1. Making things right on the Isle of Wight

    FixMyStreet Pro has crossed the Solent, with Isle of Wight the latest council to install it as their official report-making interface.

    Street issues on England’s largest island are handled by the company Island Roads, who keep things in order for residents and tourist alike, with responsibility for highways maintenance; road, pavement and cycleway improvements; street lights, street cleansing, winter gritting, bridges, drainage, street furniture and car parks.

    As with all FixMyStreet Pro integrations, islanders can take their pick between making reports through the Island Roads website or on FixMyStreet.com; either way the issue will display on both sites, and drop directly into the case management system, Confirm.

    What was different about this installation?

    Island Roads requested a feature that we hadn’t previously developed for any of our other council clients, but which we suspect that some may be interested in now they know it’s available.

    When a report is submitted, it drops into a special triage area where operatives can analyse it in more detail, ensure that it is categorised correctly, and check that it contains all the relevant information that the inspectors need in order to locate the fault and fix it.

    Island Roads have also made use of another new piece of functionality: emergency categories.

    If a user indicates the report might require immediate attention — say, in the case of a fallen tree on the road or a hazardous pothole —  the form submission is disabled.

    Instead, the user will see a message, telling them to call Island Roads directly:

    Form changes if the user selects that the problem is urgent

    The aim is that this simple safeguard will have a hand in preventing accidents.

    Alex Brown, Systems Technician at Island Roads, said: “The focus of this development has been to enable the public to report their highway related issues to us easily, with the necessary information for us to respond appropriately and deal with the issues effectively.  The project team at mySociety were excellent to work with and developed a solution which met our specific requirements.”

    Image: Mypix [CC BY-SA 4.0]

  2. FixMyStreet Pro at Highways UK

    We’re back at the big highways maintenance expo of the year, Highways UK on 6-7 November, in Birmingham’s NEC.

    If you’re attending and you’d like to know more about FixMyStreet Pro, come and seek us out at stand I23, where we’ll have brochures for you to take away.

    Stay for a chat with David and the rest of the team, who will be delighted to discuss everything from CMS integration to the display of assets, to how we’ve made life easier for your staff behind the scenes. Best of all, ask them about the savings you can make when you install FixMyStreet Pro as your main reports interface.

    But don’t just take it from us. Anna Fitzgerald from Oxfordshire County Council will be joining us all day on the 6th, while Rob Gillespie from Ringway, who are responsible for the Isle of Wight’s Island Roads and Hounslow’s highways, will be available for a chat from 2-3pm on the 7th.

    Here’s where to find the FixMyStreet stand: we’re looking forward to seeing you there.

    Click on the image below to see it at a larger size.

    Highways Uk plan

    Top image: Aleksejs Bergmanis

  3. Assessing success in Civic Tech: Measures of deprivation and WriteToThem

    This blog post is part of a series investigating different demographics and uses of mySociety services. You can read more about this series here

    WriteToThem is a service that assists people in writing to their representatives. Given a postcode, it lists the associated elected representatives at every layer of government and provides a form to write an email to them.

    This can also be seen as a bundle of services. The main use of this website is to write to MPs, but this is just under half of messages ever sent (48%), with most messages sent to representatives in devolved or local government. Different services have different profiles of use and so need to have their effect judged separately.

    In 2015, the British Election Study asked whether people had contacted a “politician, government or local government official” in the prior 12 months and found that 17% had. Based on this, over 11 million adults wrote to a representative or official that year — and WriteToThem’s 187,000 emails accounted for 1.6% of this. These results also showed that 20% of men had made contact compared to 15% of women, meaning that 57% of those doing the contacting were men. Extending this into a logistic regression shows that older respondents and those with higher levels of education were more likely to contact, with no significant difference for income and ethnicity once age and education were controlled for.

    Demographic profile of WriteToThem users

    Looking at the profile of people writing to MPs using WriteToThem, there is an uneven use by different demographics. Over all time,  60% of messages sent have been from men and  60% of people writing had written before. Using the index of multiple deprivation, more messages are sent by better off areas, with 55% of messages being sent by the less deprived half of the country, and 7% of messages coming from the most deprived decile (you would expect 10% if this were evenly divided).

    There is a clear linear pattern of greater employment and income in an area being associated with a greater amount of messages sent.  Most of these gradients are slight, but in aggregate the effect is that WriteToThem reflects existing divisions in participation (although there are no good sources for the demographics of people who write to MPs specifically) .

    But is this actually a problem? Should a service be judged for the proportion of existing represented groups making use of it, or what it does for the under-represented groups who do use it? WriteToThem has delivered 73,000 messages to MPs from people in the most deprived IMD decile alone, if this has led to dialogues that resolved issues that would not otherwise have happened, this is a positive regardless of whether the same is also true for more people in the least deprived areas. If WriteToThem lowers the cost of contact by making it easier, then it is unsurprising that many of the people making use of it would have made contact anyway — but also included in that are people who were previously unable to engage in the process.

    When we look at the result of the survey asking whether a user of WriteToThem was writing for the first time, we can see that people from the bottom three IMD deciles were statistically more likely to be writing for the first time (this is also true when just looking at people writing to MPs, and when just looking at 2018). While generally the number of people using the site for the first time has decreased over time, this decline is demographically uneven and mostly occurs in less deprived areas.

    For the complete time-span of the service, 47% percent of survey respondents in IMD 1 (most deprived) were writing for the first time compared to 38% of IMD 10 (least deprived). Looking at just 2018, this was 48% compared to 35%. While the service as a whole is used more by people in less deprived areas, of those using it in less deprived areas it is successfully facilitating a higher proportion of first time contacts.

    The local picture

    To return to the idea of bundles, WriteToThem is also quietly solving a much harder problem than contacting MPs. While people generally recognise their MP when prompted with a name, local councillors remain far more anonymous. From 2007 to 2018 WriteToThem has helped constituents send 450,000 emails to their local councillors (42,000 in 2018). This service has an effectively even gender ratio (with a female majority in 2018), with more reports coming from more deprived areas (54% by more deprived half).

    If we imagine one of these bundled services being a site named “WriteToYourCouncillor”, it is in many respects a model service, with a user base displaying an even gender ratio, and more likely to be used in deprived areas. That in reality it is one function of a more well-used service in terms of numbers somewhat obscures this.

    But while it is good to recognise where services are successfully reaching people we want to reach, it is also important to think about volume and overall impact.  One issue with a service used more by men or in better off areas might be if it shapes how resources are deployed or provides a false shape of the views of constituents (and emails received are certainly used by MPs to build a picture). Even a service that adequately represents under-represented groups may be ineffective if it exists in a wider ecosystem that does not.

    At the moment, the systematic effect of any bias in WriteToThem outputs is marginal as WriteToThem accounts for a small fraction of parliamentary mail.  While the amount of physical mail entering the Houses of Parliament each year has decreased steadily, in 2018 it was still 24 times larger than the number of emails sent to MPs via WriteToThem. The average MP received 94 emails via WriteToThem in 2018; most MPs would receive more than this through other means in a week.

    Returning to the British Election Study finding that 57% of contacting in 2015 was done by men, the equivalent figure for WriteToThem as a whole in 2018 was 55%. Being generous and bearing in mind the previous finding that the method used to assign gender from name undercounts women, this could be seen as a marginal improvement on the real world. However, it would be a marginal improvement in a pool that only represents 1.6% of the total amount of number of messages.

    Defining success

    Based on the above, we can think about three different kinds of ‘success’  of a civic tech service in serving under-represented groups:

    Relative – The service improves under-representation relative to the current standard. e.g. a service where 60% of usage was by men is an improvement over an offline status quo of 70%.

    Absolute – The service adequately (or over-) services under-represented communities to what would be expected based on their numbers in the general population.

    Systematic – The service successfully services under-represented communities and is successful enough that this redresses issues of representation in competitor services/methods.

    Working with these, we could say WriteToThem is a success on a relative level, servicing people in more deprived areas more than they would have been otherwise (larger proportion of first time writers), but not to the proportion of the population these groups represent.

    The “WriteToYourCouncillor” part of the bundle is  a success on an absolute level, providing a relatively even amount of representation, with a slight weight towards groups who typically make contact less often.

    But neither really makes a dent systematically. They may be redressing inequalities of access for individual users (which is good), but cannot significantly adjust inequalities in volume of messages and the corresponding perceptions of problems.

    Making a dent in this problem is outside the scope of WriteToThem — and probably should be. While you can imagine a future where WriteToThem continues to lower the barrier to contacting representatives,  this is likely to create new users from currently-represented groups for each under-represented person successfully reached. Targeted interventions and partnerships with other organisations can avert this problem in terms of helping individuals make contact about their issues but turning the problem around, this is a platform that is unlikely to provide a balanced view of opinions and priorities of constituents.

    If it is a problem that representatives have systematically skewed visions of the problems and views of their constituents, is an email platform that requires citizens rather than representatives to do work the best way to address that? A civic tech solution to this problem might look more like Consul (or similar general participation platform) than WriteToThem – but even explicitly designed online platforms still risk being skewed towards the online and present members of the community. Exploring better forms of local participation is something currently being explored through our Public Square project.

  4. How do different forms of deprivation affect FixMyStreet reports?

    This blog post is part of a series investigating different demographics and uses of mySociety services. You can read more about this series here

    Indices of deprivation are useful for mapping social phenomena onto geographic data. For a series of domains (in England: income, employment, health, education, skills and training, crime, barriers to housing and services, and living environment) all Lower Super Output Areas (LSOAs) are ranked from most deprived to least deprived. From these the Index of Multiple Deprivation is created  — which helps to illustrate which areas of the country suffer from multiple different negative factors.

    The indices of deprivation are compiled separately for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. While they cannot be combined, they do often illustrate similar measures and so are useful for cross comparison. As most FixMyStreet reports are made in England, more subtle patterns in how deprivation and reports are linked can be detected from this larger set of data.

    The Explorer minsite uses the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) and respective domains to understand how reports for different categories of FixMyStreet report are distributed and explore how deprivation affects reporting. This page shows the categories that are more likely than the general dataset to be reported in the lowest IMD decile (most deprived) and this page shows the categories that are more likely to be reported in the highest IMD decile (least deprived).

    Missing reports

    As examined in previous research, the most important finding when examining deprivation is the suggestion that there are reports that should be being made that aren’t. The Explorer minisite shows that reports of dog fouling have a peak in the middle deciles, but this does not reflect the real world incidence of dog fouling, which found that the most dog fouling was found in the bottom two deciles.

    Even when actual incidence of problems is higher in more deprived areas, the reporting rate can be lower — any picture based on self-reporting is likely to have a large set of missing data. In the case of dog fouling, this means information about hotspots is not communicated to enforcement. In other cases it might mean road defects unfixed, or fly-tipping uncollected.

    Exploring domains

    While previous explorations of deprivation and FixMyStreet have used the index of multiple deprivation alone, the Explorer minisite lets you see how the distribution differs on each of the domains of deprivation. For instance, looking at reports of rubbish, we can see that while generally there are more in the bottom 50% of IMD deciles, there is a stronger relationship against the crime domain.

    Rubbish vs Multiple Deprivation

    Rubbish vs Crime IMD Domain

    Examining the data for dog fouling shows that the peak in the mid-deciles is even clearer when mapped against income deprivation than for multiple deprivation. The income domain continues to show that compared to the general dataset there are fewer reports in the higher deciles than might be expected.

    Abandoned vehicle reports have a scattered relationship with a few different factors, but the association with crime is much less noticeable than the association with lower housing costs. Problems with drainage generally are more reported in less deprived areas, but when focusing on access to service deprivation, they are concentrated in the most deprived areas.

    Breaking down by the different domains that make up the index of multiple deprivation lets us better understand what factors are driving either problems or the reporting of problems. This in turn helps to frame questions to ask about what is driving these different uses of FixMyStreet.

    Photo by v2osk on Unsplash

     

  5. Understanding the votes on TheyWorkForYou

    With so very much going on in politics right now, and so many MPs in the spotlight at any given moment, there has been a lot of sharing of TheyWorkForYou’s voting records on social media.

    Of course, we’re all for it, if it helps people understand MPs’ voting history and the stances they’ve taken during their careers: we even include little share buttons beneath each voting record section to help you do this.

    But as from a couple of weeks ago, you’ll also see a new addition to these sections: we’ve added a link saying ‘please share these voting records responsibly’ — and if you click on it, you’ll see a page setting out lots more information about votes, including the data that feeds the voting information on the site, and what you can — and what you definitely shouldn’t — conclude from it.

    What TheyWorkForYou has always tried to do is take the complex, sometimes messy, often arcane and opaque business of Parliament and make it easy for the everyday person to understand, even if they don’t have a degree in Politics or lifelong membership of a political party.

    The trouble is, as our users and MPs themselves can be very quick to point out, when you try to simplify a complicated area, some nuance is always lost. There are things everyone should know before they charge onto Twitter or Facebook, hoping to win an argument or denigrate an MP by brandishing their record on foreign policy or social issues. And so we’ve set these points out on one page.

    A key question that arises when writing a page like this is: if we can’t present everything (either because the data doesn’t exist, or because including it would complicate the overall picture so much that we would risk losing our aim of making things easy to understand) should we present anything at all?

    We ask ourselves this question fairly often, and so far our answer has always been ‘yes’. Please read our page so that you fully understand the reasons behind the decisions we make.

    Image: MP speaking at Theresa May’s last Prime Minister’s Questions, 24 July 2019, CC-BY-NC, Copyright UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor.

  6. How men and women use FixMyStreet differently

    This blog post is part of a series investigating different demographics and uses of mySociety services. You can read more about this series here

    Greater use by men than women is common across mySociety services. Looking just at people who had gendered names (78% using UK data from OpenGenderTracking), 38% of FixMyStreet users were women. However, because women are less represented among super contributors (users who make many reports), only 29% of reports were submitted by women. There has been a consistent year-on-year increase in the proportion of reports made by women (34% in 2018), which at the current rate will reach parity in 2025.

    But what are the impacts of this? Where crowdsourced websites have a gender disparity and different genders participate differently, this leads to a difference in outcomes. For OpenStreetMap, Monica Stephens (2013) found that in discussions around proposed new categories of locations, strong distinctions are made between “swinger club, a nightclub and a brothel”, while a 2011 feature of “childcare” was debated and rejected on the grounds it was too similar to the existing “kindergarten”. If contributors are on the whole “very aware of the complexities of sexual entertainment categories, but oblivious to the age specific limits of childcare providers”, this makes the map less useful to the large potential group of users with differing priorities.

    This is not an unfixable problem (and in this specific case, quickly was –  childcare was added to OpenStreetMap as a category in 2013) but reflects that crowdsourced websites and datasets reflect the interests of the people who volunteer their time towards them. In an article for CityLab about efforts to increase the number of female cartographers working on OpenStreetMap, Sarah Holder writes that:

    Doctors have been tagged more than 80,000 times, while healthcare facilities that specialize in abortion have been tagged only 10; gynecology, near 1,500; midwife, 233, fertility clinics, none. Only one building has been tagged as a domestic violence facility, and 15 as a gender-based violence facility. That’s not because these facilities don’t exist—it’s because the men mapping them don’t know they do, or don’t care enough to notice.

    However, as an Open Street Map contributor noted below the original version of this article, shelters for those escaping domestic violence present a particular challenge: openly mapping their locations make them easy for everyone — including the perpetrators — to locate. As such, refuges themselves may not want to be listed. While some services predominately used by women are under-mapped, others are ill-suited to an open, map-based form of discovery. For a more detailed exploration around issues of providing information for victims of domestic violence, see the Tech vs Abuse research findings.

    Zoe Gardner, Peter Mooney, Liz Dowthwaite and Giles Foody (2017) found that as well as differences in the scale of activity, men and women also behaved differently in the kinds of ways they added to OpenStreetMap, with men more likely to modify existing features and women more likely to add new data in a few categories. Specific categories of label had different rates of contribution, with women more likely to add labels in the ‘building category’ (67% for women vs 35% for men), while men were more likely to make modifications to the highway category (39% for men vs 23% for women).

    FixMyStreet

    For FixMyStreet Reka Solymosi, Kate Bowers and Taku Fujiyama (2018) found a similar difference in behaviour in terms of the categories of reports submitted by men and women and found a rough “driving vs walking” divide:

    On first glance it appears that men are more likely to report in categories related to driving (potholes and road problems), whereas women report more in categories related to walking (parks, dead animals, dog fouling, litter).

    This was replicated with non-anonymous data internally.  The methodology used in this paper is applied through the Explorer minisite to a wider dataset, and the gender difference in categories can be seen here. This uses an analysis that derives likely gender from first name, which is not 100% accurate and cannot derive a gender for all users. However, for broad differences, the data is sufficient – a comparison to a group of reports where reporters disclosed gender found that the derived ‘male’ group contains around 4% misallocated women, while the derived ‘female’ group contains about 1.5% misallocated men. The unknown group splits roughly 50/50, but leans towards containing more women (53%).

    As women are still minority users of the site in general, categories are noteworthy if they have a greater proportion of women than the site as a whole — even if this is below parity.  For instance, women make up 40% of reports of overgrown trees, which means more are reported by men — but this is higher than use of the site as a whole by women. Women make fewer reports (and account for more first time reports than repeat reports), but these reports are focused on different categories to categories that are more reported by men (such as potholes, 74% of which are reported by men).

    Encountering problems

    When men and women are moving through the world differently, they are encountering different kinds of problems. In 2013, men in the UK were on average driving twice as many miles per year as women. Given this, it’s not unreasonable for men to be encountering and reporting many more potholes.

    Surveys in Scotland and England suggested higher rates of littering by men and lower acceptance of littering by women — which is reflected in a slightly higher than expected number of reports of litter from women. Women make more walking trips (269 to 240) over a cumulative longer distance (10 miles more per year). Given this it would not be unreasonable for women to be encountering slightly more littering, pavement defects, dog fouling and other walking problems.

    This difference is especially true for women aged 30-39 as “women in their thirties make four times as many escort education trips [school runs] than men of the same age, and walking is the most common mode used to make these trips”. Looking at reports of littering in England – reports by women are on average 154 meters (95% confidence between: 138, 171) closer to a school.  This isn’t saying that all reports of littering are made by women doing the school run, but possibly enough that it shows up as a difference in the data.

    Reporting problems

    In 2018 women made up 36% of reports related to rubbish — but this is masking different gender balanced on different kinds of waste. While there are very few reports of ‘discarded syringes’, three-quarters of these are made by women. Reports related to ‘leafing’ and ‘litter/litter bins’ are near parity (49%, 46%).

    In 2016 there was an experiment on the  homepage of FixMyStreet.com to see if changing the  prompted categories from a focus on road problems to a prompt on parks and open spaces and changing the imagery on the homepage (happy families rather than the default “B&Q” colours and spanners) led to an increase of reports by women. There was no difference found, suggesting that the problem was more complicated than women being put off by the design. This did however change the distribution of various categories (fewer pothole reports and more reports of issues with street lights) with no shift in the gender ratio.

    For reports made by co-branded websites (instances of FixMyStreet running as part of a council website), reports by women are better represented, making up 42% of reports.  This is a reminder that more than the technology is important, the perceived “officialness” and discovery routes are also important. Certain kinds of users may be more willing to use a third-party tool than the official website.

    What does this mean?

    If civic tech makes certain kinds of government contacting easier to do, but those forms of contact are more likely to be problems experienced by men, this may have the effect of shifting the provision of services. In the longer run, uneven reporting may entrench perceptions of public interest and respective budgeting for different areas of service.

    That men and women experience their environment in different ways and so experience different problems makes this problem both important and difficult to resolve. Understanding FixMyStreet as a bundle of services gives a framework to examine the problem. Viewed this way some services (Report Potholes) are performing about as you’d expect, while others such as Report Litter are lagging. This suggests a different set of experiments to investigate the problem than a generic ‘women use FixMyStreet less’ problem suggests.

    It also suggests that reaching greater gender balance in services may involve seeking out different kinds of problems. The issue is less getting more pothole reports from women but that there are neighbouring services that fulfil the same ‘ease contact with government’ role that women would be far more likely to use.

    Photo by Olesya Grichina on Unsplash

  7. TICTeC Local 2019: schedule now online

    We’re pleased to announce the schedule for TICTeC Local 2019, our one-day conference that focuses directly on the use and impacts of Civic Tech in communities and local government. If this sounds good to you, you’d better book now, because spaces are limited.

    Join us on 1st November at London’s City Hall to discuss how digital tools can help local government and communities to foster citizen engagement, drive efficiencies, and combat social and environmental problems. TICTeC events are unique in that they emphasise the research behind digital platforms and tools, not just showcasing the tools themselves.

    TICTeC Local is more than just a conference once a year: we want it to be a catalyst that helps more local councils and organisations think about and research the impacts of digital tools they are using, and to share this knowledge amongst their peers.

    For six years now we have fostered a global network of civic tech researchers and practitioners via our Impacts of Civic Technology Conferences (TICTeC) – TICTeC Local allows us to bring some of that international experience to the local level and emphasise the importance of local digital innovations and researching their impacts.

    Free public sector tickets

    We have a set number of free tickets available for public sector attendees. These are limited to a maximum of two tickets per public sector organisation. If you work in the public sector and can commit to attending please choose the ‘Public Sector’ ticket option on Eventbrite.

    Speakers include

    We are delighted to be joined by many excellent speakers — here are just a few you can expect to hear from:


    Vidhya Alakeson

    Chief Executive, Power to Change

    Vidhya is the founding Chief Executive of Power to Change, the independent trust established in 2015 to support the growth of community businesses across England to create more prosperous and cohesive communities.


    Miriam Levin

    Head of Community Action and Giving at Office for Civil Society, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)

    The focus of Miriam’s 18 year career in central government, public, private and third sectors has been to develop and implement long-lasting, impactful community development strategies, focusing on how people can be involved in shaping the places where they live and take action on the things that matter to them.

     


    Professor Graham Smith

    Professor of Politics and Director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy (CSD), Westminster University

    Graham’s research interests are in democratic theory and practice (particularly participatory democratic institutions), climate and environmental politics and the third sector/social economy.

    He is currently involved in a number of funded research projects, including Scholio (University of Connecticut), Participedia (SSHRC) and AssoDem (Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness). Recently completed projects include Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit (ESRC) and Cherry-picking.


    Giselle Cory

    Executive Director, DataKind UK

    Giselle oversees the running of DataKind UK, empowering the community of volunteers in their use of data for social good. After graduating in Maths and Physics, Giselle worked as a data scientist and public policy analyst in the UK Government, a national charity and think tanks, before returning to study a masters in Computational Journalism. Prior to joining the team at DataKind UK, Giselle was a longtime core volunteer. She believes that smart, responsible data collection and use can help the social sector tackle some of the UK’s biggest challenges – and change the world!


    Richard Smith

    Lead User Researcher at #HackIT, Hackney Council

    HackIT brings together the technology, digital and data teams of Hackney Council to support their residents and businesses, colleagues and partners.


    Georges Clement

    Co-Founder, President, JustFix.nyc

    Georges is a product manager and experienced nonprofit leader who specializes in partnerships, business operations, fundraising, and gathering research insights to inform digital product features.

    JustFix.nyc builds technology for tenants and organisers fighting displacement, by following a community-driven approach to support New York’s housing justice movement.


    Dr. Tammy Esteves

    Assistant Professor of Public Administration, Troy University

    Dr. Esteves is very active in the American Society for Public Administration, where she is on the board of the Section of Democracy and Social Justice, and is a past president of the Evergreen Chapter in Seattle. She primarily teaches Research Methods, Leadership in Public Administration, Ethics in Public Administration, eGovernance, and Public Health Preparedness and Emergency Response. Her main research interest is the role of technology for building community, particularly in the areas of social media, crowdsourcing, and GIS.


    Jonathan Pichot

    Developer & Product Manager, NYC Planning Labs

    Jonathan is a New York-based software developer and product manager with an enduring fascination of cities. He has worked for software companies and city governments, working to use technology to improve the way cities function and the lives of the people that live in them.

    NYC Planning Labs  believe better outcomes can be achieved using modern design and development practices along with open technology. They are civic technologists that help support the Department of City Planning’s mission.


    Don’t miss TICTeC Local 2019

    Book your place here.

    There’s more information about TICTeC Local on the main TICTeC website.

  8. AlaveteliCon 2019: technology, investigations and collaboration

    We’ve just come back from a heady couple of days in Oslo, where our AlaveteliCon event brought together those with a shared interest in the technology around Freedom of Information — in all, around 50 journalists, researchers, technologists and activists from 18 different countries.

    As our Head of Development Louise announced in her opening words, AlaveteliCon has always been a slight misnomer, given that we’re keen to share knowledge not just with those who use Alaveteli, but with all the FOI platforms in our small but growing community — including MuckRock in the US and Frag Den Staat in Germany, both of whom were in attendance.

    It was a timely event for us, as we embark on work to introduce our Alaveteli Pro functionality to newsrooms, researchers and campaigners across Europe, with an emphasis on encouraging cross-border collaboration in campaigns, research and journalistic investigations.

    As well as picking up practical tips, we heard a variety of inspiring and instructive stories from FOI practitioners around the world; brainstormed ways forward in increasingly difficult political times; and shared knowledge on funding, publicity, site maintenance, and how to keep good relations with FOI officers.

    Some of the most inspiring sessions came when delegates shared how they had used FOI in campaigns and investigations, from Vouliwatch’s Stefanos Loukopoulos explaining how they had taken their own government to court, to Beryl Lipton of MuckRock explaining why the government use of algorithms can have effects that are unforeseen, and indeed petrifying.

    There was an affecting story from freelance journalist Mago Torres, who told us about a long campaign to map clandestine graves of those caught up in the war against drugs in Mexico; and from Camilla Graham Wood of Privacy International, on that organisation’s work to uncover some of the rather sinister but not widely known technologies being put into use by police services in the UK.

    So much knowledge came out of these two days. We don’t want to lose it, so we’ll be making sure to update the conference page with photos, videos and the speakers’ slides as soon as they’re available. Meanwhile, you can follow the links from the agenda on that page to find the collaborative documents where we took notes for each session.

    Thanks to the Adessium Foundation and the NUUG Foundation for making AlaveteliCon 2019 possible. We hope it won’t be another four years before we all get the chance to come together again.

  9. A clutch of new Trustees and Directors

    Before the summer we began the search for new Trustees and Non-Executive Directors to join our charitable and commercial boards. As we enter Autumn I’m very pleased to be able to share the fruits of our search with a clutch of lovely and talented new board members.


    For our mySociety Ltd board which oversees our commercial and product development work we are pleased to welcome three new Directors:

    Steve SkeltonSteve Skelton, Non Executive Director of mySociety Ltd

    Steve is Director of Strategy and Innovation at the Government of Jersey, turning emerging theory of open policy making, participatory design and digital government into practice. Previously at Stockport Council, and as Chair of the GM Connect programme for the Greater Manchester Combined Authority he is a leading thinker on all things Local Government.

    Ade AdewunmiAde Adewunmi, Non Executive Director of mySociety Ltd

    Ade is no stranger to mySociety and has been a supporter of our work since her time leading the Government Digital Service’s Data Infrastructure programme. Currently a data strategist at Cloudera Fast Forward Labs, she will help us consider the wider application and impact of ethical data use across our range of services.

    Cam RossCam Ross, Non Executive Director of mySociety Ltd

    Cam is a Director of Green Angel Syndicate, a network of angel investors funding early stage technology businesses which fight against the climate crisis, and for the sustainable use of resources. He’ll help advise on the further development of our SaaS products, with a particular interest in shaping our response to climate change.


    We welcome two new Trustees to our charity board for UK Citizens Online Democracy, who are responsible for the strategic direction and sustainability of the whole organisation:

    Julia KeutgenJulia Keutgen, Trustee of UK Citizens Online Democracy

    Julia is a Senior Transparency Advisor at the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, advising parliaments and political parties on accountability, transparency and the rule of law. She works closely with the Open Government Partnership (OGP) on enhancing the role of civil society in public policy making and government oversight.

    Kate JonesKates Jones, Trustee of UK Citizens Online Democracy

    Kate is currently Private Secretary to the Chief Executive of the Civil Service & Cabinet Office Permanent Secretary, where she works on EU Exit and Civil Service HR. Previously working in the Cities and Local Growth Unit at BEIS and before that at the Design Council and CABE, she brings invaluable insights around Government and public policy.


    In addition to Owen Blacker who stepped down after an amazing 17 years of involvement with mySociety, we also say goodbye as a Trustee to Nanjira Sambuli. Both stepped down at our AGM in July. Immense thanks to both for their support and service.

    Our search for a new Chair of UKCOD will continue over the next couple of months as we speak to candidates, and we expect to make additional board appointments during 2020.

    Photo header image by Jakub Kapusnak

  10. Join us in Reykjavik for TICTeC 2020

    We’re excited to announce that TICTeC 2020, our sixth global conference on the Impacts of Civic Technology, will be in Reykjavik, Iceland on 24 and 25 March 2020.

    Put that in your diaries now, we’d love for you to join us.

    What is TICTeC and why do we host it?

    There are several existing annual conferences in which civic technology is showcased, and in which the potential for such tools to change and drive participation can be discussed, however, very few of these events include real and in-depth research into whether the potential outcomes of civic technology were realised.

    This is where TICTeC differs: the majority of speakers will be presenting evidence-based research to demonstrate the various impacts of civic technology from across the world.

    We created TICTeC to bridge the gap between civic tech and research – to bring two different communities together, to emphasise the importance of being able to demonstrate impact, and to share what those impacts are.

    Why Iceland?

    We’re really excited to be hosting TICTeC in Reykjavik, as the City Council are pioneers in using digital tools to elicit feedback and engagement from its citizens on council policies, expenditure and projects.  As one civil servant told us: “If a political party does not believe in or promise citizen engagement they just won’t be elected here”.

    TICTeC 2020 will therefore be a unique occasion for the global community to learn from Iceland’s extensive civic tech and civic engagement experience, and vice versa.

    We’re delighted that civic tech veterans Citizens Foundation will speak at TICTeC 2020 about their latest attempt to crowdsource the Icelandic constitution using digital tools, a project they are currently working on with Iceland’s National Parliament and the University of Iceland. Lessons from this will be extremely valuable to TICTeC’s global audience, so we are excited to have them join us.

    TICTeC 2020 will also include keynote speeches, simultaneous research tracks, hands-on workshops, and special networking sessions. We also expect there to be additional fringe events as other organisations arrange companion events before and after the main conference.

    Over the coming weeks, we’ll be publishing a series of blog posts to further explain our reasons behind choosing Iceland for TICTeC 2020; how we’ll be trying to reduce TICTeC 2020’s carbon footprint; and our experiences trying to increase diversity at our conferences.

    Apply to present or run a workshop

    This two day conference provides the opportunity for researchers to present theoretical or empirical work related to the conference theme. We also welcome proposals for individuals to lead workshops or give presentations relating to the conference theme. We encourage submissions to focus on the specific impacts of technologies, rather than showcase new tools that are as yet untested.

    If you’d like to give a presentation or run a workshop at TICTeC 2020, please submit your proposals now. You have until Friday 17th January 2020.

    Register

    For the last three years TICTeC has sold out – so make sure you get tickets early. Early bird tickets provide a significant discount, so it’s well worth registering before early bird ticket sales end on Friday 14th February 2020.

    Sponsor

    If you’d like to support TICTeC to bring together the world’s best Civic Technology researchers and practitioners, there are many different sponsorship opportunities available. Please visit our sponsorship page for more details, or contact gemma@mysociety.org for more information.

    Keep an eye on the TICTeC website for full details of proceedings as they are announced.

    We look forward to seeing you in March in beautiful Reykjavik!

    Meanwhile, if you’d like to see what TICTeC is all about, you can browse all the resources from this year’s TICTeC, check out the TICTeC guide, and/or watch this video overview:

    And here is an overview of this year’s conference, expect more of the same plus improvements in Reykjavik:

    Photo header: Image by Sharon Ang from Pixabay