If you’re a litter picker – someone who goes out with binbags, gloves and a general determination to clean up your local area – then clearly you have a well-developed sense of pride in your neighbourhood.
Little wonder, then, that many litter pickers use FixMyStreet as they go about their voluntary clean-ups. We love to see it — and we like it even more when they give a shoutout to the service on social media!
This cheery bunch are the Kings Heath and Brandwood Litter Pickers, who quite honestly manage to make hard toil look like a fun social event. Indeed, they do often follow up their work cleaning up the streets with a cuppa and a chat.
Kim Hudson, the pink-haired lady in that first picture, tweeted to say that not only had they filled seven binbags in a recent outing, but they’d used FixMyStreet to report five instances of fly tipping, broken paving and drain covers. Looks like they’re not averse to a few guerrilla tactics too…
We messaged Kim, and she told us, “The Kings Heath & Brandwood Litter Pickers operate in south Birmingham.
“We meet every Sunday at 10, and we also support other local groups if they have a grotspot. I am known as the Dawberry Fields Fairy and have been known to litter-pick in my tutu!” Kim also told us to get in touch with the group’s founder, Andrea Quigley, if we needed more details — so we did!
Andrea explained the how group began: “It started about four years ago. My daughter was working in Spain and, returning one Christmas, was appalled at the litter on the streets. Spain is much cleaner. So, with a friend, we started the group”.
Their grabbers, gloves, hoops, high viz vests and other equipment are funded by Kings Heath Business Improvement District, and Birmingham City Council provide the bags.
It’s all very well organised: “Our members adopt roads and when they join say how many hours they are prepared to do each month.
“Some members just adopt their own streets; others do more. Only about ten of us meet on Sundays, but the group as a whole has about 65 members who just get on with it in their locality.”
And how does FixMyStreet fit in?
“We regularly use FixMyStreet to log issues — usually fly tipping — and it’s extremely useful and easy to use.
“In the email I send to new members, I always suggest they use FixMyStreet to report issues with the council. I think our team has made a difference to the area and the community and as we use FixMyStreet, that has too.”
We’re really glad to be playing a part in this endeavour. We also enjoyed hearing about the logistics of the group – and the fun side – from Kim and Andrea.
If your neighbourhood could do with a clean-up, perhaps you’ll take inspiration from the Kings Heath and Brandwood posse, and get a group of litter pickers together. Sounds like the ideal social activity: a bit of physical exertion, a sociable chat, cleaner streets for everyone – oh, and the chance to wear a tutu if you’d like.
Who knew litter picking could be so much fun!
Broken street lights, fly-tipping, potholes and other local, place-based issues in Wales can now be reported to the correct authority by citizens in Welsh as well as in English via FixMyStreet, the long-running reporting service for street and environmental problems provided by civic technology charity mySociety, upon which SocietyWorks’ FixMyStreet Pro is built.
FixMyStreet is a progressive web app that enables citizens across the UK to report local problems to the authority responsible for fixing them, even if they do not know who that is. For the first time since its launch in 2007, users in Wales wanting to make reports in Welsh will be able to view a Welsh-language version of the website and app, including a Welsh-language map provided by Mapio Cymru.
Over half a million people in Wales speak Welsh and the Welsh Government aims to double this by 2050. Having digital services that work as well in Welsh as they do in English is key to achieving this growth in the language. Launched in 2019, Mapio Cymru is a project that aims to ensure mapping services are as good in Welsh as they are in English. Using open data sources Mapio Cymru provides a Welsh-only map of Wales. It also works with organisations across Wales to improve mapping services in the Welsh language.
Louise Crow, Chief Executive at mySociety, said: “FixMyStreet was built to make it easier for citizens to report problems in their communities. We are delighted to be able to make the service accessible to Welsh-speaking citizens, with a fully translated reporting process and a Welsh-language map, enabling users to select the street names and locations with which they are familiar. We look forward to seeing the Welsh-language version of the service put to good use by more citizens who care about improving where they live.”
Ben Proctor, Innovation Director at Data Orchard CIC which runs the Mapio Cymru project, said: “Digital mapping technology is really powerful and easy for organisations like mySociety to use in English. Sadly it’s not the same in Welsh. We aim to make it easier for organisations to deliver services on the highest quality Welsh-language mapping available.”
Are you a Welsh-speaker?
Welsh-speaking users can start using the Welsh-language version of FixMyStreet straight away by heading to cy.fixmystreet.com or downloading the FixMyStreet app from the relevant app store.
There are gaps in Mapio Cymru’s Welsh language map because the project relies on volunteers and public bodies to contribute definitive Welsh names. Volunteers can help to plug the gaps by adding the Welsh names for features on the map (buildings, roads, mountains, fields and so on). Public bodies can help to plug the gaps by publishing the Welsh names that they hold for features under an open licence. The Mapio Cymru team is available to advise on these issues. Just visit the Mapio Cymru website.
Image: Catrin Ellis
At FixMyStreet there’s nothing we like better than to see….well, streets being fixed!
And we especially like it when people share a couple of good ‘before and after’ photos. It proves the system is working, and also helps more people discover FixMyStreet and understand what it can do.
Here’s one that we spotted recently. First the Oxfordshire Cycling Network posted a delighted tweet to show that a path had been repaired –
– upon which, Oxford city councillor Anna Railton replied to say she’d reported it on FixMyStreet, with an image of how it had been previously:
We were interested to hear more about how a councillor uses FixMyStreet, so we asked Anna, who said: “I use it quite a lot. The location plus photo combination, and the fact you don’t have to work out where to send it, is invaluable.
“It’s very good in two (or more) tier authorities where I don’t always have direct access to the right officers.”
Anna’s right when she says that FixMyStreet routes reports to the right authority to deal with them: even if you live in an area that has, say, a city council and a county council, it knows which one deals with which types of issue — and sends your reports to National Highways where appropriate, too.
But councillors don’t have to do all the hard work themselves: everyone in the area can also, of course, report anything that needs putting right, giving the council the benefit of many eyes on the ground as people go about their daily business.
“I do plug it a lot with residents!” says Anna.
Councillors can also find the FixMyStreet local alerts very handy in their work. This free service sends you an email every time a new report is made within a defined area.
Not only can they see what new issues are being reported, but over time they can also get a good overview of what problems are most common, or recurring. One option is to sign up for all reports within a specific ward, which is ideal for councillors — or anyone who’s interested in their own neighbourhood.
Thanks very much to Anna for letting us know how she uses FixMyStreet: we hope we can help bring many more smooth rides for the cyclists of Oxfordshire.
Matt Davis is one of those people who not only appreciates the beauty of his surroundings, but does what he can to help preserve that beauty. A keen rambler, Matt often punctuates his walks in the countryside to make reports on FixMyStreet.
“I’ve reported batteries dumped in forests, discarded TVs at the roadside, fly tipping in hard-to-reach dead end roads, builders’ rubble, all sorts.
“When ask for an update on the progress I then get to go out for another nice long walk again!”
And what he likes about FixMyStreet is that it actually gets results. “My walking companion is always impressed by me stopping for five minutes, interacting with my phone, for something that actually gets things cleared up.”
We thought that this photo [below], which Matt attached to one of his reports, was an excellent example of how fly tipping can mar a beautiful natural landscape. And you can see from the sign, which says “Fly tipping is a crime”, that this is a hotspot for it.
Image: Matt Davis. Click to see it at a larger size.
But as he points out, FixMyStreet is great for tackling the problem before it takes root.
“Overall the brilliance about this app is that it helps clear up areas, so that people don’t then add more to the ugliness of the countryside”, says Matt. “If there’s rubbish that has been dumped, offenders will dump more rubbish on top. By keeping it clear it prevents somebody from thinking that a particular site is an easy target.”
When we spoke to Matt, he had just received the welcome news that he’d be joining his local town council. But that’s just the latest in a long list of public-spirited activities for his local area. Hearing of everything he’s involved in is inspiring, and not a little exhausting!
“I’m a litter womble; I’m the towns tree warden; I also sit on the committee for the town’s allotments. I’ve recently become the chair of the Leicestershire Industrial History Society; I’m a volunteer in other areas as well – I regularly attend a private community allotment and I work at a council-owned 18th century manor house in their gardens.”
Hearing all of this, it makes perfect sense that FixMyStreet fits so well into Matt’s daily activities. Our users are so often the people who are already going the extra mile for their community, and who don’t just notice when something’s amiss, but actually do something about it!
“I’m very positive about FixMyStreet. It’s an excellent app that cuts out all of the fluff, and directs your problem to the appropriate department.”
And we are delighted to hear how our service is being used. Thanks to Matt for speaking to us about it, and three cheers for people like him!
Narrow pavements, potholes and obstructed paths can make access difficult for pedestrians at the best of times — but if you’re in an electric wheelchair, such issues can make journeys dangerous or even impossible.
That’s why Alistair Slade reports them on FixMyStreet. He knows he’s not the only one who might be forced into oncoming traffic because of overgrown hedges; or where obstructions designed to keep out traffic will also prevent him from getting any further. The same problems beset anyone on a mobility scooter or in a wheelchair.
Tree roots making the pavement surface uneven, or verges encroaching onto the walkway can bring a very real risk of his chair tipping over. And if a dropped kerb is missing or just too high, Alistair may well be unable to cross the road.
Some of the photos Alistair has included with his reports: click on each one to see it at a larger size. These may look like ordinary pathways… until you try to see them through the eyes of someone in an electric wheelchair.
Everyone should have equal access to pedestrian routes — in fact, this right is inscribed in the Equality Act of 2010, as we discovered when we spoke to the Heavy Metal Handcyclist in 2010.
And this FixMyStreet user’s local council must now be much better informed about such barriers to access. Alistair, who was once Deputy Mayor, makes regular reports, generally attaching a photograph to clearly convey what the the world looks like from the seat of a wheelchair.
His most notable success was the removal of anti-cycling bars that were too close for electric wheelchairs to get through — but he continues to report all the issues he discovers, making his little patch of the world safer for every type of traveller.
We hope that others will do the same: after all, wheelchair users shouldn’t have to do all the hard work needed to ensure they can get around. If you see an issue that makes access difficult, hop onto FixMyStreet and get it reported. Your local wheelchair users will be glad!
Banner image: Markus Spiske; all other photos by Alistair Slade.
Another FixMyStreet site has launched in another international location, adding to the number of citizens across the world who can enjoy keeping their neighbourhoods safe and clean with the codebase’s simple functionality.
Popravi.to (‘Fix It’) will enable the citizens of Croatia to report issues to the authority that will get them resolved, and to make sure that everyone understands how it works there’s a jaunty video:
The FixMyStreet codebase is open source, meaning that anyone with the required technical knowhow can pick it up, tweak it for their local context, and create an issue-reporting website for their own country, all for free.
And that’s just what Gong — an NGO not entirely unlike mySociety, but Croatian — have done, with help from a cohort of Code for Croatia members. These volunteer coders gave up their time over a period of ten months to get the website up and running, led by Gong’s Miroslav Schlossberg as a project manager, who says that the project also had the wider aim of promoting open civic technology.
Gong came into being in 1997, choosing an acronym for their name to stand for “Građani Organizirano Nadgledaju Glasanje — or ‘Citizens Monitor Voting in an Organised Manner’. In time, as their activities expanded beyond elections, they realised that the name Gong itself was perfectly apt for an organisation that could be said to be sounding an alarm wherever they find corruption or a threat to democracy.
With all of this background in mind, it may come as little surprise that the same Gong/Code for Croatia coalition are also behind the country’s Freedom of Information site Imamo Pravo Znati, which runs on our Alaveteli platform.
Not least among their initial tasks will be securing the cooperation and understanding of the authorities to whom reports will be sent. “We are counting on the local government to recognise Popravi.to as a service that makes it easier for them to detect and locate problems and damage”, says Miroslav, “and to appreciate the contribution of citizens who report them.”
We recognise this sentiment very well, having spent several years doing just that here in the UK for FixMyStreet.com — and we wish Gong the best of luck as they begin on the same journey.
At this time of year, when plants run rampant, we see two common types of report on FixMyStreet: those asking their councils to mow the local verges, and those asking them why they have cut the wildflowers and grasses back.
With increasing amounts of coverage in the press about wildflowers and the benefits they can provide, we spoke to British wild plant conservation charity Plantlife to understand more about why citizens might be using FixMyStreet to request some flower-based improvements to their local road verges.
Not just a pretty place
According to Plantlife, more than 700 of species of wildflower can be found alongside UK road verges. If they’ve been left unmown in your neighbourhood, you’ll know that in these summer months they really are beautiful, with poppies, convolvulus, meadowsweet, celandine, thrift, clover and harebells (to name but a few) scattering a variety of colour through the grasses.
But there’s more than the visual appeal: these verges also improve air quality, buffer noise, and give a home to precious insect life.
With the correct verge management, Plantlife estimates that the 313,000+ miles of rural road verges in this country could become a sanctuary for 400 billion more wild flowers, as well as providing a habitat to all the bees, birds, butterflies and many other creatures that count on such flowers to survive.
A change of direction
So given all these benefits, why aren’t councils already leaving their verges to grow?
In some cases it’s the perceived expense of specialist equipment; in others it’s the fear that longer grass creates road safety issues (such as a lack of visibility at junctions) or attracts litter. Sometimes, it simply comes down to residents preferring closely mown grass.
As Plantlife points out in their Managing Grassland Road Verges guide though, it doesn’t have to be one thing or the other. There are lots of ways that councils can easily, safely and cost-effectively manage road verges to encourage wildflower growth, without compromising on the ‘neat’ look of an area and still ensuring safety.
Wild verges aren’t left entirely to their own devices: they just require a different regime of care, and still get cut back — just in a way that encourages biodiversity.
The picture is changing. Freedom of Information data collected by The Press Association earlier this year revealed that 7 in 10 councils are already taking steps to encourage wildflowers on road verges.
That being the case, giving your support by requesting a wildflower road verge in your local area could help to move those steps along and sow the seeds of better wildflower road verge management in places where opinions are still divided.
How to request a wildflower road verge via FixMyStreet
- Go to fixmystreet.com or open the FixMyStreet app.
- Enter the area or postcode of the road verge, or if you’re making the report on-the-go and you’re (safely!) standing right by the verge, you can select ‘use my current location’.
- Drag the pin across the map to the exact location of the road verge and hit ‘continue’.
- Select a category. It’s worth noting that categories on FixMyStreet are set by each council to reflect their internal departments and their own responsibilities. For this reason, you might be able to select a specific verge-related category, such as ‘verges’ ‘wildlife verges’ or ‘grass verges’, but if your council hasn’t supplied us with a designated category for verges, you might need to select one such as ‘roads’ or ‘other’.
- Add a photo of the verge if you want to. If not, click ‘continue’ again.
- In the ‘Summarise your problem’ box, type a title such as ‘Wildflower road verge request’.
- In the ‘Explain what’s wrong’ box, tell your council the reasons why you would like to encourage it to manage the road verge in a way that maximises flowering plant diversity. See Plantlife’s Road Verge Campaign for advice – you could even link to it to help the council get the guidance they need.
- Once you’re ready, click ‘continue’, fill in your details (if you’re not already logged in) and then hit ‘Submit’ to complete your request.
- Plantlife’s Road Verge Campaign also has posters you can print out and display in your window, if you’d like to get your neighbours on board.
- Experiencing pushback or (almost worse) no response from your council? Try getting your MP or local councillors to join your call, using WriteToThem.com.
Since FixMyStreet first launched back in 2007, we’ve always loved hearing stories from citizens about how they use the service within their local community.
Earlier this year, we heard from Lauren and John, who told us about how they’ve been using FixMyStreet to help make roads in their local area safer for blind people by reporting any pedestrian crossings with faulty or missing audio, tactile or visual indicators.
These indicators are essential for anyone with sight or hearing loss to be able to safely navigate crossing the road, so when they’re broken, it is a serious hazard. A hazard that most people probably wouldn’t notice, let alone report.
We were so inspired by their story that we asked if we could share it and encourage more people to make use of FixMyStreet in this way.
Happily, not only did they agree, but they also made a video for us! So, meet best friends Lauren and John:
John is deafblind and relies on using tactile indicators (those little plastic or metal cones beneath pedestrian crossing boxes, sometimes referred to as ‘twirlers’ or ‘spinners’) to know when it is safe to cross the road.
The pair say they started reporting any broken pedestrian crossings during lockdown as a way to make the most of their daily exercise: “We wanted to use our time to do something positive that would make journeys safer for other cane and guide dog users in the local area.
“Covid has hit visually impaired people quite hard and there have been lots of changes to street layouts, one way systems and social distancing is pretty difficult for those that cannot see.”
There are several things that Lauren and John look out for and report on FixMyStreet: “We look at all aspects of the crossing, including buttons, lights and the spinner.
“The wait light is surprisingly important because even John, who has very little remaining vision, can see if the light is on or off. If a tactile spinner isn’t working he can work out when it’s safe to cross using this light, as it will go off when the man turns green.”
That’s not all, though. Broken glass is also high up on their reporting priority list. Lauren explains, “[Glass] is a real hazard for John’s guide dog Daisy who will walk through it if there is no easy way around or if it is very small pieces she can’t see.”
Lauren says it was a local litter picking group that recommended using FixMyStreet to report all the issues she and John were finding at pedestrian crossings.
“Before finding the website I actually wouldn’t have known where or who to report the issues to.”
FixMyStreet uses the location data provided within a report to automatically send it to the correct authority. In Lauren and John’s case, it was Birmingham City Council that received their reports.
John and Lauren say using FixMyStreet has made reporting problems “easy”, and that they’ve been impressed by how quickly Birmingham City Council has responded to their FixMyStreet reports: “We have had issues fixed in less than 48 hours, which is great.”
This is something we’re very pleased to hear, and serves as a reminder of why we encourage all UK councils to give their residents the option to make reports via FixMyStreet (currently, around 2% of councils don’t accept reports from third party websites like ours).
Although lockdown will hopefully be over in the near future, John and Lauren have no plans to stop their walking and reporting routine: “Finding so many problems has motivated us to keep checking and reporting issues.
“It could be a missing button, broken light or the tactile spinner could be missing or broken. If nobody knows they are broken, then they can’t be fixed!”
Thanks so much to Lauren and John for sharing their story with us, and for being such active members of their community through FixMyStreet – this is exactly why we created the service in the first place.
Next time you’re waiting at a pedestrian crossing, why not check that everything’s working as it should, and make a quick report on FixMyStreet if it’s not?
If you want to follow more of Lauren and John’s adventures, check out their Facebook page.
How do you use FixMyStreet? Share your own story with us here.
Image: Valou_c on Unsplash
At LocalGovCamp, our designer Martin ran an interactive exercise that took attendees through a ‘consequence scanning’ exercise, as a way to predict and mitigate all the outcomes, both positive and negative, of a proposed piece of development.
In this case, the service under discussion was a fictional parking violation reporting app.
Let’s just repeat that, in case of any angry reactions: fictional!
So, what could possibly go wrong with a piece of tech designed to encourage residents to grass on fellow citizens for their poor parking? You can see how it played out in this video:
Now you’ve seen a consequence scanning exercise in action. If you’d like to understand more about the process, read on: this is how Martin explained the whole idea to us here at mySociety, with more detail on the underlying principles:
We’ve been working on a few sensitive projects recently – specifically our work expanding FixMyStreet Pro to cover issues of a more social nature, like noise reporting, antisocial behaviour, that sort of thing.
As experienced as we are with the ‘make a report by sticking a pin in a map’ style of interaction design, we recognise the need for extra care when applying this to issues that are about people, rather than things. There’s an increased risk of building a tool that results in unintended negative consequences; especially where the service concerns an area already prone to controversy.
mySociety Board member Jonathan Flowers put us in touch with Connected Places Catapult, who had been using ‘Consequence Scanning’ for this very thing, and we realised it was just what we needed.
It’s a structured system for drawing out the consequences of a new idea, and giving people a say in what actions are used to mitigate or address them. It originated from the Doteveryone thinktank, and CPC have taken it forward and customised it for their needs.
In Consequence Scanning, consequences are classified as either intended or unintended, with the important distinction that intended consequences aren’t always positive, and unintended consequences aren’t always negative.
The process is delivered in a workshop format and works best with a good mixture of participants with diverse views and backgrounds, directly involved in the service on both sides. This means ideally both service users and service officers should take part and be prepared to be honest about consequences. For this reason it’s important to create a safe space where information can be shared honestly and openly.
The process is split into three parts:
Part one: What are the consequences?
Part two: What are the positive consequences we want to focus on?
Part three: What are the unintended consequences we should mitigate?
Part one: What are the consequences?
- What are the intended consequences for:
- Organisation – How might this affect our organisation?
- Users – How might this affect the users of this service?
- Community – What are the consequences that could affect the wider community?
- What are the unintended consequences? For the kind of work we do, unintended consequences tend to emerge in these areas:
- Lack of digital understanding:
- What can happen in a situation where there is a lack of digital skills or access to technology?
- Unintended uses and users
- What could be the unintended uses of this service?
- What could be the unintended users of this service? Eg private companies using public services for profit
- Weak security/reliability/poor support/monitoring
- What could happen in situations of technical failure, poorly equipped staff, or lack of budget etc?
- Changes in norms and behaviours
- How could this cause changes in societal norms and behaviours?
- Displacement (what will people do this instead of… )
- If people use this service instead of others what could result?
- Impact on environment
- How might this service result in consequences for the planet or local environment?
Part two: What are the positive consequences we want to focus on?
- Sort the list of intended consequences into groups by affinity (affinity sorting)
- Add further details or related information
Part three: What are the unintended consequences we want to mitigate?
- Sort the list of intended consequences into groups by affinity (affinity sorting)
- Use causal mapping to work out the relationships between the consequences and help determine where mitigations could have the greatest impact: eg, solve A before B, solve D and prevent E,F,G
- Use grouping and categorisation of consequences to show relationships
This system works best on a new, but defined idea. If it’s done too early in the design process, the consequences end up being very general, or people bring their own assumptions and often focus on the wrong things. It’s best to bring it in once scope has been defined.
The primary function is to identify the consequences and not to “solutionise” the mitigations, but the group should be free to discuss possible mitigations where they feel it’s important.
We’ve been using Consequence Scanning in our work on noise reporting and antisocial behaviour, and it’s also proving useful for our internal anti-racism action group, where we want to understand the potential unintended results of any future development in terms of who our services reach, and who they exclude.
Image: Drew Graham
mySociety services help people be active citizens, whether by speaking truth to power, communicating directly with politicians, or demanding change on your doorstep — and that’s true for the area of climate activism as much as it is for any other burning issue.
By listing some of the ways you’ve been using our services to help the climate, we hope to inspire others to do the same, and to consider new ways in which you might be able to use them to push the climate agenda even further.
At the beginning of 2020, mySociety made a commitment to the planet, adding Climate to our existing workstreams of Transparency, Democracy and Community.
There are many experienced and knowledgeable organisations already working to fight the climate crisis. Accordingly, much of our work in this area has involved teaming up with these existing institutions, to offer the skills we do have and which they are often lacking: data wrangling, service design, site development, research and so on.
But there’s another way in which we can be useful, with no extra development or resource required from us: thanks to our established suite of services, we can help individual citizens to take action. mySociety’s UK websites are already set up to help people find out facts, ask politicians questions, check how MPs are voting, and demand better for their local communities — all useful tools when you want to tackle climate change.
We’ve had a look at the ways in which you’ve been using our websites in service of the climate, and we’ve found a huge variety of examples. Take a look through, and you might be inspired. And, if you’ve taken another type of climate action through our websites, do let us know so that we can add it to our list!
Changes in your neighbourhood
Trees filter air pollution, absorb carbon and provide shade, so it’s possible to argue that every tree is a benefit to the community. As Friends of the Earth advise, that’s all the rationale you need to lodge a request for a Tree Preservation Order, which means that an existing tree cannot be removed without reason.
Or perhaps there simply aren’t enough trees where you live? Then you can write to your council and request that new ones are planted.
We know that climate change is driving bees away, so those who ask their councils to leave roadside verges unmown and allow wildflowers to grow are also doing their bit to help offset the damage.
Meanwhile, WriteToThem can be used by any campaign which wants its supporters to email their politicians, and there are many with an environmental or climate agenda who have done just that.
Hyperlocal groups are campaigning against the loss of green spaces; the Possible organisation regularly rallies its supporters for innovative climate issues such as ground source heat from parks and better spaces for walking or cycling.
Badverts wants to stop the advertising industry from pushing high-carbon products, and Power For People is pushing for non-profit clean energy companies.
And it’s not just campaigns that use WriteToThem, of course — tens of thousands of you use the site every month to tell your politicians what is important to you, how you’d like them to vote, or to alert them to wrongs that need to be set right.
Emails sent through WritetoThem are private between you and your representative, though, so unless you tell us about it, we can’t know what you’re writing about. All the same, we can say with absolute certainty that many of you are expressing your concerns about the climate — it’s such an important topic that you must be.
Many councils declared a climate emergency in 2019 — but what does that mean in real terms, and what comes next? If your council hasn’t published its Climate Action Plan, and you want to ascertain whether they actually have one (or are perhaps working on it) then a Freedom of Information request might yield answers, and plenty of people have used WhatDoTheyKnow for just this purpose.
Or, if the plans are already written and available to the public, there’s still lots more that might need disclosing: are they being adhered to and working as intended? And are the budgets accurate and adequate? How is money actually being spent?
FOI can be used in a huge variety of ways: for example, to collect disparate data from multiple authorities to make up a coherent dataset showing a nationwide picture — like this one, on behalf of Amnesty International, finding out how local authorities were reacting to childrens’ climate strikes.
Thanks to our Alaveteli software, organisations all over the world are running sites like WhatDoTheyKnow that allow their citizens to ask for information. In Hungary, the KiMitTud site uncovered a river pollution scandal; and on AskTheEU the VW emissions misconduct was hinted at long before the story hit the public consciousness.
Holding politicians accountable
FOI requests can take a while to be processed by authorities, so while you’re waiting you might like to do something a bit more immediate and look up your MP’s voting record on TheyWorkForYou.
Each MP’s voting record includes a section on the environment, containing all parliamentary votes since 2010 that we’ve identified as relevant. The data — on policies from selling state-owned forests to higher taxes on air fares — comes from the Public Whip website, where votes are analysed and categorised.
In the interests of stressing the importance of the climate emergency, we’re keen to give this Environment section more prominence and detail, but of course we can only include the votes that have been held, and even then only the votes that were recorded in Parliament — not those that were just ‘nodded through’ (see more about this here). However, we’ll be keeping a keen eye open for the key climate-related votes of the future.
The open data accessible through our sites can often be useful for researchers: one example of this is the TheyWorkForYou API, which allows for the analysis of everything said in Parliament, among other uses.
As examples of what can be done, Carbon Brief analysed Hansard to see which politicians mention climate change the most; and the Guardian, using TheyWorkForYou, gave a more rounded score to each MP which also took into consideration their votes and interests.
So – that’s quite a long list, and just goes to show the breadth and diversity of the possibilities afforded by our various online services.
If you’ve been feeling helpless about the climate crisis, perhaps this will give you a little hope, and inspire you to take a few small online steps yourself, in service of the planet and our future. Please do let us know how you get on.