of public information, we constructed a model to address the issue of the split in recording year and predict a range of values for councils that didn’t return data.

    The result of this is an estimate of 468,780 FOI requests received in the calendar year 2017. There is a 95% confidence this value falls between 467,587 and 469,975 (range of 2,387).  

    On average an individual council receives around 1,120 requests in a given year. But as the graph below shows, this has substantial variation:

    [

    And the type of council has substantial impact on the number of requests recorded — with London boroughs receiving over three times as many requests as authorities in Northern Ireland.

    Authority type Average FOI requests
    Northern Ireland authorities 532.2
    Non-metropolitan districts 799.4
    Welsh authorities 1133.5
    County councils 1331.0
    Unitary authority 1346.9
    Metropolitan districts 1417.2
    City of London 1521.1
    Scottish authorities 1536.2
    London borough 1815.0

     

    What does this mean for WhatDoTheyKnow? Comparing totals, the 28,282 requests made through WhatDoTheyKnow in 2017 represented 6% of all FOI requests made to local authorities. Similarly, there is a lot of variation across authorities some councils have around 2% of requests start on WhatDoTheyKnow, others have around 13%.  This shows that the overwhelming majority of requests to local authorities are made through other means.

    Part two of this blog post discusses what we learned about the administration of FOI from this research. You can read the full report online, or download as a pdf.


    This blog post is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/)  — it can be re-posted and adapted without commercial restriction as long as the  original article/author is credited and by noting if the article has been edited from the original.


    Image: Ula Kuźma

  8. How Freedom of Information is administered in local government

    Our previous blog post about our new report, Freedom of Information in Local Government, discussed our findings about the volume of requests received by local government. This second post explores our findings about how FOI is administered, working from information received via FOI requests to all councils and an anonymous survey of FOI officers.

    Staff responsible for the administration of FOI in local government tend to hold this as one responsibility among several. FOI teams are generally embedded in larger teams, with few staff solely working on FOI. As such, FOI administration rarely appears as a specific budget item.

    While this makes the data patchy, from the information that is available, staffing levels (and hence budget) seem to be responsive to the number of FOIs received by a council. Every thousand additional FOI requests increases the number of staff dealing with FOI by 0.75 (95% confidence this is between 0.35 and 1.15).  Similarly, use of a case management system was associated with a greater number of requests — with the use of an organised system, and then use of specialist software being predicted by increases in the number of FOI requests received.

    However, use of a case management system was not associated with any increase in the percentage of requests being replied to within the statutory limit (20 days), which suggests that differences in delays are caused elsewhere than the management of incoming FOI requests. Some requests are more complex in this respect than others, with FOI officers estimating that 38% of requests required responses from multiple departments or teams in the authority and 23% required ‘double handling’ — additional sign-off from senior or specialist staff.  The number of requests appealed to internal review was low (1.4%), but within these the success rate was quite high — between 36% and 49% were successful in changing some component of the original outcome.

    Councils fairly universally keep records on the number of requests received, and time taken to reply — but have fewer records on the volume of information disclosed, or on the status of appeals.

    The highest availability of knowledge were figures on numbers of FOI requests received. The two areas where almost all authorities had records was the number of FOI requests received (98% recorded these figures) and how many were completed inside the statutory deadline (92%). Records of internal review were held in 87% of cases and records of appeals to ICO in 86% of cases. The questions with the most missing information related to how much of a request had been delivered. 73% had records of the number that were completely granted; 70% had records of the number that were entirely withheld; and 65% had records of partially withheld/disclosed requests.

    Most councils do not publish a disclosure log (a record of FOI requests received and their responses). Adding this factor into the model used to predict missing values for the number of FOI requests received found that there was no positive or negative effect of publishing a disclosure log on the number of FOIs received. In individual responses, while many FOI Officers expressed a desire to publish more (or steps taken towards that), there was also a strong skepticism of the value of doing this, and concerns that people do not check the log before submitting their requests, meaning logs do not reduce the volume of incoming requests. Several councils that had previously run disclosure logs had discontinued them due to low usage.

    An upcoming blog post will talk about what we learned about using a front end interface to reduce FOI requests by searching the disclosure log. Sign up to our FOI newsletter to hear more when released.

    Part one of this blog post discusses what we learned about the administration of FOI from this research. You can read the full report online, or download as a pdf.


    This blog post is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/)  — it can be re-posted and adapted without commercial restriction as long as the  original article/author is credited and by noting if the article has been edited from the original.

    Image: Martin Adams


    Image: Ula Kuźma

  9. Stop right there! That’s already been reported

    It’s obviously good citizen behaviour to report something that needs fixing to your council, whether it’s a pothole that could cause an accident, or a broken streetlight that has plunged the area into darkness.

    But there’s one type of report that isn’t very useful to councils, and in fact brings unnecessary costs and inconvenience: when you tell the council about an issue that’s already been flagged up by someone else.

    FixMyStreet has always been helpful in this regard. It was groundbreaking in displaying all reports in public, unlike most council systems when we were first developing it. A user who goes to make a report can see right away if there’s already a pin in that spot, and check whether the existing issue is the same one they were going to add.

    Now we’ve taken that concept a step further in some work which we’re trialling on Bath & NE Somerset’s implementation of FixMyStreet Pro.

    When a user starts to make a report, the system checks to see if there are any other open reports in the same category within a small radius. If it finds any, you’ll see a prompt, like this:

    Duplicate report alert on FixMyStreet

    All similar reports will appear here. If you think one might be identical, but aren’t sure, you can click ‘read more’ to see the full text along with any photos attached to the report:

    Duplicate report full text on FixMyStreet

    And if you recognise it as the issue you were about to report, you click the green button and will be given the option to subscribe to it, so you know when it’s being seen to, effectively being kept just as up to date as you would be if you’d made the original report:

    Duplicate report - subscribe on FixMyStreet

     

    If it’s not the same issue, no worries: just click ‘report a new problem’ and you can do just that:

    Bath & NE Somerset will run this feature as a trial over the next month; then once they’ve got feedback from their users, we’ll hopefully offer it to every other council on the Avenue tier of FixMyStreet Pro.

    If you come across this feature while making a report in Bath or environs, do let us know how it works for you.

    Image: Kevin Grieve

  10. History repeats itself, but this time in Belgium

    Over in Brussels, Freedom of Information website Transparencia.be has just overcome a hurdle very similar to one faced by WhatDoTheyKnow in its earlier days.

    Several municipalities had delayed on processing FOI requests sent through Transparencia.be — which runs on our Alaveteli software — concerned that a request sent via email does not contain a signature or proof of identity.

    Now Belgium’s overseeing body CADA (the Commission of Access to Administrative Documents) has ruled, just as the ICO did in the UK, that requests sent through the site should be treated the same as those received via more conventional means.

    You can read about the matter on the website of the public broadcasting organisation RTBF in French, or via Google Translate in English.

    The struggle echoes almost exactly the experiences we faced with WhatDoTheyKnow when it was first launched: as you can see in this FAQ, official MoJ guidance now explicitly states that an email address should be considered of equal status to a physical return address; and ICO advice is that a WhatDoTheyKnow.com email address is a valid contact address for the purposes of FOI.

    A sharing community

    Here at mySociety, we share our open source software so that other people can run services like ours — Freedom of Information sites, parliamentary monitoring projects or fault-reporting platforms — for their own countries.

    But it’s not only about the software. Something that has become clear over the years, and especially when we get together for an event such as AlaveteliCon, is that we all face similar challenges. No matter how different our countries’ legislations, cultures or politics, you can be sure that our setbacks and triumphs will be familiar to others.

    Because of that, we’re able to share something that’s just as useful as the software itself: the support of the community. In this case, that’s easily accessed via the Alaveteli mailing list, which we’d encourage you to join if you run, or are thinking of running, an FOI site.

    Image: Jay Lee


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