1. Local government: you can shape your own responsible citizens

    Image by Troy McColloughWe already know that positive rewards make us more likely to repeat an action. Just like laboratory rats, when something feels good, we do it again.

    Our recent collaboration with a team of researchers at the World Bank goes to show that it’s no different when it comes to civic participation. The team analysed almost 400,000 anonymised FixMyStreet reports to prove the hypothesis that, if a user’s first report is fixed, he or she is more likely to go on and make more.

    So, just as a biscuit may give us a sugary high that we’re keen to experience again and again, the knowledge of having done ‘local public good’ is enough of a hit to bring people back to make another FixMyStreet report. In fact, they are 54% more likely to do so.

    A learning for local government

    What can our councils learn from this research? That responding to a resident’s report may have more than the obvious, immediate effect.

    By fixing a user’s issue, a council is increasing the probability that that citizen will become a regular reporter of issues, and possibly (although this wasn’t covered by the current research) a more engaged citizen all round.

    In short, it’s a two-way street. Ignore a report, and you run the risk of alienating a user enough that they never bother to engage again. Fix it, and you’ve proved the value of making contact.

    Read the full paper here.

     

    Image: Troy McCollough (CC)

  2. mySociety Services is expanding: seeking a Sales Consultant

    As mySociety Services continues to develop, we seek a new member to join the team.

    We’re looking for a Sales Consultant who will bring their own experience and give us the capacity to discover and explore new leads. As with all mySociety positions, it’s a work-from-home job, but will be based around the Bath/Bristol areas where several of the mySociety Services team are already situated.

    mySociety’s commercial work supports our charitable projects, so every new project for a client also does good in the wider world.

    Do you know someone who might fit the bill? Send them over to this page where they can see all the details.

    Image: Lauren Mitchell (CC)

  3. What new features would you like to see on Collideoscope?

    Cyclists in Copenhagen by Justin SwanOur project Collideoscope, in partnership with Integrated Transport Planning Ltd, has been collecting data on cycling incidents and near misses since its launch last October.

    We’ve recently secured a small amount of innovation funding from the DfT’s Transport – Technology Research and Innovation Grant and that means that we’re in a position to add new features and functionality to Collideoscope.

    Your chance to guide Collideoscope’s development

    We’d like to hear your suggestions for new features on Collideoscope—or perhaps you’ve spotted something that could work better.

    Please send your suggestions to hello@collideosco.pe, or use the site’s contact form. We need them in by March 18th, so you have two weeks to gather your thoughts.

    What Collideoscope already does

    If you’re involved in a cycling collision or near miss—whether you’re the cyclist, a motorist or a pedestrian—you can report it on Collideoscope.

    The site sends your report to the relevant local highways authority, and also publishes it online (where there’s the option to remain anonymous).

    More than this, though, Collideoscope acts a repository for data on incidents and near misses. In time, anyone will be able to use that data to spot accident hotspots, and the places where accidents are waiting to happen.

    This data is available to all, but is especially designed for councils, police forces, road planners, and healthcare providers in their efforts to conceive safer roads, more effective accident deterrents and better emergency care strategies.

    And what we’re planning to do

    We’ve already committed to a few developments. We’ll be:

    • developing better reporting to local councils;
    • working with the police to notify them of issues that might require their attention;
    • releasing anonymised reports as open data within the next 12 months

    …but we’re not planning on stopping there. Your ideas and opinions will guide further development and help us raise further funds for the site.

    We thank you all in advance for your time!

    Image: Justin Swan (CC)

  4. mySociety’s Director Tom Steinberg to step down – new leadership position will be advertised soon

    Today, after several months of quiet planning, I’m announcing that I will be stepping down as Director of mySociety, although I will remain in the post for the next few months to ensure a smooth handover. An open call for my successor will be published within the next two weeks.

    Why now? Quite simply because the coming year will be the most stable period, in terms of effecting a leadership transition, that mySociety has ever had. I want to seize the opportunity to hand over before I start to tire of a job that has been the great privilege of my life.

    Thanks to our generous donors and our commercial team’s success we have an unprecedented window of financial security, a terrific team of wide-ranging talents, and a clear three year plan that’s already starting to roll out (I’ll be writing more on this plan, soon). In short, we’ve got a good map, a solid car, and we’ve got enough money for fuel. When could be a better time to change the driver?

    For those of you who are our partners, whether charitable or commercial, and wherever you are in the world: don’t worry – this switch isn’t going to change any of our plans to support you and your use of mySociety’s open source technologies. In fact I expect my successor to double down on serving your needs.

    And what will I, Tom, do next? I really don’t know – I’ve not got a job lined up, and I’d really like some time off to think about it before I make any big decisions.  My main reward – very rare for any founder – is that I get to hand over an organisation that is stable, harmonious, mission-focused and with bags of talent onboard.  I greatly look forward to seeing what mySociety’s amazing staff and volunteers achieve next.

    Update: the job advertisement for the mySociety CEO position can now be seen here.

     

     

  5. The story of Pledgebank

    Pledgebank  homepageThese days, when you think of mySociety’s major projects, you’d be forgiven for passing over the vision in purple that is Pledgebank.

    And yet, it’s among mySociety’s longest-running sites, and one that we had big plans for. It was a truly international project, too, with users in many countries.

    It even, as we’ll see, spawned one of the UK’s major transparency organisations.

    But all good things come to an end, and as we announced in a recent post, we’ll shortly be closing Pledgebank down.

    Before we do, it seems a good moment to record some of its history.

    The Pledgebank concept

    In November 2004, we announced mySociety’s second official project:

    The purpose of  PledgeBank is to get people past a barrier which strikes down endless good plans before they can are carried out – the fear of acting alone. It allows anyone to say “I’ll do X if other people also do X”, for example “I’ll write to my councillor if 5 other people on my street do the same”.

    However, there is no scale to big or too small, it could equally be used to say “I’ll start recycling if 10,000 other people in Britain also start”.

    Pledgebank officially launched on 13 June 2005. We’d opened a trial version of the site to a few users first, with early pledges including anti-ID card campaigning, carbon offsetting, and community river cleaning. People were interested. It was off to a good start. As the Guardian reported, even Brian Eno was a user.

    By that September, mySociety Director Tom was describing Pledgebank as our most popular site yet, and as of January 2006, there had been more than 200 successful pledges. In July 2006 the site won the New Statesman New Media award.

    Finding a niche for Pledgebank

    So that was all going swimmingly, and as time passed, we started building on the basic Pledgebank model.

    There were location-specific Pledgebanks, like Pledgebank London which urged folk to do a good deed for their city. Both the then PM Tony Blair and Mayor of London Ken Livingstone helped launch it, pledging to become patrons of a sports club.

    And, like FixMyStreet, we sold Pledgebank as white-label software for councils, allowing them to organise, for example, community snow clearance, and Royal Wedding street parties.

    Did we miss something?

    Here at mySociety, we’re not all about making the big bucks. But that doesn’t stop us from occasionally wondering why we never evolved Pledgebank into a lucrative service like Kickstarter or Groupon, both of which are founded on the very same idea: that there’s potential power in a pledge.

    Whether you back a project on Kickstarter, or put in for a hot stone massage on Groupon, you’re basically undertaking to buy something. But while Pledgebank did allow fundraising pledges, it didn’t take a cut of the moneys raised.

    At one point we did look into using an escrow service, but we decided in the end that each pledge organiser could sort out collection of any payments. And thus, we never quite became Kickstarter. Oh well.

    Simple concepts have many possibilities

    Pledgebank might have been founded on a simple concept, but, like so many simple concepts, it turned out that there were endless features we could add to it.

    At launch, SMS text messages were an important part of the site, and one that we spent considerable time and effort on. It was 2005, remember, and as we often said in our blog posts at the time, many people either weren’t online or had no desire to be. We wanted the site to cater for them too.

    And almost immediately after launch we added another feature: the ability to subscribe, so you’d receive an email when someone set up a pledge that was near you, geographically. This was ideal for those pledges with a local aspect, such as saving an ancient tree, or getting together to clean up a community.

    Then there was the international aspect. Pledgebank was mySociety’s first in-house project to be translated.

    In true mySociety style, the translation was crowdsourced and ultimately overseen by our diligent volunteer Tim Morley. As I write, just prior to the site’s closure, it is available in 14 languages, from Simplified Chinese to Belarusian, and including Esperanto.

    And it was taken up, enthusiastically, in many countries. Even now, we still sometimes have to deploy Google Translate in order to reply to Pledgebank’s user support emails.

    A site to change the world

    Over its lifetime, Pledgebank has been the starting point for many people to make the world a better place, in ways both large and small.

    Before we say goodbye all together, let’s take a look at some of the surprising, sometimes amazing, things it helped bring about.

    The smaller pledges were sometimes just as interesting:

    …and many more. Over time, Pledgebank became an archive of inspirational, utopian, and sometimes plain eccentric pledges. It brought thousands of people together in common causes, and multiplied the power of a single person’s desire to do good.

    We’d love to hear how you used Pledgebank: let us know in the comments below.

     

  6. Launching mySociety Services with a bang

    Thanks to everyone who came out to celebrate the launch of mySociety Services. It was great to see you all!

    mySociety Services launch party by Patrick Straub

    A cold February night it might have been, but it was certainly worth venturing out to the Nash Room at the ICA.

    The company was great. The drinks flowed. Plus, the view from the balcony, across the Mall to the London skyline was stunning.

    mySociety Services launch party by Patrick Straub

    You can see the full gallery of photos, by photographer Patrick Straub, here.

    mySociety Services launch event - photo by Patrick Straub

    If you couldn’t make it: we’re sorry you couldn’t be there, and we hope to see you soon.

    And if you hadn’t heard about it at all… well, now’s the time to sign up to the mySociety Services newsletter and make sure you’ll never miss our events, briefings and talks.

  7. TICTeC: Early bird booking closes today

    TICTeC-logos_general with yearHurry: today’s the last day to book your place at TICTeC, our conference on the Impacts of Civic Technology, if you want to take advantage of the early bird pricing.

    You have until midnight tonight to save yourself £100 on your ticket price. Here’s where to book.

    Speakers

    We’re still firming up the final schedule and session titles, but let us whet your appetite by listing some of the speakers.

    We’ve already introduced our two keynotes, Dr Shelley Boulianne and Ethan Zuckerman.

    Here are some of the other speakers who’ll be helping to shape the agenda at TICTeC:

    Luke Bacon of Open Australia Foundation, Sydney

    Jonathan Bright of Oxford Internet Institute, UK

    Tim Davies of Practical Participation, London

    Kerry Brennan of Reboot, New York

    Blair Glencorse of Accountability Lab, Washington DC

    Nanjira Sambuli of ihub research, Nairobi

    Linda Sandvik of the Guardian, London

    Sandy Schuman of New College, Oxford University

    Martin Szyszlican of Congreso Interactivo, Buenos Aires

    Dr Nick Taylor of University of Dundee

    Dr Loren Treisman of Indigo Trust, London

    Gail Ramster of The Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, London

    Jonathan Mellon of the World Bank/Nuffield College, Baltimore

    Jean Brice Tetka of Transparency International, Berlin

    We’re really delighted to be presenting such a diverse group of speakers bringing insights from so many parts of the world… and we can hardly wait to hear what they all have to share.

    If you feel the same, well, now’s the time to book your ticket.

  8. Meet Dr. Shelley Boulianne, a TICTeC keynote speaker

    Dr Shelley BoulianneDr. Shelley Boulianne, of MacEwan University in Alberta Canada, studies civic engagement and political participation. That makes her a perfect fit for our conference on the Impact of Civic Technology, TICTeC, where she’ll be one of two keynote speakers.

    Her current research examines how social media is used to recruit youth for volunteer work in the community. This research employs interview data from youth and non-profit organisations, as well as a content analysis of Facebook and Twitter data. If that sounds right up your street, be sure to grab your TICTec tickets soon.

    Meanwhile, we put a few questions to Shelley.

    What will you be talking about at TICTeC?

    I will present a bird’s eye view of the effects of civic technology on civic and political life. This perspective allows us to ask tough questions about technology: Does civic technology have a positive effect on civic and political life? Does it have a negative effect? Does it have any effect at all? I will present the results of a meta-analysis of more than 80 studies documenting the effects of the internet on civic and political life.

    What’s your involvement in civic tech?

    Most of my experience is studying the role of news websites and social networking sites on civic and political life. These tools are most interesting to me, because they engage the masses. However, I am also studying the use of online versus face to face methods for facilitating citizens’ involvement in deliberative exercises designed to inform public policy.

    What are you most looking forward to about TICTeC?

    I consider myself to be first and foremost a research methodologist, so I look forward to exciting discussions about how to study the effects of civic technology.

    We’re looking forward to it too! If you’d like to be at TICTeC, info and a link to ticket-booking is here. But hurry: early bird registration closes on 20 February.

    Meet our other keynote, Ethan Zuckerman, here.

  9. Meet Ethan Zuckerman, a TICTeC keynote speaker

    Ethan ZuckermanWe’re more than delighted that Ethan Zuckerman will be one of the keynote speakers at our upcoming conference on the Impacts of Civic Technology.

    Ethan is Director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT Media Lab, and a longtime digital activist and thinker. He’s on the directorial board of Ushahidi and Global Voices, as well as being a member of the Wikimedia Foundation Advisory Board.

    As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Ethan is also the originator of the Cute Cat Theory of Digital Activism- a theory which, one might say, is highly relevant to at least two of the interests of many mySociety folk.

    We asked Ethan a few questions in advance of his keynote presentation.

    What will you be talking about at TICTeC?

    I’m going to talk about civics through the lens of efficacy. What can individuals do to influence their communities, their societies and their nations? Are they more effective working through existing institutions, through building new ones or through influencing opinion via making media? And how can we know what forms of civics are most effective?

    What’s your involvement in civic tech?

    I’ve been building media systems for twenty years, and have focused for the last ten years on civic media, tools that help citizens make change in their communities through media. High points have included working on Global Voices, Ushahidi and now Promise Tracker.

    There’s […] lots of evidence that this work is really, really hard and that we need to think more carefully about what we’re actually seeking to accomplish.

    What are your best concrete examples of the impact of civic tech?

    I think there’s good evidence that projects like SeeClickFix and mySociety’s various projects can help citizens feel their government is more responsive. There’s some evidence that tools like Ushahidi have allowed relief organizations to respond better to emergencies. But there’s also lots of evidence that this work is really, really hard and that we need to think more carefully about what we’re actually seeking to accomplish.

    How can research help those of us in the field?

    My research focuses on the question of how making media might be a path towards making change. We’re building tools that help individuals and advocacy organisations track the spread of ideas in social and journalistic media, offering nuanced pictures of the structure of a particular story or controversy.

    What are you most looking forward to about TICTeC?

    I’m hoping to leave with a better map of what research questions are most pressing in this space.

    What (excepting mySociety, for modesty) are your favourite examples of good civic tech?

    As I mentioned above, I’m an admirer of SeeClickFix and (immodestly) Ushahidi. I think Code for America is doing a good job of building a pipeline of civicly motivated techies. I think Kickstarter, while not explicitly civic tech, has been masterful in helping communities figure out how to fundraise together.

    Thanks Ethan!

    If you’d like to join us at TICTeC, tickets are still available. But hurry: early bird registration closes on 20 February.

    Meet our other keynote, Dr Shelley Boulianne, here.

  10. Welcome to mySociety Services

    mysocietyservicesNeed someone to develop a web application or an online tool for your organisation?

    Enjoy what we do here at mySociety?

    The good news is that mySociety’s experience and skills can be all yours… and now we have a brand new website that gives us enough space to really go into detail about what we offer.

    Open for business

    At mySociety Services you’ll find everything you need to know about hiring us for your organisation.

    We’ve included a bunch of case studies—in fact, they make up the bulk of the new site—because we reckon that’s the most immediate way to show you how we work, and how we’d approach your projects, too.

    Elsewhere, we’ve divided our services up, so there’s an obvious place to look whether you need a web application building, or perhaps something nifty with maps, or your organisation could benefit from a little direction with everything digital. Plus, there’s a page about our “off the peg” products such as FixMyStreet for Councils.

    Still doing good

    So far, so much like any other digital agency. But there is, of course, the little thing that makes us different: when you commission us, all the revenue goes to support the mySociety charitable projects that you know and love.

    Growing up

    The mySociety Services site is a step forward for us, and it represents a coming of age for our commercial team. You might like to think of us as an agency in our own right from here on in.

    But meanwhile, we’ll still be retaining the same ethos and working methods that inform everything we do at mySociety. Hopefully, you’ll find that it’s the best of both worlds.

    Enough of the chit-chat. We’re ready to talk commercial: come and see what we offer.