1. My last post

    As you may well already know, I’m leaving mySociety and taking some time off to chillax and think about what I should do next.

    Today is my last day and it seems appropriate to sign off with a blog post, 11 years and 5 months after the first one that I can find.

    It feels too early to share any deep thoughts on what mySociety means, where we are with civic tech, what worked and what didn’t, what I learned as a founder and what we should all be focusing on next.

    One of my many reasons for wanting to move on was to regain the kind of mental freshness and detachment that comes from having fewer responsibilities for a while. So I promise that I’ll think and write more.

    Follow me on Twitter if you want to, or add your email address to my new notification list if you just want a ping when I’ve written something. Or mail me direct at tom@tomsteinberg.co.uk if you want to talk about anything.

    My main reason for writing today is to thank people. A lot of people gave up very significant portions of their lives to get mySociety to a point where it helps so many people in so many countries in so many different ways.

    So I’ve written a huge list of thankyous. If you’re missing, ping me and I’ll thank you too :)

    Thank you to:

    Paul Lenz for his strength, energy, focus, morality, tolerance of my foibles, and his financial and legal skills that stop this happening to me.

    Tim Morley for loving and caring for PledgeBank for so many years, and for bringing a little Esperanto to our lives. And for cooking.

    James Crabtree for writing the original article that said that something like mySociety should exist, and for being a patient trustee from many timezones away

    Tony Bowden for being the first person to try to help people outside the UK to benefit from the ideas and tools we’d built here, and for the miracle that is EveryPolitician (100+ countries, anyone?)

    James Cronin for being the chair of trustees for so long, and doing so with a calm, kind level-headedness that I think would drive other charity CEO’s wild with jealousy. And for being such a key part of starting mySociety in the first place.

    Mark Cridge for taking on the challenge of running mySociety, and for resisting the temptation to use me as a scapegoat for everything [n.b. this thanks may be retroactively repealed]

    Ian Chard for keeping the server lights on, for making me believe I can do more with every day of my life, and for telling me about the British Library’s amazing online newspaper archive.

    FOIMonkey for spotting when councils dump tons of private data out via accidental FOI. You are what other people mean by eternal vigilance.

    Deborah Kerr for being eternally patient and kind to the users, even when they were taxing, and for doing super retreat organising on a shoestring.

    Ganesh Sittampalam for a billion hours of patient FOI administration, helping make WhatDoTheyKnow the institution it is today.

    Alex Skene for so much volunteering on WhatDoTheyKnow, for grown-up management advice that I took seriously, and for surprising me at the Olympics

    Abi Broom for nothing*.

    Richard Taylor for years of diligent volunteering on WhatDoTheyKnow, making us all laugh with his videos of council meetings, and being perhaps the most knowledgeable person about every vote in Parliament who has ever lived.

    Adam MacGreggor for server cabinet wrangling at difficult moments.

    Ben Nickolls for heading up such a happy, productive commercial team, and for helping me understand that £200 is an entirely reasonable sum to spend on bicycle pedals.

    Owen Blacker for a lot of trustees meetings, and for always keeping us spiritually close to the digital rights world.

    Ethan Zuckerman for helping me gain perspective, and for being my biggest fan in the USA.

    Jen Pahlka for being an even bigger fan than Ethan, and for endlessly quoting me on stages around the world.

    Sam Smith for early hacking, for running OpenTech, and for reminding me that chippiness always has a place.

    Dave Whiteland for the stories, and for travelling far and wide to help people take advantage of our tools and learnings. And, on a personal note, for showing me what it means to be a truly good son.

    Michal Migurski for making Mapumental so beautiful, and for bringing your tech skills to Code for America

    Amandeep Rehlon for being the volunteer finance department before we had a finance department, and for giving me the unique pleasure of sending my expense receipts to the Bank of England’s financial crises department.

    Bill Thompson for organising the first puntcon, where I first met Chris. And for giving feedback on the very earliest versions of the mySociety plan.

    Etienne Pollard for helping at every stage, whether a drama hippy, a McKinsey suit, or a harried public servant.

    Stephen King for, yes, representing our biggest funder, but also for being clear, friendly, and a quiet champion for mySociety. And for sometimes helping translate from Californian to English.

    Alistair Sloan for being such a dedicated WhatDoTheyKnow volunteer that he once got the bus from Glasgow to London for a meeting.

    Duncan Parkes for making Mapumental performant in the post-flash era, even when it looked like it might not be possible. And for the best retreat presentation ever.

    Struan Donald for the puns, the deadpan one liners, and for making both FixMyStreet and TheyWorkForYou so much better.

    Micah Sifry and Ellen Miller for making me unofficial members of the US civic tech family.

    Eben Upton, now Raspberry Pi legend, who booked me a speaking gig in the Cambridge Microsoft Research labs which is where I first met Francis Irving and (I think) Chris Lightfoot.

    Dan Jellinek for bringing together VoxPolitics with me and James Crabtree, which was the precursor to mySociety.

    Janet Haven for the money. For her ‘massive thermonuclear powered bullshit detector’ [ht Tom Longley]. And, oh yes, for becoming a friend too.

    Ayesha and Keith Garrett for design help on PledgeBank, and sysadmin skills, long ago.

    Tim Jackson for taking a philanthropic punt on a wild idea, long ago, which worked.

    Robin Houston for doing battle on a project you didn’t really love, but that was for the right purpose.

    Pierre Omidyar for making all that money at eBay, and then deciding that we deserved some of it.

    Tom Loosemore for hacking together our very first web presence, and for being a positive, confidence inspiring presence in good times and bad ever since.

    Mike Bracken for the vital job of helping us get out first significant grant, and then years later for successfully smuggling mySociety values into government.

    Richard Pope for being a ceaseless fount of new ideas, and for driving the first redesign of TheyWorkForYou.

    Edmund von der Burg for showing that you can both be a charming coder, and capable of building an office out of a shipping container, with your own hands.

    Julian Todd for realising that vote data in the UK parliament deserved clear, regular, semi-automated analysis to make it useful for most people, and then for making it real in PublicWhip. If history is fair it will note him as the inventor of modern vote analyses.

    Helen Goulden for helping us navigate the tricky paths to government money, back when there was any.

    Doug Paulley for blazing onto the scene as an amazing new WhatDoTheyKnow volunteer.

    Martin Wright for turning us from an organisation that sucked at design, to one that really rocks. And for his enduring love of Yo.

    Stef Magdalinski for the name of the charity, and for trusting me with TheyWorkForYou

    Nick Jackson for happy rats and research stats.

    Jason Kitcat for the very first mySociety.org!

    Matt Jones for mySociety’s logo, which is still going strong, albeit in a gently shaded new style.

    Alex Smith for helping us through TV-driven load spikes with customarily despairing good humour.

    Manar Hussain for diligent, challenging trusteeship that was always good humoured, and never afraid to bring in new ideas.

    The public sector for being such a terrible employer of programming talent that it gave us both Matthew and Steve

    John Cross for being a brilliant WhatDoTheyKnow volunteer.

    Steve Day for being a brilliant, sensitive engineering manager, wise far beyond his age, all whilst riding a BMX.

    Christoph Dowe for helping organise the series of Berlin-based conferences that first brought together Europe’s civic hackers, and which ultimately helped attract funding to the scene.

    Liz Conlan for the coffee advice

    Chris Mytton – for introducing the words ‘craft ales’ to mySociety’s internal discourse, for showing that not going to university has no impact on your ability to be either an amazing coder or a well rounded human being.

    Steve Clift for being there to talk to about digital politics when nobody else was interested, and for loving Poplus into life.

    Dave Arter for wrestling Mapumental into a truly beautiful state, for your Github robot, and for convincing me that Wales is disproportionately full of bright young coders.

    Gareth Rees for helping make Alaveteli our most-used platform, and for bringing a little race-car glamour to our team.

    Rebecca Rumbul for getting our new research programme of to a flying start, and for showing me that the art of creative swearing is never truly mastered

    Jen Bramley for cheerfully travelling the world and making people feel that mySociety must be worth working with if everyone is so nice

    Gemma Humphrys for bringing a tornado of efficiency to our events organisation, and for having absolutely no boundaries that I am aware of.

    Rowena Young for being a person I could really moan to, when things got tough.

    Myf Nixon for being our organisation’s voice, for looking after our users, and for making sure that we get noticed.

    Tony Blair for starting a war that inspired Julian Todd to build PublicWhip, and much later for commissioning a petitions website that caused all sorts of fun and games.

    Seb Bacon for making DemocracyClub happen in 2010, for starting the conversion of WhatDoTheyKnow.com into the generic Alaveteli, and for going off to OpenCorporates to make it harder for the b*&^&ds to get away with it.

    Sym Roe for making DemocracyClub happen in 2015, and for giving a lot of his time to the cause of good political information in the UK.

    Tim Green for being the new Chris Lightfoot

    Tom Longley for giving us a no-nonsense introduction to how hard it was going to be to conduct successful partnerships in the developing world.

    Mark Longair for making sure that technological excellence and human kindness are are the core of what we do.

    Camilla Aldrich for the lungs

    Angie Martin for giving all she could, for as long as she could.

    Zarino Zappia for ceaseless energy and good humour, and for asking hilariously straight questions about why we made terrible design decisions previously

    Karl Grundy, Kristina Glushkova and Mike Thompson for helping us grow a commercial team, over several years.

    The vandal who repeatedly smashed up the phone booth on London’s Caledonian Road, and thus planted the idea for FixMyStreet

    William Perrin for helping make government interested in data and tech before it was cool, and for virtually single-handedly starting the UK government’s work on Open Data. And for all the support and the ideas in his post civil service life.

    Fran Perrin for the support, and for protecting me from William’s ideas.

    Louise Crow for showing me what a technology leader really looks like.

    Matthew Somerville for always standing up for the user, for making everything work, and for doing it all in a tenth the time expected. And for a hug when I needed it most.

    Francis Irving for joining at the right time, for leaving at the right time, and being a monster of thoughtful product design and speedy, skilful implementation in between. For always being excited, and always wise.

    Chris Lightfoot for giving me a brief, life-changing glimpse of what the raging, brilliant light of genius looks like. And being the person who introduced me to Anna.

    Anna Powell-Smith for everything, everyday.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    * Trust me, this is how she’d want it

  2. How far does your MP tread the party line?

    For a while now, TheyWorkForYou has shown how your MP voted on key topics.

    What it hasn’t done, until this week, is give a crucial piece of context. That is, how do your MP’s votes differ from those of their colleagues in the same party?

    We all know that, on many issues, the whip ensures that MPs vote according to the party line rather than their own convictions. So in theory, by examining the votes which diverge from the majority party vote, we might get the clearest picture of what an MP truly cares about.

    And now, we’ve added a small piece of code to the site, which allows us to do just that. At the top of your MP’s page, you’ll now see text along these lines:

    stephen phillips voting in parliament

    If your MP never disagrees with their party, you’ll just see the top line followed by a random selection of votes.

    The importance of wording

    The screenshot above shows another small change we’ve made to TheyWorkForYou: just a matter of wording, this time.

    When we first started displaying how MPs had voted, we used terms such as “voted strongly for”, “voted moderately against”, etc. This was to allow us to represent a range of positions along a spectrum for each topic.

    For every topic, such as EU Integration, or smoking bans, several different votes are analysed. The ‘show votes’ button, as seen above, takes you to a page where these are listed.

    However, we received a steady stream of emails, tweets and Facebook messages asking how an MP can vote ‘strongly’ or ‘moderately’ for something. To a fly-by reader, it seemed nonsensical, because of course they were thinking of that fact that MPs vote for or against a single motion.

    To counteract this, we’ve used words which we hope encapsulate the concept of a series of votes over time – words like ‘consistently’, ‘occasionally’ and ‘never’.

    Choosing these words proved to be harder than we’d anticipated, and, after a long heated discussion between colleagues, resulted in a straw poll asking anyone we could find to arrange pieces of paper in a line to indicate how they perceived their strength.

    We finally came up with an answer that the majority agreed on—and we haven’t had any mail on the subject since then. Let’s cautiously call that a win for careful wording.

    Image: Harry Potts (CC)

  3. 100 parliaments as open data, ready for you to use

    If you need data on the people who make up your parliament, another country’s parliament, or indeed all parliaments, you may be in luck.

    Every Politician, the latest Poplus project, aims to collect, store and share information about every parliament in the world, past and present—and it already contains 100 of them.

    What’s more, it’s all provided as Open Data to anyone who would like to use it to power a civic tech project. We’re thinking parliamentary monitoring organisations, journalists, groups who run access-to-democracy sites like our own WriteToThem, and especially researchers who want to do analysis across multiple countries.

    But isn’t that data already available?

    Yes and no. There’s no doubt that you can find details of most parliaments online, either on official government websites, on Wikipedia, or on a variety of other places online.

    But, as you might expect from data that’s coming from hundreds of different sources, it’s in a multitude of different formats. That makes it very hard to work with in any kind of consistent fashion.

    Every Politician standardises all of its data into the Popolo standard and then provides it in two simple downloadable formats:

    • csv, which contains basic data that’s easy to work with on spreadsheets
    • JSON which contains richer data on each person, and is ideal for developers

    This standardisation means that it should now be a lot easier to work on projects across multiple countries, or to compare one country’s data with another. It also means that data works well with other Poplus Components.

    What can I do with it?

    Need a specific example? Yesterday, we introduced Gender Balance, the game that gathers data about women in politics.

    As you’ll know if you’ve already given it a try, Gender Balance works by displaying politicians that make up one of the world’s legislatures, one by one.

    That data all comes from Every Politician, and it’s meant that the developers have been able to concentrate on making a smooth and functional interface, knowing that the data side of things has already been taken care of.

    That’s just one way to use Every Politician data, though. If you’d like to use it in your own site or app, you can find out more here.

    We still need more data

    As you may have noticed, there are more than 100 parliaments in the world. In fact, despite having reached what feels like a fairly substantial milestone, we’re still barely half way to getting some data for every parliament.

    So we could use your help in finding data for the parliaments we don’t yet cover, and historic information for the ones we do. Read more about how you can help out.

  4. Introducing Gender Balance, the game that sorts the women from the boys

    From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, there are over 180 parliaments in the world — but what percentage of their members are female?

    The crazy thing is, there’s no definitive figure*.

    So we created Gender Balance, an easy game that crowd-sources gender data across every parliament in the world. Try it! We hope you’ll find it fun.

    Gender Balance isn’t just an enjoyable way to fill half an hour, though: users will be helping to build up a dataset that will be useful for researchers, campaigners, politicians, and sociologists. As the results emerge, we’ll be making them available in an open format for anyone to use, to answer questions like:

    • Which country has the highest proportion of women in parliament?
    • Do women vote differently on issues like defence, the environment, or maternity benefits?
    • Exactly when did women come into power in different countries, and did their presence change the way the country was run?

    Gender Balance’s underlying data comes from another mySociety project—EveryPolitician, a database which aims to collect information on every politician in the world.

    And while it’s nailing down those stats on gender balance across every country, Gender Balance also aims to be a showcase of what can be done with the open data from EveryPolitician. That data is free for anyone who wants to build tools like this, and it’s easy to use, too. Find out more about that here.

     

    *While the Inter-Parliamentary Union does collect figures, they are self-reported, often out of date, and only cover its own members.

  5. 98% of councils accept FixMyStreet reports. Here’s how we cope with the rest.

    If you live almost anywhere in the UK, you can use FixMyStreet to report problems to councils.

    The vast majority of councils have no problem with this, and they do a good job of responding to and dealing with reported problems. A bunch of councils even like the service enough that they’ve actually become clients, paying for customised versions that sit on their own websites.

    But there have always been a small number of councils that have said ‘no dice’ to FixMyStreet: they either refuse to accept reports at all, or they tell FixMyStreet users to re-submit problems through another channel. Today the total number in the ‘no thanks’ column stands at ten councils – that’s out of about 430 in total.

    Idealism versus Pragmatism

    Recently we had a bit of a debate about what to do. On the one hand we want users to succeed in getting their problems fixed. But on the other we don’t want councils to simply opt out of the transparency and convenience that FixMyStreet offers.

    We could digress into a long post with many other related issues, but today we’re simply talking about how we have decided to change the user interface for users trying to report problems to the minority of councils that claim not to be able to cope.

    What to expect if you report a problem in the unlucky 2% of the UK

    FireShot Screen Capture #049 - 'Unresponsive councils_ What you can do __ FixMyStreet' - www_fixmystreet_com_unresponsive_body=2578When you first try to report a problem, you’ll be alerted that the council doesn’t accept our reports.

    In order not to leave you high and dry, we’ll provide a link to the council’s own reporting system—because, irrespective of the platform, your report still needs to be made.

    But we don’t think that this situation should be quietly accepted, by us or by our users, especially since it means some councils get to simply opt out of transparency about problem handling.

    So at the same time we’re telling a user how to report the problem, we’ll also invite them to tweet about it, and/or contact their local councillors.

    Why the situation arose

    You may be wondering why some authorities won’t accept our reports. We do not, after all, ask councils to adapt or modify their internal systems in any special way, unless they actively want to adopt the Open311 standard.

    The messages our users generate are just plain text emails, and they go into the same email inboxes as any other message to a council would.

    These reports are carefully appended with lots of useful details, too, including the category of the problem, its exact longitude and latitude, and the postcode or street address where available. Users can also attach photos.

    Generally the reason cited for not accepting such email reports (or the same reports made by the industry standard Open311 API) is that the computer system inside the council can only handle problems reported via the council’s own official web interface. Why this is only a problem in 2% of councils is a mystery that remains to be solved.

    Does your council accept FixMyStreet reports? Input your postcode on the site, and see if you get the alert. If not – there’s no problem.

    Image: Nick Veitch (CC)

     

     

  6. Government review of FOI: a response from WhatDoTheyKnow and mySociety

    In 2005, UK citizens obtained rights under the Freedom of Information Act. In a nutshell, we have the right to ask publicly-funded bodies for information, and, if they hold the information, in most cases they are obliged to provide it.

    While these rights are highly beneficial to the populace, they do, of course, prove worrisome, inconvenient and irritating to some of those in public office. They were scrutinised once in 2013, by a Justice Committee at which WhatDoTheyKnow were invited to give evidence, and now there looks to be another potential attack.

    On Friday, the Cabinet Office announced the establishment of a cross-party Commission on Freedom of Information, in a statement which on the one hand asserts their commitment to transparency, and on the other suggests a desire to move away from it under certain circumstances.

    Pivotal to the announcement is the stated aim to ensure that “a private space is protected for frank advice” within government policy-making, which we interpret to mean that the law would be modified to ring-fence certain information, preventing its access via the FOI Act. As has already been suggested elsewhere (for example, on the BBC website), the commission’s review panel might have been pre-selected specifically to include known opponents to the Act.

    The WhatDoTheyKnow team, supported by mySociety and its overseeing body UKCOD, agree with the Cabinet Office’s statement that the advances made in government transparency since the introduction of the Act are to be broadly welcomed.

    However, we are also gravely concerned by the proposal for restricting the FOI Act’s reach within government. We hope that the commission will consider that, while there is a cost to Freedom of Information, there is also a huge benefit to the nation.

    Freedom of Information allows citizens to access information from public bodies, the authorities that we fund ourselves. When those bodies operate in secrecy, they are hiding truth from not only the people they are supposed to serve, but the people who finance their very existence.

    It’s the sign of a thriving democracy when the actions of our governing bodies are functionally transparent. FOI helps uncover and discourage corruption, and provides checks and balances to the actions of the authorities working on our behalf.

    But for FOI to really work it has to be applied across all departments, in all public bodies, with as few loopholes or exceptions as possible. If Government itself is shown to be sidestepping its responsibilities in transparency, then what is to stop other authorities from taking their cue from them? As we learned at our recent Alaveteli conference, during which we heard from practitioners running FOI sites in many countries, when bodies stop responding to requests, public accountability suffers.

    At WhatDoTheyKnow, we know there’s a massive public demand for information, because we process more than 5,000 FOI requests per month. The information that we then publish online is accessed on average by a further 20 readers per request. We strongly wish to be able to go on providing this service to our users, and for it to apply across all public authorities.

    We await concrete proposals being made available for a full public consultation, whereupon we would be keen to participate from our unique position of running WhatDoTheyKnow, the UK’s only public freedom of information website. We will be doing all we can to defend your right to information—from every authority.

    Image: Redvers (CC-BY-ND)

  7. UK public bodies accidentally release private data at least once a fortnight

    Private data, containing personal details of the general public, is accidentally released by public authorities at least once a fortnight, say mySociety.

    The volunteer team behind WhatDoTheyKnow, mySociety’s freedom of information website, have dealt with 154 accidental data leaks made by bodies such as councils, government departments and other public authorities since 2009, and these are likely to represent only the tip of the iceberg.

    On the basis of this evidence, we are again issuing an urgent call for public authorities everywhere to tighten up their procedures.

    How WhatDoTheyKnow works

    Under the Freedom of Information act, anyone in the UK may request information from a public body.

    WhatDoTheyKnow makes the process of filing an FOI request very easy: users can do so online. The site publishes the requests and their responses, creating a public archive of information.

    Public authorities operate under a code of conduct that requires personal information is removed or anonymised before data is released: for example, while a request for the number of people on a council housing waiting list may be calculated from a list including names, addresses and the reason for housing need, the information provided should not include those details.

    Accidental data releases become particularly problematic when the data requested concerns the details of potentially vulnerable people.

    Hidden data is not always hidden

    When users request information through WhatDoTheyKnow, it’s often provided in the form of an Excel spreadsheet. But unfortunately, private data is sometimes included on those spreadsheets, usually because the staff member who provides it doesn’t understand how to anonymise it effectively.

    For example, data which is in hidden tabs, or pivot tables, can be revealed by anyone who has basic spreadsheet knowledge, with just a couple of clicks.

    By its very nature, data held by our public authorities can be extremely sensitive: imagine, for example, lists of people on a child protection register, lists of people who receive benefits, or as happened back in 2012, a list of all council housing applicants, including each person’s name and sexuality.

    Our latest warning is triggered by an incident earlier this month, in which Northamptonshire County Council accidentally published data on over 1,400 children, including their names, addresses, religion and SEN status. Thanks to the exceptionally fast work of both the requester and the WhatDoTheyKnow volunteers, it was removed within just a few hours of publication, and the incident has been reported to the Information Commissioner’s Office. Concerned residents should contact the ICO or the council itself.

    Advice for FOI officers

    Back in June 2013, we set out the advice that we think every FOI officer should know. That advice still stands:

    • Don’t release Excel pivot tables created from spreadsheets containing personal information, as the source data is likely to be still present in the Excel file.
    • Ensure those within an organisation who are responsible for anonymising data for release have the technical competence to fulfil their roles.
    • Check the file sizes. If a file is a lot bigger than it ought to be, it could be that there are thousands of rows of data still present in it that you don’t want to release.
    • Consider preparing information in a plain text format, eg. CSV, so you can review the contents of the file before release.

    Part of a larger picture

    Not every FOI request is made through WhatDoTheyKnow—many people will send their requests directly to the public authority. Moreover, we can only react to the breaches that we are aware of: there are, in all probability, far more which remain undiscovered.

    But because of WhatDoTheyKnow’s policy of making information accessible to all, by publishing it on the site, it’s now possible to see what an endemic problem this kind of treatment of personal data is.

    When we come across incidents like these, we act very rapidly to remove the personal information. We then inform the public authority who provided the response. We encourage them to self-report to the Information Commissioner’s Office, and where the data loss is very serious, we may make an additional report ourselves.

    Image: Iain Hinchliffe (CC)

  8. Alaveteli Release 0.22

    We’ve just released Alaveteli 0.22!

    Its a big one, with over 400 commits and lots of general improvements.

    Accessibility

    Luke Bacon improved the design and accessibility of the search form.

    alaveteli-accessible-search-form

    Code Quality

    Code quality came top of the list at AlaveteliCon 2015. This release includes contributions from James McKinney, Henare Degan, Caleb Tutty, Petter Reinholdtsen and Gorm Eriksen – all helping to clean up code, make Alaveteli work even better and make it easier to translate.

    Performance

    WhatDoTheyKnow’s Public Authority pages were suffering, so we took a dive in to the code around this area. Improving it had a huge impact on the page we were looking at and should have benefits across the application.

    alaveteli-public-body-page-performance

    Maintenance & Security

    We’ve added fixes for CVE-2015-3225, CVE-2015-3227 and CVE-2015-1840, and updated xapian-full-alaveteli for Ruby 2.1 compatibility.

    HTML Widgets

    We’re always trying to think of more ways to promote an Alaveteli site, so this release includes new feature developed by Jody McIntyre for the AskTheEU Alaveteli site.

    When enabled, each request has a “Create a widget for this request” action available in the sidebar.

    ask-the-eu-widget-sidebar

    Any visitor can copy the iframe embed code to paste on their own website.

    ask-the-eu-widget-create

    It’s just a flick of the switch to enable widgets for all requests on your site!

    Waving Goodbye to the Past

    Alaveteli 0.22 is the last release to support Ruby 1.8.

    We’ve got an upgrading guide available, and we’re always here to help on the alaveteli-dev mailing list.

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

    Thanks again to everyone who’s contributed.

  9. Hello, I’m mySociety’s new CEO

    Back in March, mySociety’s founder Tom Steinberg, announced that he would step down.

    Today, I’m pleased to announce that later this month I will be taking over the reins as Tom’s successor. I’m Mark Cridge, and I guess I should start by introducing myself.

    I’ve had a diverse 20-year career doing digital things. Most recently I was chief operating officer with the lovely folks at BERG, a London-based technology and design consultancy many of you might know. For the past year I was a senior advisor at Blue State Digital in London, the team responsible for the digital strategy used in President Obama’s electoral campaigns.

    I began my career back in 1996 in a small web design agency in Birmingham, before setting up glue London, a digital advertising agency, going on to become global managing director of Isobar, following glue’s acquisition in 2005. I originally studied Architecture before realising that wasn’t quite my cup of tea, and that the internet held more immediate attractions.

    I’m genuinely excited to take what I’ve learned over my time to date, and to apply it to help build on Tom’s achievements as mySociety’s founder — by creating even more digital tools that make a difference to the lives of citizens in Britain and around the world.

    What I’ll be focusing on

    mySociety’s mission is unchanged: we exist to invent and popularise new digital tools that enable citizens to exert power over institutions and decision makers.

    As CEO I plan to focus on mySociety’s users, partners and volunteers both in the UK and in dozens of countries internationally, where we now conduct the great majority of our work.

    My initial priorities will be to ensure that mySociety’s existing sites keep pushing the boundaries of what is possible in the world of civic technologies, whilst also thinking through where we can move into new and exciting areas.

    I want to make a new push to ensure that charities, activists and journalists around the world are able to run successful, high profile sites of their own, powered by mySociety’s open source technologies.

    We will also be building up our research team over the next few years, to ensure that we are providing tools and services that have genuine impact, which we ourselves are able to measure.

    All of which will build towards a reaffirmation of mySociety’s place as a key player within the global civic technology movement.

    Making this all possible

    Of course, all of this is possible only thanks to the generous support of our many funders — and needless to say we are always looking for more, if you think you can help then please do let me know. In particular, I will be spending a good deal of time delivering the three-year vision we developed with our friends at the Omidyar Network, with whom we announced a major $3.6m funding partnership earlier this year.

    That said, one of mySociety’s great assets is that we are not entirely reliant on donor funding, so I will also retain our strong focus on helping our commercial clients — from UK local councils and charities to global technology giants — to serve their own users better, by working with mySociety Commercial Services.

    All in all, I am indebted to Tom for leaving mySociety with sound finances and a world-class team of developers, both of which will be invaluable in helping me to take the organisation to the next level over its second decade.

    I am also grateful to Tom and mySociety’s trustees for putting their trust in me. I’ve been an admirer of mySociety, and a user of its sites, for many years. It is a great privilege to be appointed as CEO.

    I will be spending the next few months with the team as we plot and plan the next phase of our development which you can read more about here on this blog in the coming months. So if any of this sounds interesting to you then please get in touch.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    Mark

    And Tom says…

    A big welcome to Mark!

    I am excited that someone with so much digital experience has come along to guide mySociety in our second decade. We’ve always been an unusual social enterprise in that while we have a social mission, we also operate a first class software development and design team in-house. With Mark on board we will retain and grow that digital credibility, whilst focusing ever more deeply on the needs of our international partners, our UK clients, and growing our research capacity so that we know what is (and isn’t) working.

    I am looking forward to spending the next month brain-dumping to Mark, before I slip quietly out the door in early August.

    It’s an exciting time for mySociety, and I hope everyone will join me in celebrating Mark’s arrival!

  10. La Constitución De Todos: how Morocco shared code with Chile, via Poplus

    Congratulations to CEHUM in Chile, who have just announced the launch of La Constitución De Todos (Constitution For All).

    La Constitución De Todos allows citizens to discuss, vote on and propose changes to each article of the constitution online, using code that originates from Morocco’s Legislation Lab from GovRight.

    The launch comes in the context of the new Chilean president announcing  that there will be a widespread public consultation on a constitution for the nation.

    The two organisations might never have met, if it hadn’t been for the Poplus kick-off conference back in 2014, where the idea was first mooted, and GovRight stepped in to offer help.

    The Poplus federation was founded on the idea that sharing civic code and knowledge can benefit organisations worldwide: this project is another superb example of exactly that.