1. Now you can ask coroners to provide information, through WhatDoTheyKnow

    Coroners have a key role: they investigate deaths and make recommendations for making society safer, addressing issues which have led to potentially avoidable deaths.

    Despite this, coroners, and coroners’ offices, are surprisingly not generally subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

    At WhatDoTheyKnow.com we list many public bodies which don’t actually fall under Freedom of Information law as part of our advocacy for greater transparency.

    While, over time, we’ve listed a number of coroners following requests from our users, volunteers Kieran and Richard have recently significantly improved our coverage and we now believe we comprehensively cover all coroners in the United Kingdom (in Scotland the Procurator Fiscal performs a role analogous to that of a coroner). You can view the full list on WhatDoTheyKnow.com.

    What do coroners do?

    According to the Government, coroners investigate deaths that have been reported to them, if it appears that:

    • the death was violent or unnatural
    • the cause of death is unknown, or
    • the person died in prison, police custody, or another type of state detention

    Coroners investigate to find out who has died; how, when, and where. They also, rather excitingly, have duties relating to treasure and inquests are held to determine if material found should be defined as such, as well as establishing who found it, where and when.

    Coroners around the country have different systems and the degree to which they proactively publish their findings varies. So, as with requests to any public body, you should check their website — if they have one — to see if the information you are seeking has been published before making a request. Often a coroner’s website might be a page, or pages, within a local council site.

    Coroners’ Reports to Prevent Future Deaths, and responses to them, are sometimes published by the Chief Coroner on the Judiciary website. Statistical information on the work of coroners is published by the Ministry of Justice.

    What information might be requested from a coroner?

    • Information about upcoming inquests and hearings.
      • Even where a coroner publishes an online listing, you might want to seek more information so that cases of interest can be identified (asking for the “brief circumstances” of a death, for example).
      • You might want to ask for information about upcoming inquests relating to those who died in state custody, or those relating to deaths in, or following, collisions on roads — or any other category.
      • Or you could request the policies relating to publicising upcoming hearings, to determine if any online listing is comprehensive for example, or to find out if there are mechanisms in place to inform certain people about upcoming hearings. The content of recent notifications of upcoming hearings could be requested.
    • The formal “Record of Inquest” relating to a particular case
    • Reports to Prevent Future Deaths and responses to those reports Though note that, where a response is from a public body which is subject to Freedom of Information law, making a request to that body might be the best approach.
    • Documents relating to particular investigations Regulation 27 of The Coroners (Investigations) Regulations 2013 states: “The coroner may provide any document or copy of any document to any person who in the opinion of the coroner is a proper person to have possession of it”.
    • Information relating to reports of treasure received and the coroners’ findings in those cases.
    • Information about decisions made by a coroner These can include decisions to exhume a body, discontinue an investigation, or to hold all, or part, of an inquest in private.
    • Correspondence to/from the Chief Coroner and Deputy Chief Coroners.
    • Information about the administration of the coroners’ service You might want to ask for information relating to a coroners’ pay, expenses, costs, fees charged, and for information on their performance. Some requests of this nature might be better directed to the relevant local council.

    Pracicalities of requesting

    While increased transparency surrounding the circumstances of deaths can lead to safety improvements throughout society —  for example in our industrial workplaces, hospitals and roads — the families of the deceased do of course deserve sensitivity and respect. We’d suggest that all those requesting, or acting on, information from coroners which relates to people’s deaths should be considerate of that.

    Coroners will not be used to receiving requests for information made in public via our service. If you are one of the first people to do so, there may be some initial difficulties. Please let us know how you get on: we would be interested in hearing about your experiences.


    Image: Thomas Hawk (CC by-nc/2.0)

  2. Get ready for TICTeC Local in Manchester

    We’re delighted to be hosting the first TICTeC Local conference in Manchester on 6th November 2018.

    TICTeC Local is a spinoff from our global The Impacts of Civic Technology Conference, which is now in its fifth successful year.

    This event will narrow the lens, focusing on where and how civic tech connects with and impacts Local Government, rather than the international focus we have with our global TICTeC events.

    We’ll be examining what works and why, the challenges and ethical decisions involved in using civic tech and how these initiatives can be replicated by local authorities around the UK.

    We’ll hear from many local authorities and civic tech practitioners in the UK and further afield who are leading the way on using technology to improve civic participation, streamline citizen interaction with public bodies, and create efficiencies in civic budgets.

    If you work in or around the local authority or local public institution space, and have an interest in using digital tools, then do come and join us in Manchester.

    You will leave inspired by some of our showcased projects, you’ll have a better understanding of the most effective digital tools, and you’ll have met interesting people who are on a similar journey, or who might be able to help you in developing your digital capacity in the future.

    We’ll be announcing speakers and contributors over the next couple of weeks.

    For further information and booking please visit the TICTeC Local website. Tickets are available over on Eventbrite and will go fast.

  3. Keep It In The Community: a snapshot of ACVs across England

    Keep It In The Community LogoOver the past few months we’ve been periodically updating you on the progress of our website for mapping Assets of Community across England. Now, we’ve officially launched.

    Keep it in the Community, or KIITC for short (pronounced ‘kitsy’), currently shows a snapshot of over 5,000 England-wide registered ACVs. We hope that researchers of all sorts will use it as a resource.

    A nationwide picture

    Since the introduction of  the Localism Act, community groups up and down England have been taking advantage of the opportunities it affords to nominate places and spaces as Assets of Community Value.

    And while the Act also requires local authorities to maintain and publish a register of such Assets, one thing has been missing: the ability to see a picture of how these rights are being used across the country as a whole.

    Do some regions contain substantially more ACVs than the norm? Are more applications rejected in some places than others? And just how many Assets of Community Value have been identified to date?

    We believe this sort of inquiry is essential if we’re to understand the efficacy of the Act and whether it’s achieving what it was designed to do, and now KIITC makes that possible.

    Scaled back ambitions

    As you may recall from our previous posts, our original ambition was not only to gather together and publish all the existing data from the ACV records of England’s many councils, but also to invite community groups to submit new applications to their local authorities, directly through the website. From long experience in similar projects, however, we knew that there would be challenges, and indeed this turned out to be the case.

    While all councils are legally required to display this data, they’re not given any guidance as to the format in which it should be displayed, and the huge variety of different formats, together with the frequency with which the location of the files in which they are published change, make an automated approach almost impossible, especially within a resource- and time-constrained project.

    These factors make it hard to sustain what is really the only practicable approach for a project with limited funding — the automated ‘scraping’ of websites. Scraping sends a small script out onto the web to regularly check whether new data has been added to a location; in this case, each council’s ACV register. A piece of code can retrieve the data and put it into the right format to be republished on your own site: it’s how we published Parliamentary debates each day on TheyWorkForYou.com for many years, for example.

    But this is really only a practical option when everyone is publishing in one of a few standardised formats.

    What would be a solution? Well, in an ideal world every authority would be putting their records out as lovely, consistent data.  But we understand that this is rather an unrealistic expectation.

    A data snapshot

    Faced with these difficulties, we met with Power to Change, who originally funded the work. We were in agreement that, sad though it was to set aside the other features of the project, there was still great value in collecting a snapshot of all ACV data across England.

    So, ambitions of scrapers accordingly readjusted, we manually entered all the relevant councils’ registered ACVs and uploaded them to the site. Please note that some data may not be 100% accurate; it all depends on what we were able to collect at the time.

    The most comical result of this is that assets where we don’t have a precise postcode for location may appear to be floating in the middle of the ocean… but these are the minority. And it’s worth remembering that the dataset as a whole is the best available right now.

    Of course, the data will quickly become out of date, but we believe that this unprecedented collection will have many uses, nonetheless.

    For the moment, we won’t be updating the site with future data, unless further funding becomes available for us to do so. We’ve also put plans for community group submissions on the back burner for now, aware that if we are to provide this service, we need to better what is already out there on the councils’ own websites.

    The future

    When time allows, we’d like to explore ways to encourage citizens to help keep the site up to date, allowing them to update data that has already been imported, and consider how they might suggest new ACVs to their relevant council via the website.

    As part of that vision we’ll need to reach out to councils to demonstrate how we have visualised the data, and work with them to participate.

    Open data projects such as these rely on identifying useful and practical ways for public sector organisations to more easily release data in a common and consistent format so that others can make best use of the information — a task that has much wider implications for all sorts of niche datasets such as this.

    If you’d like to find out more please get in touch with us at hello@keepitinthecommunity.org: we’d be keen to hear from you if you’d like to help us trial managing your own data on the service.

    Thanks again to Plunkett Foundation, Power To Change and MHCLG for their support in making this happen.

  4. FOI for Councils: Hackney Goes Live

    Over the last few months, we’ve been working with Hackney Council to design and make a Freedom of Information management system, imaginatively named FOI For Councils — and last time we left you with our pre-development thoughts. Well, now it’s up and running.

    With this project, we had two main aims:

    • first, to make the process really slick and easy to use for citizens;
    • second, to reduce the quantity of FOI requests submitted, relieving some pressure on the Information Officers at the receiving end.

    The solution we came up with achieves both those aims, and there’s one feature in particular that we’re super-excited about.

    Case Management Integration

    One of the development decisions taken early on was for the system to be a very lightweight layer, largely powered by the new Infreemation case management system that Hackney were in the process of commissioning.

    Infreemation is targeted primarily at Information Officers, so there was no use in reinventing the wheel and building a heavy backend for our own FOI for Councils software.

    Instead we built the FOI request process, using our experience in designing for citizens, and submitted the data directly to Infreemation using their API. This means that every request goes straight in to the case management system used by Information Officers, with no need for double entry; a set-up we’re very familiar with from our work integrating council systems with FixMyStreet.

    Information Officers respond to the FOI request through Infreemation, and when they publish the response to Infreemation’s disclosure log, FOI for Councils can pull that response into its innovative suggestions engine, which we’ll discuss shortly.

    All this means that Information Officers get to use the tools that are designed directly with them in mind, but citizens get the best experience possible for the process at hand, rather than trying to battle the typical generic forms offered by one-size-fits-all solutions.

    Citizens

    On the user side of things we managed to reduce the process to a maximum of 6 screens for the entire process.

    FOI for Councils Citizen Process

    Simple, short citizen workflow

    Throughout the whole user journey we ask for only three details: name; email address and then the actual request for information.

    Each screen provides contextual help along the way, maximising the chances that the FOI request will be well-formed by the time it gets submitted.

    Making the process intuitive for the people using it is a key factor in building citizens’ trust in an authority. Too often we see complex forms with terrible usability that almost seem designed to put people off exercising their rights.

    Information Officers

    So far, so good. But for us, the most interesting piece of the process is the suggestions step.

    Before the citizen submits their request to the authority, we scan the text for keywords to see if anything matches the pool of already-published information.

    If we find any matches, we show the top three to the citizen to hopefully answer their question before they submit it to the authority. This helps the citizen avoid a 20-day wait for information that they might be able to access immediately. If the suggestions don’t answer their question, the citizen can easily continue with their request.

    Suggestions also benefit the authority, by reducing workload when requests can be answered by existing public information.

    FOI for Councils Your Request Form

    Simple forms with helpful advice

    FOI for Councils Suggestions

    Suggestions injected in to citizen-side flow

    We’ve tried to make this suggestions step as unobtrusive as possible, while still adding value for the citizen and the authority.

    The suggestions system is driven by two sources:

    • Manually curated links to existing information
    • The published answers to previous FOI requests

    The curated links can be added to the suggestions pool by Information Officers where they spot patterns in the information most commonly requested, or perhaps in response to current events.

    FOI for Councils Curated Links Admin

    Ability to add targeted suggestions in addition to the automated feed from the Disclosure Log

    The intelligent part of the system though, is the automated suggestions.

    As FOI for Councils integrates with the Infreemation case management system, we can feed the suggestion pool with the anonymised responses to previous requests where the authority has published them to the disclosure log.

    By doing this the authority is making each FOI response work a little harder for them. Over time this automatic suggestion pool should help to reduce duplicate FOI requests.

    FOI for Councils FOI Officer Process

    Suggestions are built up as FOI Officers answer requests and publish them to the Disclosure Log

    FOI for Councils also analyses the number of times each suggestion is shown, clicked, and even whether the suggestion has prevented any additional FOI requests being made.

    This allows Information Officers to see which information is being asked for, but where existing resources aren’t providing the information necessary to the citizen.

    Future Plans

    We’ll be keeping a keen eye on how this works out for Hackney, and we’ll be sure to report back with any insights.

    As you’ll know if you read our first blog post from this project, we did originally envision a platform that would process Subject Access Requests as well as FOI. In the end this proved beyond the resources we had available for this phase of work.

    For us, this has been a really instructive piece of work in showing how authorities can commission process-specific services that connect together to give everyone a better user experience.

    As with most mySociety projects, FOI for Councils is open source which improves its transparency, flexibility and accountability.

    If you’re responsible for managing FOI requests or data protection in your own public sector body and you’d like to talk about project in more detail, please get in touch at hello@mysociety.org.

  5. Pro Admin Just Got Easier

    WhatDoTheyKnow Pro is our Freedom of Information service for journalists, and campaigners, and we’ve recently rolled out some major changes to the request sidebar to make reading, navigating, and classifying Pro requests a lot easier.

    Since the very first Alpha version of WhatDoTheyKnow Pro we’ve been receiving feedback from our users, which we have been feeding directly into our future development plans. The sidebar changes are the first round of changes that have come as result of direct Pro user feedback, and there will be more to follow.

    Current state

    In WhatDoTheyKnow a member of the public can send a Freedom of Information request to an authority, which they receive in the form of an email. The request, as well as any replies or follow up from the requester, or the authority, are published on WhatDoTheyKnow. If the request is made by a Pro user, they have the added option of making a request private for a limited time.

    In the request process we observed the following:

    • A new response from an authority goes to the bottom of the thread (the bottom of the page)
    • The user interface for updating the status of a request is located at the top of the page (a request’s’ status is a way of keeping track of where it is in the request process – for example ‘awaiting response’, ‘needs clarification’, or ‘refused’)
    • A longstanding or complicated request will often consist of many, many messages. So scrolling to the bottom of the page to read the most recent response, then back to the top to update its status involves a lot of interaction that we can remove.

    We can’t say for sure that a user will always be at the bottom of the request thread when updating the status of a request, but we can safely assume they are sometimes.

    Goals

    For these changes we set ourselves the following goals:

    • Speed up the process of updating the status of requests
    • Improve the experience of navigating requests with a long history.

    In previous research we established that a typical workflow for dealing with request responses is:

    Get reply → Read reply → Take action (typically reply, or update the status of the request)

    It’s a short, three step process, but a busy user catching up with a backlog may do this hundreds of times a day, so if we can optimise this workflow we can save a lot of time and frustration.

    So what have we done?

    For desktop users we’ve made the sidebar controls (where the ‘update status’ button is) “sticky”, so it will follow you as you scroll up and down the page, meaning you can update the request status from any position on the page. This really helps as requests get longer, as you no longer need to scroll back to the top to classify the latest response.

    We’ve added new message navigation buttons. This is to enable you to move through a request thread message-by-message by clicking the up and down arrow buttons, or using the arrow keys on your keyboard. We’ve also added a counter so that it’s easier to see where you are in the list, and to go back and forth to specific messages.

    We’ve also taken this opportunity to make some key information about the privacy of your request visible at all times (this was previously hidden behind a click), and to tweak the design of the sidebar – making it easier to read and removing some visual noise.

    More to do

    We’re looking at a way to add similar functionality to mobiles and other small screen devices. As screen space is limited it will require a separate design process.

    We’re aware that the problems we’re trying to solve aren’t unique to our Pro customers, so if the features work, and are well received, we’ll be making a similar feature available to all WhatDoTheyKnow users in the future.

    Keeping in mind that as our public users have different needs to our Pro users there are some design challenges to overcome beforehand. For example – the public request page has more features to help less-frequent users, because we’re keen to ensure that everyone can participate in the FOI process, not just experts. Conversely, Pro users are by their very nature more likely to require less guidance. We’re going to need to do more research on this shortly.

    Got some feedback?

    Whether you’re a WhatDoTheyKnow Pro customer or not, we’d love feedback on this feature — or any other. Drop us an email to pro_team@whatdotheyknow.com.

  6. TheyWorkForYou is ready for its close-up

    A mocked-up page from TheyWorkForYou featured in the first episode of the BBC thriller Bodyguard. Now that’s what we call attention to detail!

    The protagonist and eponymous bodyguard, David Budd, is assigned to protect the story’s fictional Home Secretary, Julia Montague MP. And within the programme’s all thriller no filler formula, what really got our pulses racing was probably a welcome moment of calm for most viewers — Budd doing a quick Google to find out more about his new boss.

    What came high in the search results? Why, TheyWorkForYou, of course (sorry, @Parlidigital!), and Budd was able to click through to see the Home Secretary’s voting record and just how it had impacted on his own past life fighting in Afghanistan. These tweets from the show’s designer reveal just how much thought has gone into every detail.

    Screenshots of mocked-up TheyWorkForYou for Bodyguard
    Image: Matthew Clark’s Twitter

    Back in 2015, we thought long and hard about a small piece of wording on TheyWorkForYou: the text that goes with MPs’ voting stances (see the second half of this blog post). This wording tells you that an MP ‘consistently’ or ‘occasionally’ (or always, or never) voted for or against an area… such as military action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Julia Montague, it turns out, is a very ‘consistent’ voter.

  7. Join us in Paris for TICTeC 2019

    We’re delighted to announce that TICTeC 2019, our fifth conference on the Impacts of Civic Technology, will be in Paris on 19 and 20 March 2019.

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

    TICTeC is an annual milestone in the Civic Tech world, bringing together researchers, practitioners, and all those with an interest in how technology is changing the way we engage with society.

    Primarily, the goal of TICTeC is to promote and share rigorous and meaningful research into civic technologies and digital democracy around the world. The conference facilitates discussion and networking amongst individuals and groups to find real-world solutions through sharing evidence of impact, and (importantly) evidence of what doesn’t work.

    Call for Papers now open

    If you’d like to give a presentation or run a workshop at TICTeC 2019, please submit your proposals now. You have until Friday 11th January 2019.

    Register

    For the last two 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 8th February 2019.

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

    Photo by Grillot edouard on Unsplash

  8. FixMyStreet for Lincolnshire — a very modern way of working

    Lincolnshire County Council is the latest authority to adopt FixMyStreet Pro as their official reporting system — and we’ve never even met them.

    We’ve installed FixMyStreet for many councils up and down the UK, and until now, traveling to the council’s offices has always been an expected part of the procedure.

    But for Lincs, the entire project was managed virtually — and it all went without a hitch.

    That’s not just our opinion: let’s hear from one of the folk at the other end of our online video calls. Andrea Bowes, ICT Data and Information Systems Architect at the authority, says:

    The whole implementation process, from start to finish, has been incredibly smooth.

    Lincolnshire found out about FixMyStreet Pro via G-Cloud, and emailed us to arrange a chat. A couple of months later, with the help of email, Skype and Basecamp, their FixMyStreet instance was ready to roll out!

    mySociety are, of course, well used to working remotely, since that’s how our entire organisation is set up, but it’s good to see that we can bring our experience in this area to cut down travel costs, maximise the time available, and get installations rolling, all without feeling that we’ve missed out on the personal touches.

    After all, thanks to online video calling, you can be in those council offices to all intents and purposes, sharing your screen, answering questions and getting to know one another. The only thing we missed out on was a chance to check out Lincoln Cathedral!

    Joined-up systems

    Just as with Buckinghamshire Council, featured on this blog last week, Lincolnshire’s FixMyStreet will also display scheduled roadworks. That ensures that no-one’s time is wasted with reports of issues that are already on the fix list.

    And there’s some more integration going on behind the scenes, with FixMyStreet working in harmony with Lincolnshire’s existing infrastructure management system, Confirm.

    Speaking practically, that means that FixMyStreet reports drop directly into the workflows the council staff are already familiar with. It’s a time-saver and a money-saver too — and it also ensures that residents can easily be kept up to date about the progress of their reports as they go through the resolution cycle. If you’d like to understand more about this, our developer Struan recently wrote a good, simple blog post on the whole topic.

    You’d perhaps think that all this fiddling with different systems to make them communicate with one another would be a long, drawn out job — but fortunately not. Back to Andrea:

    I approached mySociety in early May to replace our existing online fault reporting system which was to be switched off at the end of that month, and since we’ve engaged them, they have bent over backwards to help get the new fault reporting portal ready.

    So much so that in a matter of a few weeks we had a test site up and running and integrated with our central asset management system, and several weeks later we now have a live fault reporting system that can be accessed from anywhere on any device, that is fully integrated into our central asset management system, that displays local data for users to report against.

    The platform makes it easier for our citizens to report faults to us and receive updates and alerts, and provides us with more accurate information to work with.

    So, in short, there are wins all round: a nice easy-to-use interface for residents; time and cost savings for the council; and there’s even a nice benefit for us here at mySociety as well. Confirm is a very popular system amongst UK councils up and down the land, so this was a great opportunity to showcase just how well it can work in tandem with FixMyStreet Pro.

    And we couldn’t be happier to know that Lincolnshire are so happy, too:

    mySociety have been fantastic. I cannot praise them enough; it has been a delight to work with them. They have been very responsive and fully supportive throughout the whole implementation process.

    If you’re a council which uses Confirm — or if you’d like to find out how we could integrate with another asset management system — check out the FixMyStreet Pro website, and then get in touch.

    Image: Mike McBey (CC by/2.0)

  9. Open data on elected Politicians and the power of community

    You may remember that thanks to a grant from the Wikimedia Foundation, mySociety has been working to support increasingly authoritative data on the world’s politicians, to exist on Wikidata as a key part of developing the concept of the Democratic Commons.

    And, this summer mySociety welcomed two members of staff to support with the community work around both Wikidata and the Democratic Commons. In May, I (Georgie) joined in the role of ‘Democratic Commons Community Liaison’ and in late June I was joined by Kelly, mySociety’s first ever ‘Wikimedia Community Liaison’… and it’s about time you started to hear more from us!

    I’ve been climbing the learning curve: exploring the potential moving parts of a global political data infrastructure,  finding out how the communities of Wikidata and Wikipedia operate, attempting to take meaningful notes at our daily meetings for the tool the team developed to improve political data on Wikidata and making sense of the complexity in creating interface tools to interpret the political data already in Wikidata. Oh, and supporting a “side-project” with Open Knowledge International to try and find every electoral boundary in the world (can you help?).  

    And if you are in any of the relevant open Slack channels (what is Slack?), you may have seen my name on the general introduction pages, as I have been shuffling around the online community centres of the world — off Wikidata Talk that is — trying to find  the people interested in, or with a need for, consistently and simply formatted data on politicians, but who aren’t already part of the Wikidata community.

    That’s because, the issue the Democratic Commons seeks to address is the time-consuming business of finding and maintaining data on politicians, work that we suspect is duplicated by multiple organisations in each country (often all of them having a similar aim), that is slowing down delivering the stuff that matters. This has certainly been mySociety’s experience when sharing our tools internationally.

    And the solution we propose  — the Democratic Commons — is that if people and communities worked together to find and maintain this data, it would be better for everyone…  ah the paradox of simplicity.

    Update on efforts to support the Democratic Commons concept

    With each interaction and conversation that we’ve had about the Democratic Commons with partners, we’ve continued to learn about the best role for us to play. Here are some initial actions and thoughts that are shaping the work; please feel free to comment, or even better,  get involved  🙂

    Making sure the concept is a good fit through user research
    We have set a goal to carry out user research on the concept of the Democratic Commons. So far, we have lined up calls with campaign staff  (who are interested in using and supporting open political data through their UK campaigning work) and journalists in Nigeria (who have expressed a need for the data) and I am lining up more calls — if you have a need for or can contribute political data, let’s talk.

    Bringing the Open Data/Civic Tech and Wiki communities together?
    From my experience to date, the Civic Tech and Wiki communities appear to operate quite separately (I am very open to being proved wrong on this point!).

    I am just getting started within the Wikidata/ Wikimedia communities (that’s more for Kelly) but on the Open Data/ Civic tech side,  there are questions about data vandalism and the potential to trust the data from Wikidata, arguments on the benefit of using Wikidata (especially where you already have a lot of useful data) and on whether there is a need to invest time in learning SPARQL, the query language that allows faster retrieval and manipulation of data from databases.

    Misconceptions are not unusual in communities online or offline, but it is a gap that our work focus, communications and tools hope to help close. If you have ideas on blogs, video tutorials or articles to share to read around these concepts, please get in touch.

    Working openly in existing global communities (off Wiki)
    We are aware that, off-Wiki mySociety is leading the work to develop the Democratic Commons, however, we know that we need to be delivering this work in the open for it to be owned by other people outside of mySociety, and finding the right homes to talk about it (off Wiki) has been important.  In order to work openly, we have a shared #DemocraticCommons Slack channel with mySociety and Code for All; see ‘Get involved’ below to find out how to join the conversation.

    We also plan to document the learning involved in the process through blog posts and documentation, to be uploaded publicly.

    And, supporting local communities to develop, where possible
    A global network such as Code for All is very useful in supporting a concept like the Democratic Commons, however, the bulk of need for the data will likely be country-specific. Together with our partners and collaborators, we are exploring what is needed and how to support local communities:

    • Through the remainder of our Wikimedia Foundation Grant, we are supporting community events and editathons: in Lebanon with SMEX, in France with newly formed organisation F0rk, and in Spain with Wikimedia España.
    • Some groups we are working with, such as Code for Pakistan, plan to set up a channel on their Slack instance and use their Whatsapp community to discuss the data use and maintenance.  
    • In my own country, the UK, we are talking to mySociety’s community and collaborators to understand how the Democratic Commons could benefit organisations and work in practice here. If you want to be involved in this work, please contact me.
    • We are listening to understand what support is needed with collaborators in the global South, as we’re well aware that it is a lot to ask people to work on a voluntary basis and that adequate support is needed. I hope we can share the learning and use it to shape any future projects that may emerge.

     

    How to get involved in the Democratic Commons?

    • Contribute to the Wikidata community: If you are Wikidata user, or keen to learn,  visit the Wikidata project page on political data. If you need guidance on tasks, do feel free to add to the Talk page to ask the community, or get in touch with Kelly, our Wikimedia Community Liaison: kelly@mysociety.org.
    • Join the conversation on Code for All Slack:  If you would like to join the Slack conversation, join here: https://codeforall.org/ (scroll down and find the ‘Chat with us’ button).
    • Look for electoral boundary data: We are working with Open Knowledge to find electoral boundary data for the whole world. See more about that here.
    • Keep up to date and subscribe to our Medium blog: Sometimes these Democratic Commons posts are a bit too in-depth for the general mySociety readership, so for those who are really interested, we plan to share all we are learning here.
    • Share the concept with contacts: Please share the message on your platforms and encourage potential users to take part in research and get involved. We recognise that our view  — and reach — can only be anglo-centric, and we’d so appreciate any translations you might be able to contribute.
    • Tell us (and others) how you think you would use the data: This can’t just be about collecting data; it’s about it being used in a way that benefits us all. How would the Democratic Commons help your community? We would love people to share any ideas, data visualisations, or theories, ideally in an open medium such as blog posts.  Please connect with Georgie to share.
    • Something missing from this list? Tell us! We’re @mySociety on Twitter or you can email georgie@mysociety.org or kelly@mysociety.org .

    Image: Toa Heftiba

  10. A data refresh for Collideoscope

    As Zarino explained in his recent blog post, we’ve recently spent time talking to road safety advocates and cycling groups, as we prepare for some big improvements to Collideoscope.

    This has resulted in a shortlist of the tickets we’ll be working on, which you’re welcome to browse (and comment on, though this requires a GitHub account).

    Collideoscope, like many mySociety projects, is a website of two halves. On the one hand, it invites those involved in a cycling collision or near miss to contribute information to a database; on the other, it provides an output of all that aggregated data for planners, researchers, campaigners and anyone else who will find it useful.

    We’ll shortly be making some changes to the site so that its purpose and functionality are crystal clear; but in the meanwhile the next important step was to import the most recent batch of STATS19 data.

    STATS19 is the form the police fill in when road accidents are reported, lending its name to the dataset released annually by the Department of Transport. We include this data on Collideoscope alongside our users’ reports: we just take the reports which refer to cycling incidents, and with this latest update we’re now displaying everything from 2013 up to 2016, the most recent data available.

    That means, when you browse the site, you can see at a glance how many incidents have occurred in a specific area, not just from our users but from the primary national accident database too. Just click the checkbox (‘show reports from the Department of Transport’) at the top of the page to include them on the map.

    So that’s our most recent bit of housekeeping; now watch this space for some bigger changes to Collideoscope.

    Image: Charisse Kenion