1. Vacancy: Linux Systems Administrator / DevOps


    Sadly, we’ll be saying farewell to our current SysAdmin Ian shortly. We’d like our websites to keep running after his departure, ideally, so we’re recruiting for a replacement.

    A replacement who can keep our servers secure, maintain our back-ups infrastructure, and resolve performance bottlenecks, among other daily challenges.

    If that sounds like you, or someone you know, you can find the full details here.

    What’s it like working for mySociety, you ask? Take a look at this page.


    Image: Bob Mical (CC)

  2. The Scottish Parliament returns to TheyWorkForYou

    Scottish Parliamentary proceedings are now back on TheyWorkForYou.

    Back in August 2014, the Scottish Parliament changed the way it published the Official Report of its debates.

    TheyWorkForYou works by fetching data from various parliamentary sources—and in this case, unfortunately, the change at the Scottish Parliament end meant that our code no longer worked. We replaced our ‘debates’ section with an apologetic note.

    Well, thanks to the Scottish Parliament kindly republishing the data in almost the format we used to use, we’ve managed to make some small tweaks and restore that content—including debates from the previously missing period. If you’re subscribed to alerts, you should have received an email digest with links to the backdated content (always supposing there was any that matched your chosen keywords).

    And if you’re not subscribed to alerts? Now is a great time to rectify that. We’ll send you an email every time your chosen word or phrase is mentioned in Parliament, or every time your chosen representative speaks.

    While we were doing this work, we also modified TheyWorkForYou so that it now pulls in ministerial data from the Scottish Parliament API. This is a welcome time-saver for us: previously we were creating a list manually from the official PDFs, while we can now automatically fetch it and reformat it into Popolo JSON, meaning it’s consistent with all our other data.

    Thanks for your patience; we know that many people were awaiting this repair, and for longer than we would have liked. Enjoy!


    Image: Mark Longair (CC)


  3. The Impacts of Civic Technology Conference 2016: Call for Papers Now Open

    barca 2

    mySociety is delighted to announce that TICTeC2016 – or to give it its proper name, The Impacts of Civic Technology Conference 2016 – will be taking place in Barcelona on 27 and 28 April 2016.

    Returning for a second year, TICTeC is the world’s only conference dedicated to exploring the impact that civic technology and digital democracy are having upon citizens, decision makers and governments around the globe.

    The primary goal of the conference is to promote and share rigorous and meaningful research into online technologies and digital democracy around the world. So, if you have completed research on this theme and would like to present your work, then please do submit an abstract / proposal.

    We also welcome proposals for individuals to lead workshops or give presentations relating to the conference theme.

    More information on submission deadlines and registration for TICTeC2016 can be found here.

    Hope to see you in Barcelona!

    Image: MorBCN (CC)

  4. Spare a moment for the less popular countries on Gender Balance

    Ever feel sorry for the less popular kids at school?

    Excellent, then you’re just the sort of person we need: you may empathise with some of the countries on Gender Balance that aren’t getting quite as much attention as the rest.

    Thanks to our recent data drive, Gender Balance now contains many more countries, all waiting for you to play.

    But we’ve noticed that some countries aren’t getting quite as much attention as others. Gender Balance’s ultimate aim is to provide data for researchers, and we’d hate to feel that we had patchier data for those studying the less popular places.

    featured country on Gender Balance

    So, to encourage take-up, we’ve now added a ‘featured country’ spot. Accept the invitation to play the highlighted place, and you’ll receive double points, propelling you all the faster towards a coveted place on the Gender Balance leaderboard. Time to get playing!



  5. Freedom of Information in glorious ink

    Outside of her work for mySociety, our very own marketing and communications manager Myf somehow finds time to illustrate and sketch. She runs a popular personal blog (Myf Draws Apparently) which often includes sketch diaries of her adventures. The most recent one she’s just published is a lovely record of a trip to Madrid earlier this year.

    Only, it wasn’t just a trip to Madrid — she was there as part of the mySociety team at AlaveteliCon 2015.

    Alaveteli is mySociety’s Freedom of Information (FoI) platform, and AlaveteliCon was the second conference we’ve held on Freedom of Information technologies. It brings together people from all over the world who are involved in running sites like the UK’s WhatDoTheyKnow.

    One of the pages Myf drew is this wonderful flow diagram of the way platforms like Alaveteli actually experience Freedom of Information.

    Not everyone at the conference was running an Alaveteli-based site, which was sort of the point: the business of running FoI sites like these is not about the technology, it’s about the culture of citizens’ Right to Know. There’s a lot of variety in the FoI laws around the world, and they are regarded with wildly differing levels of enthusiasm by the authorities who ought to be bound by them. The groups running FoI sites invariably consist of individuals who are passionate and articulate on all aspects of Freedom of Information. At the conference, they shared tales of frustration in the face of intransigent or occasionally devious public authorities; anecdotes demonstrating beatific levels of patience in the face of obdurate official departments; and, of course, some wonderful stories of success.

    Myf has captured some of this in her sketch diary. Although she didn’t create it for mySociety, some of us think that flow chart is too delightful and too relevant not to share here.

    To see all of Myf’s Madrid diary (it’s in five parts), start at part one.

  6. When life imitates mySociety projects

    You’ve probably seen the recent news story about the guy who bought, then vastly increased the price of a vital drug: it’s been widely shared on social media in the last couple of days.

    Not long ago, we blogged about the work we’d done on the Patent Oppositions Database.

    You may have found the concepts involved somewhat abstract. If so, now’s a great time to go and read it again, with this news story in mind. It’s an excellent example of what that project is hoping to prevent.

    Image: David Goehring (CC)

  7. A new way of offering help to people reusing our codebases

    Our International team get many enquiries from people and organisations who want to re-use our code, all around the world, and would like a little help doing so. As, sadly, there is limited time in the day, we find that we can’t donate our resources to everyone who asks.

    Up until now, we’ve had a fairly ad-hoc approach. Typically, someone makes contact, we send emails back and forth to find out more about their proposed project, and then we make a decision about whether we can offer some developer time and help.

    But that’s not really fair: it means that, if we accept one project and then the next week another approach comes in from a project that is just as suitable, we could have committed all our developer time and resource to the first group.

    All change

    So, we plan to put a new system in place. Here’s the deal:

    • Those who would like our help will be asked to fill in an application form with all the details that we’d normally be extracting during those back-and-forth emails
    • These applications will be assessed on a quarterly basis
    • We’ll let applicants know whether they have been successful within seven days of the closing date
    • Not everyone who applies will be successful, but they’ll have another three months in which to reapply with additional information, should they wish

    We think that this system is fairer for everyone, and we hope you agree.

    If you’ve recently approached us to enquire about getting our help, please bear with us while we transition to this new system: we’ll be in touch soon.

    If you’re a group or an individual that might be interested in our help, you can start your application here.

    Image: See-Ming Lee (cc)

  8. It’s the Tube map, but not as you know it

    A Freedom of Information request sent through WhatDoTheyKnow asked for a ‘geographically accurate’ map of the London Underground, Overground, Docklands Light Railway and National Rail services.

    The response provided just that. If you’re used to the rigid lines of the iconic tube map, there’s plenty to surprise and delight you here, as Buzzfeed via City Metric were quick to point out.

    According to a postscript on that story, TfL have since commented:

    This map was produced for engineering works planning and wasn’t designed for customer use, however we are happy to make any maps available which help our customers to travel in London. This map will therefore be added to our website.

    Great result. We hope that thanks to Buzzfeed’s viral spread, from today, plenty more people understand the potential of FOI to change things for the benefit of many.

  9. West Ham and the Olympic Stadium: an update

    Last month we wrote about a Freedom of Information request, submitted through WhatDoTheyKnow, on West Ham’s lease of the former Olympic Stadium. The resulting information was interesting enough that it became the subject of a BBC TV programme.

    The request, submitted by WhatDoTheyKnow user Richard Hunt on behalf of a group of Football Supporters’ Trusts, received some but not all of the information required. The rest was held back on grounds of ‘commercial confidentiality’, a decision which Richard asked the ICO to review.

    On 3rd September the ICO found in his favour: the stadium owners, London Legacy Development Corporation, must now provide the full contract, including details of the rent being paid. Read more in this BBC story, which states:

    The commissioner said neither West Ham nor LLDC had been able to show how revealing the details of the tenancy agreement would place them at a commercial disadvantage or how this information could be exploited by a competitor.

    This is an important point, Richard says:

    The commercial confidentiality excuse is a huge problem. I think that if a private company is involved, and the requester doesn’t have a business background, they just assume that it must be reasonable. So they don’t challenge it.

    Fortunately we had plenty of business brains, and in particular an understanding of the football business. We challenged the excuse in detail… The overall lesson is, if you get this excuse, try to gain knowledge of the business in question, and ask yourself how exactly a competitor could take advantage of the company if the information was disclosed, and whether the damage outweighs the public interest.

    Richard says he is happy to share their submissions to the ICO with anyone facing similar difficulties in obtaining information. You can contact him via WhatDoTheyKnow.

    The London Legacy Development Corporation now has until 8th October to disclose the full details of the tenancy agreement.

    Image: Pete Edgeler (cc)

  10. Gender Balance – now with lots more people

    Yesterday we told you how the data on EveryPolitician had expanded wildly in the last week. One side effect is that there are 64 new countries to play on Gender Balance.

    Our gender classification game (read more about it here) runs on politician data from EveryPolitician, so by adding a whole bunch of countries, we also expanded Gender Balance’s range.

    It also means that, as those countries get played, we’ll be gathering even more informative and useful data about the proportions of women to men in the world’s legislatures.

    That’s all we have to say, except, 3,2,1… get playing!


    Image: Timothy Krause (cc)