1. mySociety endorses YourNextMP – let’s pull together to make a free, trustworthy, open database of General Election candidates

    Parliament Square by Duncan HarrisLet’s Not Reinvent the Wheel When We Can All Use the Same Wheel

    Every general election there are a load of projects that all need the same thing – a nicely formatted, accurate list of the candidates who are standing at the election.

    Loads of people need this data – journalists, app builders, campaigners, Wikipedians, everyone.

    But the government doesn’t actually publish the lists until right before the election, and when it does the data isn’t the least bit suitable for modern use (think unstructured PDFs and worse). It’s way too little and way too late.

    That’s why we’re big fans of the new YourNextMP.com, a collaborative project headed up by our friends at Democracy Club, and endorsed by various other organisations, including mySociety.

    YourNextMP.com is a totally free, open database of candidates, that is made partly from screen scraping and partly from volunteer contributions from people who think that having a single good quality list is a sane idea. It publishes the open data gathered both through a nice clean website, and through a nice modern API. Soon it’ll also provide csv export,too. And it means we can have nice shared identifiers for candidates, meaning greater potential connectivity between election-related journalism, tools, sites and projects run by different people and organisations.

    The builders  of YourNextMP have also taken steps to ensure accuracy and deter abuse, most strikingly by forcing all new data to be sourced, and keeping nice public logs of all the changes (and who made them).

    To be clear, YourNextMP is not a mySociety project. We are just very happy to endorse the idea, and to supply one of our open source tools (PopIt) to help store and share the data in useful ways. Plus some of us have been chipping in in our spare time, for instance by adding data.

    How can you help?

    There are two main ways:

    1) Add data!  The main thing needed today, 146 days before the election, is the most basic data on who is known to be standing, today.  We think that YourNextMP is probably already the most up to date candidate list out there, despite being very much unfinished.

    Additional data, about candidates’ Facebook pages, birth dates and so on, isn’t such a high priority right now. You can help by looking up your constituency on the site, or choosing a random constituency, and just using your best Googling/telephoning skills to find out who’s definitely standing this time.

    If you want to chat to other people who are doing the same thing, use the #yournextmp hashtag.

    We’ve put together a few tips on canny ways to find information on prospective candidates, here.

    Don’t feel you have to stop when you’ve filled in your own constituency – there are plenty more to complete.

    2) Spread the word that a single, high quality, free and shared database of candidates is just A Good Thing that people should support.

    Who loves time-wasting? Nobody! What is YourNextMP if not an anti time-wasting project? Nothing! So, please, if you’re planning an election-related project, tell people that YourNextMP is a good idea, and consider letting them use your logo on their site, as a sign of good will.

    And if you see someone in your office about to pay for a proprietary database of candidates, why not suggest they give the money to YourNextMP instead?

    Image: Duncan Harris (CC)

  2. FixMyStreet goodies

    FixMyStreet flyerWe’ve just put together a brand spanking new page of downloadable FixMyStreet goodies.

    Ever tried to explain FixMyStreet to a friend? Well, now you can thrust a flyer into their hand instead – much easier, and you know they won’t forget the web address.

    Our goodies page includes all sorts of materials, including:

    • posters and flyers to print out at home
    • worksheets with ideas for schools or community groups
    • print-out doggy poop flags (…yes!)
    • artwork and articles that can go in community newsletters

    We hope you will enjoy them – and, of course, we really appreciate each and every time someone makes the effort to help us spread the word about FixMyStreet.

    As a small charity, we don’t have the kind of marketing budget to allow us to buy billboards or TV advertising, so this kind of help  is incredibly useful to us.

    Coming soon

    We’re also considering putting together a small online shop selling physical items in the future, too: batches of FixMyStreet postcards, mugs, hats, bags, etc.

    Let us know if you’d be interested in things like this  – or any other bright ideas for other FixMyStreet-branded goodies you’d like to see. This is a new area for us, and we’re open to suggestions!

     

     

  3. Updates galore

    Delivery by  Niels LinnebergWe’re always quick to shout about it when we’ve added a major new feature to one of our projects, or we’re launching a whole new website.

    All well and good, but mySociety’s developers don’t just roll out the big stuff. Smaller releases are happening all the time, and, as a bunch of them have all come at once, we’ve put together a round-up.

    Oh – and it’s worth saying that your feedback helps us prioritise what we work on. If you’re using any of our software, either as an implementer or a front-end user, and there’s something you think could be better, we hope you’ll drop us a line.

    Here’s what we’ve been doing lately:

    MapIt

    We’ve just released version 1.2 of our postcodes-to-boundaries software.

    The new version adds Django 1.7 and Python 3 support, as well as other minor improvements.

    For the UK, this version now includes October 2014 Boundary-Line support, new OpenStreetMap data, and, crucially for this time of year, Santa’s new postcode (yes, it’s changed, apparently).

    Find MapIt 1.2 here.

    SayIt

    The latest version of our transcript-publishing software, 1.3, adds mainstream support for import from fellow component PopIt (or any Popolo data source). That’s key to making it a truly interoperable Poplus Component.

    SayIt is now also available in Spanish. Additionally, there are improvements around Speakers and Sections, plus this release includes OpenGraph data.

    Many thanks to James of Open North, who contributed improvements to our Akoma Ntoso import.

    Find SayIt 1.3 here.

    PopIt

    Our software for storing, publishing and sharing lists of politicians now has multi-language support in the web-based editing interface as well at the API level.

    We’ve also recently added API support for merging the records of two people, and the API can now be used over SSL/TLS.

    Full details are on the Poplus mailing list.

    Alaveteli

    Release 0.20 of our Freedom of Information platform sees improvements both to the Admin interface and to the front-end user experience.

    Administrators will be pleased to find easier ways to deal with spammy requests for new authorities, and manage the categories and headings that are used to distinguish different types of authority; users should enjoy a smoother path to making a new request.

    Full details can be seen here.

    FixMyStreet

    Version 1.5 of the FixMyStreet platform fully supports the new Long Term Support (LTS) version of Ubuntu, Trusty Tahr 14.04.

    Four new languages – Albanian, Bulgarian, Hebrew, and Ukranian – have been added. There are also some improvements across both admin and the front-end design, and a couple of bugs have been fixed.

    Full details are here.

    Feedback

    Whatever mySociety or Poplus software you’re deploying, we hope these improvements make life easier. Please do stay in touch – your feedback is always useful, whether it’s via the Poplus mailing list (MapIt, PopIt, SayIt), the FixMyStreet community or the Alaveteli community.

    Image: Niels Linneberg (CC)

  4. Research on the impact of mySociety’s digital tools

    Nick SouthallIn a recent blog post, we summarised the research we commissioned from the University of Manchester’s Rachel Gibson, Marta Cantijoch and Silvia Galandini, on whether or not our core UK websites have an impact.

    The full research paper is now available, and you can download it here pdf.

    Professor Rachel Gibson says: “This research presents a unique and valuable insight into the users of online resources such as FixMyStreet and WhatDoTheyKnow.

    “Through applying a highly original methodology that combines quantitative and in-depth qualitative data about people’s experience of mySociety sites over time, we provide a picture of how eDemocracy tools are contributing to activism at the local level.

    “We thank all those that contributed to this important study and mySociety for their co-operation in developing this highly rewarding and academically rigorous project.”

    Our thanks to Rachel, Marta and Silvia for conducting this research, which utilised methods not previously used in the civic tech field. We hope that it will prove a useful foundation to our own further research, and that of others.

    Image: Nick Southall (CC)

  5. Release 0.20

    We’ve just released Alaveteli 0.20!

    The highlights

    This release includes several additions and improvements to the admin interface for Alaveteli.

    Here’s a summary of the highlights:

    • We’ve added an admin user interface for managing the categories and headings that are used to distinguish different types of authority. Updates are now a lot easier.
    • An admin can now close an authority change request without sending an email to the person who requested it. Good for handling spammy requests!
    • CSV Import fields for authorities are now configurable. This is useful for themes that add additional attributes to authorities.

    As for general improvements, there are plenty of those, too. For example:

    • We added a fix to ensure attachments are rendered for emails sent with Apple Mail
    • We removed a confusing authority preview from the process of choosing who to write to. Clicking an authority now goes straight to the authority page.
    • We added filtering by request status to the requests displayed on the user profile page.
    • There’s now a Health Check page, so you can tell if everything seems to be running smoothly.
    • Sensible default values have been added to some configuration parameters.

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

    Thanks again to everyone who’s contributed!

  6. We’re hiring

    mySociety team October 2013Would you like to be part of the mySociety team? We’re expanding again – and this time we’re looking for top-notch developers to join us.

    If you’re fluent in Ruby or Python, and JavaScript, and want a job that really make a difference, this could be for you. Successful applicants will join our Alaveteli (Freedom of Information) and Political Tracking teams, working closely with international activists, journalists and reformers, to help them make their projects a success.

    Full details can be seen here, and, if you’re wondering what the culture is like, we’ve tried to give you a taste of that on our working at mySociety page.

    NB: No agencies please.

  7. Let’s talk about the General Election over Christmas drinks

    Ever fancied getting involved in a project that helps citizens better understand their political system?

    Tired of feeling like you don’t really know the facts behind what politicians claim, and want to do something about it?

    If so, then here’s your chance to learn more about what organisations like us are planning ahead of the 2015 general election, and how you can get involved.

    On 10th December, Full Fact, Democracy Club and mySociety are organising a social event for anyone who’s interested in hearing and getting involved in our civic projects.

    Full Fact are preparing to operate an 18 hour a day Election Centre, to rapidly react to claims during the election campaign and provide free information that can be drawn on by researchers, voters, candidates and journalists.

    As this is such an ambitious project, they are looking for volunteers who can help them with a variety of tasks, including research, recording claims, and building databases and monitoring tools. Here’s the full list of topics they’re planning to cover.

    Democracy Club is building a network of election volunteers to help improve transparency in the run up to the next general election.

    They’re going to be doing tasks like uploading campaign leaflets to ElectionLeaflets.org and helping to build a database of 2015 election candidates at YourNextMP. Unlock Democracy are running a hack day on Election Leaflets on Saturday 6th December, if you fancy getting involved.

    mySociety are helping these projects as much as we can, but we still need more people power!

    So, if you feel you can help with any of these projects, please do come along and meet us – we’d really appreciate it.

    When: Wednesday 10th December, 6.30pm – 10pm
    Where: The Royal George, 133 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0EA
    How: Add your name to the Lanyrd page: http://lanyrd.com/cchbcr, so we know you’re coming.
    Who: Anyone who fancies it.

    Hopefully see you there!

    NB: Watch our Twitter stream on @mySociety to check for last minute advice if we have moved venues for unforseen reasons.

    Photo: thegloaming, (CC)

  8. FixMyStreet: celebrating our users’ eloquence

    Beautifully crafted prose: it’s not generally the first thing on your mind when you’re contacting the council about potholes, overflowing bins, or a faulty streetlight.

    And yet, some FixMyStreet users clearly take a certain delight in the art. Today, we’d like to bring you ten FixMyStreet reports that go above and beyond the usual calibre of citizen-to-council communication, and ascend almost to the level of… dare we say, art?

    1. The clanking manhole

     Eric Konon

    Image: Eric Konon (CC)

    Last night I conjured a horde of Spartan warriors smashing their shields with copies of the Highway Code. I believe that’s what they call an involuntary metaphor.

    Michael bought a flat near the main road. He didn’t mind, until one day, a manhole started clanking… and clanking… Read the whole report here.

    2. The missing road sign

    Chris in Plymouth

    Image: Chris in Plymouth (CC)

    The posts designed to proudly hold aloft the road name, guiding lost wanderers towards their destination, stand forlornly, relics from a forgotten age, their purpose lost to the mists of time.

    The initial report is nothing out of the ordinary – it’s in the updates that this Hythe resident starts really going to town. Read the whole report here.

    3. Roland Rat

    Image by Gareth

    Image: Gareth (CC)

    Ten days on, he stinks and if he gets any flatter from vehicles running over him, I’ll stick a stamp on him and post him.

    A concerned citizen of Appledore left a dead rat in situ, just to see what would happen. Read the full report here.

    4. Superdog

    Melanie Cook

    Image: Melanie Cook (CC)

    Maybe laid by a new breed of super dog. It is still steaming and has been there for weeks.

    Need we explain the context for this one? In fact, there’s little more to it than you see quoted above, but with imagery like that, who needs reams of prose? See the whole report here.

    5. Battling gulls of Cardiff

    John HaslamImage: John Haslam (CC)

    Splattered birds on the road, presumably […] too exhausted after battling with piercing the hardy black plastic, to get to the riches within, to attempt fly away to safety.

    This anonymous user was fed up with seeing residents put food out in their rubbish, attracting gulls. Read the whole report here.

    6. With a little imagination, any street fault can be a boon

    Ben Osteen

    Image: Ben Osteen (CC)

    I have had my windows open fantasising that I am living on an Italian Piazza with an enormous fountain at its centre.

    One Fulham resident reports a leak; a commenter urges them not to fix it. See the full report here.

    7. Are clowns made of balloons?

    Steve Wilhelm

    Image: Steve Wilhelm (CC)

    It looks like a clown has exploded

    In an otherwise standard report, a Nottingham resident pulls out this extraordinary turn of phrase to describe the detritus left after a water balloon fight. Read the full report here.

    8. Happy Easter

    Kate Hiscock

    Image: Kate Hiscock (CC)

    PLEASE stop moving the bin. PLEASE keep it in ONE place *next* to the path. Not a meter away from the path, not two meters away from the path and not in the daffodils against the wall, but actually next to the path where people can reach it.

    Actually, it’s not the main body of this Coldstream report itself; it’s more the polite sign-off coming straight after a rant. Very British. Read the full report here.

    9. A poor, innocent mini roundabout sign

    James ButlerImage: James Butler (CC)

    If I didn’t know better, I’d worry [it] had been done by the Incredible Hulk after someone had made him very angry.

    This Brighton mini roundabout sign has a few worries. Read the full report here.

    10. Stinky bin

    Henry Lydecker

    Image: Henry Lydecker (CC)

    A bin here smells like the devil’s halitosis

    Another wonderful turn of phrase from a Plymouth FixMyStreet user in this short, but amply descriptive, post. See the full report here.

    You don’t have to be a great author to make a report on FixMyStreet

    Your prose may not be as purple as in the examples above, but that doesn’t matter.

    In fact, if you keep reports clear, polite, and accurate, you’ll still run a good chance of getting things fixed.

    Giving council workers – and FixMyStreet readers – a good laugh? That’s optional.

    Make a report on FixMyStreet now

  9. Brighton here we come

    BrightonNext up on our tour of the UK is the brilliant Brighton.

    So, if you fancy getting together to talk about open government, digital democracy and innovative open data projects, then you should come along to our meet-up on 3rd December.

    This month’s speakers are:-

    Jason Kitcat: Jason is Leader of Brighton & Hove City Council and a Green city councillor.

    Jason is a prominent digital rights campaigner, particularly with regards to electronic voting and counting. In 2007 Jason completed a part-time contract as e-voting co-ordinator at the Open Rights Group (a group he helped to found), where he continues to contribute in a voluntary capacity on their Advisory Council.

    Jason will join us at this meet-up to talk about open government in the Brighton context; where has being open changed things, and how much further can and should councils go?

    Find out more about Jason on his website.

    Eric Drass aka Shardcore: Eric  is an artist and curator who makes work in a range of media, from painting, to digital installation, to generative experiments which live on the internet.

    Eric uses data and algorithms as artistic materials just as much as paint and canvas.

    Eric will talk about his artwork using datasets such as The Tate’s CC dataset and David Cameron’s deleted speeches, and the role of the artist in the world of Big Data.

    Read more about Eric on his website.

    Our very own Dave Whiteland: Dave  joined mySociety as a developer, and is now also part of the international team, travelling widely to meet organisations and help them set up websites using our code.

    His recent travels have seen him help to set up versions of FixMyStreet in Uruguay and the Philippines; working on FOI projects in Liberia and South Africa; and being involved in the formation of the Poplus initiative in Chile, amongst many other projects.

    Dave will speak about some of mySociety’s latest international projects and future plans.

    These meet-ups are open to anyone to come along, so we hope you can make it.

    When: Wednesday 3rd December, 6pm – 9pm
    Where: The Cellar Room at The Caxton Arms, 36 North Gardens, Brighton, BN1 3LB
    How: Add your name to the Lanyrd page: http://lanyrd.com/ccbxwd, so we know you’re coming.
    Who: Anyone who fancies it.

    NB: Watch our Twitter stream on @mySociety to check for last minute advice if we have moved venues for unforseen reasons.

    Photo: Bev Goodwin (CC)

  10. Highlights from our Cambridge meet-up


    mySociety regularly holds events to discuss digital democracy, open data, civic coding and more. Earlier in November we were in Cambridge, UK.

    Here, in both video and quotes, are a few selected highlights from our speakers; including some of their lovely remarks about the work mySociety does.

    Peter Murry-Rust

    Speaking about The Content Mine

    mySociety is one of the most wonderful things to have come out of the bottom-up democratic movement in the UK and the UK is a shining light for the rest of the world. I’ve used WriteToThem on many occasions…. It just makes the whole business of contacting your representative so much easier. And I’ve also used a lot of WhatDoTheyKnow FOI requests and again it’s absolutely brilliant. It makes the difference between doing it and not doing it.

    We’re going to liberate one hundred million facts per year from the scientific literature and we’re going to put them in Wikipedia or rather WikiData and we’re working closely with WikiData.

    What’s happened this year is the UK Government has pushed through copyright reform and it has given exemptions to copyright … We’ve got the law. The law hasn’t been tested. I am allowed to do it according to the law for non-commercial purposes. Elsevier says I can’t because they can stop me doing it under the law and we had a big public fight in London.

    Richard Taylor

    Speaking about TheyWorkForYou.com

    The thing I work on particularly on TheyWorkForYou is the statements we write on each MP’s page on how they voted. … This will be the first time we’re going into a general election in this country where the sitting MPs’ voting records are comprehensively easily accessible to the electorate.

    It’s really important to us that we’re impartial and non-partisan. So one of the things we had to think about when we were doing this was how do we even decide what topics to cover because we could be accused of being partisan just by what we decide to draw attention to. … Not all MPs attend all votes by any-means so we can use MPs’ own attendance at votes to give them some kind of ranking of importance.

    Everything that I do is available under an open licence so as long as you attribute where it has come from you can use it and do what you like with it. And hopefully people will do stuff with it as we run into the election.

    Mike Soper and Hendrik Grothuis

    Speaking about Cambridgeshire Insight

    If you think about something like FixMyStreet you can see where that application has had a very positive impact on local government, on councils.

    The idea is that pressure will come from the great British public at a local level to hold public sector organisations to account. In order to hold people to account you need information.

    Professor Shepherd several years ago realised, because he was a medical professor, that he was looking at facial injuries of people who had been injured by having beer glasses shoved in their faces during fights and recording meticulously the detail of these physical and working out that if you change the composition of the beer glass you can drastically reduce the severity of the injury.

    We’re getting support at a national level for the sort of work we are doing and the sort of line about trying to encourage openness and promote open data here in Cambridgeshire. We’re getting national support for that.

    More!

    Videos of full talks, including Q&A:

    Our next meet-up will be on 3rd December in Brighton. We’ll be joined by speakers Jason Kitcat, Eric Drass and our very own Dave Whiteland. Sign up to come along here.