1. 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.

  2. 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)

  3. 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)

  4. 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)

  5. Join us in Madrid for AlaveteliCon 2015

    MadridAlaveteliCon 2015, 19-20 May, Madrid

    The second international Alaveteli conference

    Venue: Impact Hub Next, C/ Alameda 22, Madrid 28014

     

    There’s no other conference like it. If you’re involved with Freedom of Information technologies, you’ll want to be at AlaveteliCon, the only event with a specific focus on FOI in the internet age.

    AlaveteliCon brings together civic society organisations and individuals from around the world. All have one thing in common: an interest in online Right To Know tools.

    Interested? Keep reading and apply below!

    (more…)

  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. Are you still in the same ward?

    You might not be in the ward you think you are. Due to ongoing boundary changes, many people will be voting within new wards this year. Confused? Fortunately, you can use our new MapIt-powered ward comparison site to see whether you’ll be affected by any new boundaries.

    Pop your postcode in at 2015wards.mysociety.org and if your boundary is changing you’ll see your old and new wards.

    These alterations are generally put in place by the Local Government Boundary Commissions, in an aim to even out the number of constituents represented by each councillor.

  8. Alaveteli release 0.21

    We’ve just released Alaveteli 0.21!

    The highlights

    Smoother

    One of the most important things Alaveteli does is to make filing a new Freedom of Information request less daunting for members of the general public. So we’ve taken another look at the process of making a request in Alaveteli, and knocked off a few of the rough edges in the user interface. Hopefully it’s now even easier than before.

    Safer

    We’ve also improved security in a few places, making sure that actions taken on the site are secure against cross-site request forgery, adding sensible security headers and enforcing an expiry time on session cookies.

    More accurate

    There’s a new interface for administrators that lets them easily add public holidays to the database for the place where the Alaveteli site is running. This is really important in calculating correctly when requests are due for a response, according to the law.

    Less spammable

    Finally, in the eternal fight against spam, we’ve removed the ability of banned users to update their “About me” text. So no more spammy profiles.

    You can see the full list of highlights and upgrade notes in the changelog.

    Thanks again to everyone who’s contributed (we now have code from nearly 40 different people!)

  9. 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 now 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.

  10. 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!