1. TICTeC schedule now online!

    Yes, it’s that marvellous time for the Civic Tech community: the full TICTeC schedule is now online and you can browse it to your heart’s content, picking which sessions you’ll attend — not always an easy decision when there’s so much to choose from!

    As usual, TICTeC promises access to civic tech around the world with insights you won’t get elsewhere, presented by a truly amazing roster of international speakers. This year we have a focus on threats to democracy and climate, and the tools that are working to counter them.

    You’ll find grassroots NGOs, making a difference through their on-the-ground technology; representatives of governments; tech giants; and of course the academic researchers that make sense of everything we do in the civic tech world.

    • Hear from Mevan Babakar, News and Information Credibility Lead at Google;
    • Learn how tech has shaped citizen-government communication from the Taiwan Ministry of Digital Affairs;
    • See what happens when you wake up and realise your civic tech project is now critical national infrastructure, with Alex Blandford of the University of Oxford

    These are just a few of the 60+ sessions from an international range of perspectives that you can dip into across TICTeC’s two days. Which will you choose?

    Come along in person, or tune in from home

    This year, most of TICTeC’s sessions will be livestreamed, so you can tune in no matter where you are (the workshops won’t be broadcast, as they don’t lend themselves to online participation). If you’d like to attend virtually, you can book a ticket via Eventbrite for just £50.

    Or, if you’d prefer to join the conference in person, enjoying all that a real-life meet-up entails, with sessions interspersed with networking, nibbles, and socialising, make sure you snap up one of the limited slots. But hurry – TICTeC always sells out, and this year is looking like no exception.

    Register for TICTeC now.

  2. TICTeC keynote speaker announcement: Nick Mabey OBE

    Hot on the heels of our last big announcement, we’re very happy to confirm our second keynote for TICTeC, The Impacts of Civic Technology conference 2024: Nick Mabey OBE.

    If you’d like to hear from one of the big players, really making a difference to the UK’s climate change response, you’ll want to make sure you’re at TICTeC this year. 

    Nick is a founder of E3G (Third Generation Environmentalism), an independent climate change think tank with a goal to translate climate politics, economics and policies into action — and is now its co-CEO.

    He has previously worked in the UK Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit, UK Foreign Office, WWF-UK, London Business School and the UK electricity industry. As an academic he was lead author of Argument in the Greenhouse, examining the economics of climate change. 

    He also founded London Climate Action Week, one of the world’s largest climate festivals, which takes place on 22-30 June — so if you’re in London for TICTeC and you have an interest in climate, it might be worth sticking around for that! 

    Nick will open the second day of  proceedings at TICTeC, setting the scene for presentations and workshop sessions that strive to examine the central question: What is needed to make civic tech tackling problems around climate change more successful and impactful on a global scale?

    Few people are better equipped to bring such a broad spectrum of knowledge and experience to this complex issue. If you’d like to tap into some of that, then make sure to snap up your tickets to TICTeC

    BOOK YOUR PLACE AT TICTeC NOW

    The TICTeC 2024 schedule will be published very soon, so watch this space.

  3. TICTeC keynote speaker announcement: María Baron

    We’re excited to announce the first keynote speaker for our 2024 Impacts of Civic Technology Conference (TICTeC)!

    Join us on 12 and 13 June  — in London or online — and you’ll hear from María Baron, founder and now Global Executive Director of Directorio Legislativo.

    This year, one of the major themes at TICTeC will be the role of civic tech in safeguarding and advancing democracy where it is under threat. María and Directorio Legislativo’s work explore both  the problem, and how we can collectively roll up our sleeves and do something about it. 

    María has a long career in transparency and democratic institutions, working first across Latin America and then globally with both Directorio Legislativo and the Open Government Partnership. Along the way, María also founded the Latin American Network for Legislative Transparency, convening 24 civil society organisations from 13 countries. 

    With her team at Directorio, María developed a methodology for building consensus across polarised stakeholders on tricky issues — and has brought many of those agreements to Congress, where they were signed into law.

    The Regulatory Alert Service, also from her Directorio team, enables political analysts to predict changes in regulation across 19 countries. 

    Among many other achievements, María has been awarded the NDI Democracy Award for Civic Innovation. In short, we can guarantee you’ll gain a massive dose of inspiration and hope from her session.

    And that’s just the first speaker announcement from this year’s TICTeC. Make sure you’re a part of the “best concentration of practitioners, academics, and thinkers in this field” (Fran Perrin, Indigo Trust) and book your place now.

    It’s been a while since we convened the wonderful, industrious, inspiring global civic tech community in one place, face to face — we’re ready to reignite those amazing conversations, connections and deep dives into democracy at the Impacts of Civic Technology Conference, this June. 

    BOOK YOUR PLACE AT TICTeC NOW

  4. 20th anniversary awards and event

    Wednesday night saw a steady stream of people making their way to one corner of a small square in London. mySociety staff, past and present; friends and associates; stellar users of our services; funders, journalists — in short, folk who had played a part in mySociety’s early years or subsequent history — assembled in Conway Hall to celebrate our twentieth year as an organisation.

    It was a wonderful opportunity to look back, sometimes with a slight sense of wonder, but also with some pride. It turns out that when you put together so many people with a bit of mySociety in their history, they have a lot to talk about, even if they come from quite separate bits of our timeline.

    Traditionally, we put out an online impact report at the end of the year, covering the previous twelve months. Well, this year we’ve gone all out and covered our whole history as an organisation. Guests had special early access to this, with a print booklet left on each seat. Don’t worry if you weren’t there: we’ll be putting it out as a digital version closer to our usual December publication date.

    The report doesn’t just present our history though; some sections look toward our future mission and purpose — something that Louise Crow, our Chief Executive, also folded into her speech. Anecdotes, facts, call-outs and thoughtful sidenotes contributed to an engaging and informative spin through the ‘eras’ of mySociety which you can read here.

    Award winners

    And of course, there was the presentation of our awards. A couple of weeks ago, we told you which people and projects had been shortlisted; and now we can reveal the winners.

    Driving Institutional Change award 

    The award was collected on behalf of Richard Bennett, aka the Heavy Metal Handcyclist, by his partner Eryn and sister Perin, and represents his activism and generosity in sharing knowledge with others to make the world more accessible for everyone.

    You can read more about his work in our blog post of 2021.

    Accelerating Climate Action award

    This award was taken by Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming, in recognition of the way they’ve turned climate data into tangible climate action, using both our CAPE site and our MapIt API.

    We wrote a bit about that in this post.

     

    Exposing Truth award

    Journalist Jenna Corderoy was recognised in this category, for her bold and sustained work in uncovering the Cabinet Office’s ‘FOI clearing house’ – bringing about change, using FOI, for the benefit of FOI.

    You can read more about the Clearing House here.

     

    Impactful International Use award

    We awarded this one to Ukrainian FOI service Dostup do Pravdy (Access to Truth) – in their absence. The award was collected by our head of Transparency, Gareth Rees, and we’ll make sure it gets to them safely.

    We’ve had a long relationship with Dostup; but our most recent coverage of their work can be seen here.

    Campaigning for Justice award

    The final award was given to Eleanor Shaikh for her tireless research uncovering injustice and official cover-ups around the Post Office Horizon scandal, which we recently wrote about here.

     

     

     

    Of course, we really wish we could have given an award to all of our shortlistees, who are all doing such excellent work in their own areas. It was great to see so many campaigners, researchers, journalists and organisations chatting away and comparing notes over their methods: we hope the evening has resulted in some useful connections.

    We were extremely touched by all the winners’ words when they came up to the podium to accept their awards. They indicated that our services had allowed them to attain breakthroughs that they either wouldn’t have managed without us, or which would have taken a lot more time and effort.

    For us, the evening was a chance to see the living, breathing results of our lines of code and theories of change – ideas that we believe should help people to make a difference, but which are unproven until we hear of such incredible achievements. We are honoured to be a small part of that.

    Might you be a part of our future?

    Be part of our Board! As all of this activity makes clear, mySociety still has an awful lot to do — and a clear direction to take. If that sounds like something you’d like to be part of, you might be interested in our current Trustee and Non-Executive Director vacancies. As a Trustee or NED, you use your expertise and a little of your time to help steer our direction and input on all our activities. Find out more here.

    Help us extend our impact further! Could we work together to achieve more? Part of our mission is to form mutually beneficial partnerships with other organisations, with each side supporting the other. If that sounds like something you’d like to explore further, drop us a line.

    Finally, here are a few photos from the evening – click to see them at a larger size.

    There was also a professional photographer in attendance, so we’ll make sure to come back and share those images once they’ve been processed – especially those of the award winners, which, it turns out, mobile phone snaps didn’t do justice to!

    Thank you so much to everyone who helped make this such a joyous and moving event, from our shortlistees to our guests, and all the staff members who pitched in to make it go smoothly.

    Photos: Sally Bracegirdle and Lizetta Lyster

     

  5. 20th anniversary: the speech

    Read more about our 20th anniversary event

    Thank you for joining us to celebrate mySociety’s 20th anniversary. It’s brilliant to be able to toast 20 years of using data and digital tools to empower people.  

    One of my favourite descriptions of our work was written a few years ago by the journalist Zoe Williams. She said “Any meaningful access to democracy requires that the citizen can navigate the terrain. These mini institutions – whether Democracy Club or mySociety – collate, editorialise, create digital order for the public good. The more transparent and accessible democracy is, the more obvious it is which bits could be better. It’s like sitting in on the meeting where they invented dentistry, or clean water: kind of obvious, kind of earth-shattering, kind of tedious, kind of magical.”

    I think magic is a really appropriate metaphor here, maybe stage magic, where something seemingly impossible happens. Sometimes, as in mySociety,  there are clever technical tricks, but mostly, what makes it seem magical is that no-one can imagine that someone would spend so many hours practising to make the trick work.

    To build a thing that sustains for 20 years, is hard. I’m going to try to tell a bit of the story of the services and projects, but there’s another story, which is a story of people. People who care and go above and beyond, sometimes above and beyond what is reasonable, to make mySociety what it is. That is what makes the impossible possible. 

    With all the people and photos from different times in the life of the organisation, it feels a bit like the mySociety ‘eras’ tour.

    So I thought maybe I would sketch out the different eras of the organisation and how they led us to this point.  

    Era 1: the early days

    mySociety was launched in 2003, 12 years after the launch of the ‘web’ itself. I came across it three years later in January 2006 when I used a site PledgeBank.com to sign an online pledge, a novelty at that point. The pledge was to “pay £10 into a fund that aims to fill a public advertising space with something thought-provoking” if 350 other people would do the same things. According to my emails, in the same minute, I volunteered to write some code to screen scrape official information about the Northern Ireland Assembly, and later that evening joined two of the mailing lists. 

    I must have been excited. Lots of people were – mySociety represented a unique opportunity to use technical skills to do something good.  

    When I first worked for mySociety later that year, I think I was employee no 5, joining Tom Steinberg and the first three developers – Chris Lightfoot, Matthew Somerville and Francis Irving, and a group of dedicated volunteers. They were in the middle of an exceptionally creative period, having already launched three public facing services – including WriteToThem (which was born as FaxYourRepresentative). They had also taken on TheyWorkForYou,  the parliamentary monitoring site, which had been developed by a group of volunteers. 

    That era of creativity continued, with brilliant new services:

    In 2007 FixMyStreet was launched, a simple way for people to report local issues.

    It was followed in 2008 by WhatDoTheyKnow – a service for making FOI requests, created as a result of multiple suggestions in an open call for proposals. 

    Oh, and also the first ever Downing Street e-petitions site. 

    So, an era of productivity, but also, like many new organisations, one of huge financial instability. 

    At mySociety’s 5th birthday party, Tom said: “We know from the continued influence of newspapers, some born in the 19th century, that political media needs longevity to gain the reach and legitimacy required to transform whole systems and to challenge the expectations of whole populations. mySociety needs to work out how to be here not just in 6 months, but in 20 years.”  

    So that first era defined two grand challenges – how can the web be used “to tip the relationship between people and government, in favour of the people”, and how can you embed that mission inside an organisation that can survive long enough to make it stick. 

    Era 2: International community and reuse

    I think the second era of mySociety is the era of international reuse. Our code had always been open source, and there had been a couple of new sites built with it by this time.  

    But now we extracted and built customisable software in collaboration with partners around the world, and fostered an international community to accelerate reuse and impact. Alaveteli was the first product of that era, a framework extracted from WhatDoTheyKnow to power new FOI sites. AlaveteliCon in 2012 was our first significant international event, and was accompanied by an install lab where people could bring laptops and work together to get new FOI sites running. 

    This era brought efficiencies of reuse, but in the same way that the most powerful thing about civic tech can be the idea that someone, somewhere has built this tool because they expect you to want to ask a question of those in power, or check what your representative’s been doing, sometimes the most powerful part of international work is not the reuse of the code itself, but the encouragement that comes from a set of friends and colleagues around the world that don’t think that what you’re doing is crazy. 

    As the field grew and matured enough to settle on a name – ‘civic tech’ –  mySociety also took a more structured approach to understanding impact. This work stepped up a gear in 2015 with the first TICTeC – the Impacts of Civic Tech conference. TICTeC has run in person or online every year since then, convening thousands of researchers, funders and practitioners to share their knowledge and experience. 

    In all there have been 87 projects based on our code, with 48 still running today, including at least a dozen sites like AskTheEU across Europe, InfoProVsechny in Czechia, KiMitTud in Hungary, Mzalendo in Kenya, and QueSabes in Uruguay that have now passed their own 10th anniversaries. We learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t and not every project has lasted. But when reuse works, it’s a huge force multiplier. Alaveteli has been one of the real successes in this respect and it’s been very exciting to see new features, such as the tools we subsequently built for journalists, have immediate impact not just in the UK but across the world.

    I’m very happy that we’re continuing to learn and share internationally through TICTeC and our Access to Information network where along with partners we’re sharing approaches around the technology, but also how it works with other modes of action – journalism, campaigning, and strategic litigation and legislative change. 

    So the first of many thanks this evening go to Transparency programme lead, Gareth Rees, who has juggled the many, often conflicting demands of running a large UK platform, a successful international open source project, a pan-european learning network and several other projects with fortitude and meticulous planning, ably supported by Graeme Porteous and Jen Bramley. 

    They also go to Gemma Moulder, our incredible Events Manager, who  has been the heart of the TICTeC community. And please mark your calendars, now that she’s organised the hell out of this anniversary party, she’s going to be turning her attention to TICTeC 2024 next spring.

    Era 3: Real products

    So the first era of mySociety defined two problems to make progress against, with perhaps the more challenging one being how to run services for long enough to have impact at scale. In 2015 Mark Cridge joined as Chief Executive faced with two big tasks – to be mySociety’s first non-founder chief executive, a transition point at which many organisations fail, and to develop the commercial side of the organisation into a sustainable business.  

    mySociety Ltd had always taken on commercial work, but in 2016 we made a decision to focus on a product in order to scale revenue and generate profit to actually contribute significantly to the parent charity. That product became FixMyStreet Pro, designed to help councils handle fault reporting. And in time mySociety Ltd became SocietyWorks. As of today, SocietyWorks has 28 clients for FixMyStreet Pro, and 6 for our second significant product, WasteWorks. In that time FixMyStreet has gone from 850k problem reports to now 4.4 million. 

    This is a huge achievement, and whilst the success of FixMyStreet, like so many things at mySociety,  would never have happened without Matthew, our resident non-evil genius, the transformation into a profitable business has taken a huge team effort – to research, build, price, market, sell, contract, manage and deliver a product that works for citizens and for councils. So, along with Matthew,  I want to say thank you to the whole SocietyWorks team – Dave Arter, Sally Bracegirdle, Chris Mytton, Moray Jones, Lizetta Lyster, Bekki Leaver, Jacqueline Lau, Victoria Mihell-Hale, Amelia Nicholas, Nicolle Whitehead, Nik Gupta, Sally Reader and Chris Edwards. 

    And two special thanks – first to Sam Pearson and to Pete Stevens and co at Mythic Beasts for the seamless work behind the scenes to provide stable infrastructure to support both an unusual digital charity and a growing software as a service business. There’s tons more I could say about this but I will limit myself to this – we’ve come a long way since the days of a fax server in a cupboard. 

    And second to Angela Dixon – for throwing absolutely everything into SocietyWorks and mySociety and leading the team as Managing Director with the exact combination of thoughtfulness, decisiveness and boundless positive energy that we needed. 

    Era 4: Citizen empowerment at scale and with nuance

    This brings us more or less to the present era. I quoted Tom earlier, saying that political media needed longevity in order to get reach and legitimacy. We’re starting to see the results of some longevity.  

    Some representative polling in 2021 showed that one in three UK adults have heard of TheyWorkForYou, and one in five have used it. In the last 10 years WhatDoTheyKnow has gone from 100k public FOI requests to close to a million, and informed countless news stories and campaigns.  

    So how do we use that longevity and reach most effectively? We have some ideas. 

    Institutional change

    Between them, our services span the practical issues that introduce people to civic life – dog mess, housing issues and bin collection, through the many facets of the tens of thousands of public institutions covered by the FOI act, to the fundamental building blocks of our democracy – voting and representation in the UK’s parliaments. 

    People want to participate in civic life but only if they have a reason to believe it makes a difference. One thing that has become clearer over time is that the real core of our mission with respect to government  is not to get it to do better at digital, but to use digital to get it to do better at democracy – to show the kind of transparency, responsiveness and interest in people’s lives that makes participation meaningful. The scale and openness of our platforms gives us a unique perspective on the challenges people hit when they try to engage with democratic institutions. The fact that the platforms sit outside those institutions gives us a point of leverage. 

    We’ll be using what we’ve learned from our services, and support from the communities that use them, to bring about changes in policy and practice that are directly targeted at those challenges. That way, we’re not just helping people work around obstacles, but removing those obstacles for good. 

    Alex Parsons has given us hugely valuable insights into how our services are being used, and a credible voice on Access to Information, democratic participation and yes, potholes and dog poo too. Thank you Alex, for being an incredible fount of ideas on where we can go from here.   

    Reach more and more kinds of people

    There are also responsibilities that come with scale, and one is to make sure that our services do more than empower the already empowered. We want to reach more and more kinds of people, with a focus on those who are being democratically underserved, and who are underrepresented amongst our service users. 

    We recognise that this is an area where we need to learn from others and we’re taking multiple approaches – conducting outreach and research on how we can better support people from marginalised and under-served communities using our core services, and developing partnership work that gives us opportunities to learn, such as the FixMyBlock project with TowerBlocks UK – helping tower block residents understand and exercise their rights, or the Stop and Search Data dashboard we’ve developed with Black Thrive. 

    Respond on climate

    We also need to recognise the era we are entering. This is one in which climate change is no longer the story, but the setting in which all stories take place. In the next decades we have to rapidly make changes across our society – in how we travel, what we eat, how we heat our homes. In order to do that fairly, the decisions we are faced with need participation from all kinds of people: to reduce the harms and share the benefits of this enormous transition. It’s a huge democratic challenge. We’re going to need to continue to learn and experiment, not least in getting people in all kinds of roles the information they need to act together. We’ve been working on a suite of services in our Climate programme to help people track, challenge, coordinate and collaborate. I want to share a couple of examples of that work.  

    In the Climate Action Scorecards, a project led by Climate Emergency UK scoring local authority plans and action on climate, we see several interesting elements come together – the use of WhatDoTheyKnow Projects to rapidly create datasets from batches of FOI requests, along with research and policy work, so that we can present simple headlines on local climate action that anyone can understand, and at the same time, make an evidenced case to policymakers for better publication of the underlying data. Come to our webinar together with the Centre for Public Data on fragmented data on the 28th of this month to hear more about that. 

    In the Local Intelligence Hub, we’re working with the Climate Coalition, a coalition with more than 100 member organisations, representing 22 million people across the UK, exploring how a digital service can help them share data to work better as a coalition to have effective conversations about climate action with politicians, and to better understand local areas, and their own movement. 

    Finally our latest service, Neighbourhood Warmth will bring back a little of the ‘I will if you will’ spirit of Pledgebank to the challenge of home energy across the UK, encouraging neighbours to take action to explore energy efficiency improvements together. 

    Zarino Zappia leads the climate team – Struan Donald, Alexander Griffen, Emily Kippax, Siôn Williams and Julia Cushion. Thank you to you all for inventing and realising a new generation of mySociety services. And thanks to Zarino for being a collaborative and multi-talented leader, and for quietly rolling his sleeves up and improving everything he touches, across the organisation. 

    Support

    I hope I’ve given you a flavour of how we’ve evolved as an organisation, and how I think we can have the greatest impact in our next era. I’m excited, because I think we are starting to see the shape of what mySociety could be for the long term – a stable and effective institution working with citizens, civil society and digital technologies in the service of a democracy capable of meeting the challenges we now face. 

    Which makes this a good point to talk about the role of our trustees and directors  – a truly inspirational set of people who give up their time and expertise on a voluntary basis to advise, challenge, and connect us, and to help us be the organisation that we aspire to be. 

    A huge thank you to Ade Adewunmi, Cam Ross, Devin O’Shaugnessy, Jen Thornton, Onyeka Onyekwelu, Rachel Rank, Steve Skelton and Tony Burton, and Gen Maitland Hudson as our Chair of Trustees, and Mandy Merron as the Chair of the SocietyWorks board, as well as all their predecessors,  for being sound advisors, and making board meetings something to look forward to.

    I also want to take a moment to mark the very sad recent loss of Francis Mainoo, a hugely valued member of both boards, and a kind and generous leader. Like early staff members Chris Lightfoot and Angie Ahl, Francis’ many contributions here and elsewhere will long be remembered. 

    mySociety simply would not have got to this milestone without the dedication and selflessness of the many people who have supported the organisation in volunteer roles. 

    Along with our trustees, that is particularly true of the people who have volunteered around WhatDoTheyKnow, where scale brings challenges as well as impact. Running a service like WhatDoTheyKnow responsibly takes a significant amount of work – 364 new requests are now made every day through the site and we know that the responsible governance of digital platforms is crucially important to their effect on society. 

    Richard Taylor, John Cross, Martyn Dewar, William Fitzpatrick, Matt Knight, Luis Lago, Alison Bellamy, Doug Paulley and more before them have put countless hours in helping and supporting  WhatDoTheyKnow’s users – thank you all. 

    And for absolutely invaluable on the spot pro-bono legal advice – when you need it, you really need it – many thanks to Francis Davey, and Matt Lewin. 

    And thank you too to Helen Cross who, having been a long time volunteer, has taken on the challenge of managing the service with the help of her robot friends, and now with the help of Georgia Kelsey, who has been gamely spelunking into the support mailbox over the last few months. 

    I’ve talked about the significant progress we’ve made in sustaining ourselves as an organisation. That problem is not yet solved – and I know this is a sympathetic audience, as many of you have played a part in getting us to where we are. The funding question keeps me up at night, because I think it is a genuinely hard problem of finding a financial model to deliver services which are a public good.

    So two more sets of thank yous here. 

    First, to all the funders who have supported our work – with some notables in somewhat chronological order – Tim Jackson for our very first seed funding and Joseph Rowntree for our first philanthropic institutional funding. Long term early support came from OSF, the Omidyar Network and Luminate, Google, and the Indigo Trust. The Quadrature Climate Foundation and the National Lottery are supporting our climate team and the Adessium Foundation, Swedish Postcode Foundation and NED are supporting our international work.  Porticus, and the Patrick McGovern Foundation are supporting work across all our programme areas.  

    Second, to those who’ve worried, along with the Chief Execs, about the money in various different ways – alumnis Abi Broom and Paul Lenz (Abi Broom’s graphs of doom!), Angela and her finance team Yolanda Gomes, and Jill Aquarone and on fundraising the eloquent Asha Pond, and now our latest recruit Alice Williams. 

    There are many names I haven’t named here – after twenty years, the list becomes too long. But I’m particularly happy to have many people from different points in the life of mySociety, because I think one thing you can see from the vantage point of twenty years is that effort and planning pays off over time in a way that can be hard to see when you’re in the midst of it. If you are at this party, it’s because you are part of the story of mySociety and your help and support has got us to this milestone. And if you don’t think that’s true, perhaps it’s because you’re going to be part of our future in some way.  

    So I hope you’ll read through a copy of the impact report and feel proud. Thank you to Myf Nixon and Lucas Cumsille Montesinos for telling our story in such a beautiful way, in the impact report and across our sites. 

    And finally thank you to everyone who has used our services to try to make things better for their communities.  Which must be my cue to stop talking and hand over to Myf and Zarino for the second phase of the evening, our anniversary awards, where we recognise some of the incredible stories of change that we’ve been a little part of.

  6. Shortlist announced for mySociety’s 20th anniversary awards

    The ways in which people and organisations have used mySociety’s services through the lifetime of the organisation have been impressive, inspiring and sometimes astonishing.

    So, to celebrate our 20th anniversary, on 15 November we’ll be presenting awards in five categories, showcasing impactful usage of their services through the years.

    • Driving Institutional Change
    • Accelerating Climate Action
    • Exposing Truth
    • Impactful International Reuse
    • Campaigning for Justice

    The shortlist is as follows:

    Driving Institutional Change

    • The Give Them Time campaign used WhatDoTheyKnow to get the law changed over funding for nursery care in Scotland.
    • John Graham-Cumming In 2009, John used the petitions website that mySociety had built for 10 Downing Street, resulting in Gordon Brown apologising on behalf of the British Government for its treatment of the computer scientist Alan Turing.
    • Richard Bennett used WhatDoTheyKnow, coupled with the Equality Act, to make pathways more accessible for wheelchair users, sharing his methods so that others could do the same.
    • Privacy International The ‘Neighbourhood Watched’ project used WhatDoTheyKnow to reveal the unchecked use of surveillance technology by police forces across the UK.

    Accelerating Climate Action

    • Zero Hour Using mySociety’s WriteToThem software, they’ve garnered the backing of over 150 MPs for their draft Climate and Ecology Bill.
    • Sustain used data from CAPE, our Climate Action Plans Explorer, to analyse the degree to which local authorities are including food within their strategies to cut emissions. 
    • Save the Trees of Armada Way Plymouth’s grassroots campaign fought against the removal of much-loved trees in the city centre, using WriteToThem to send emails to the local councillors — apparently, the most emails they had ever received on a single subject. 

     Exposing Truth

    • Jenna Corderoy Jenna is shortlisted for her investigation — using WhatDoTheyKnow — of the Cabinet Office’s controversial Clearing House, a secretive unit that screened  and blocked FOI requests made by journalists and campaigners, often on matters of serious public interest.
    • The Bureau of Investigative Journalism Their Sold From Under You project used crowdsourced and FOI data to reveal how much publicly-owned property was sold off by councils across England, in an attempt to fill funding gaps caused by austerity measures. 
    • Lost in Europe worked with people running FOI sites on our Alaveteli platform, in 12 different countries, to uncover previously unknown statistics around how many children disappear at borders

    Impactful International Reuse 

    • Dostup do Pravda/Access to Truth The Ukrainian Freedom of Information site continues providing access to information even in the difficult circumstances of war.
    • vTaiwan, Public Digital Innovation Space, and the Taiwanese Ministry of Digital Affairs The Taiwanese government uses mySociety’s SayIt software to make deliberations on difficult subjects public and accessible to citizens.
    • DATA Uruguay The organisation has built both FixMyStreet and Freedom of Information sites on mySociety’s codebases, changing the way their governments  communicate with citizens at both local and national levels.

    Campaigning for Justice 

    • Doug Paulley is a lifelong campaigner for rights for disabled people, using FOI to fight against access discrimination, especially around public transport.
    • Eleanor Shaikh has dedicated hours and hundreds of FOI requests to finding out the truth behind the Post Office Horizon scandal, with her findings making front page headlines.
    • After Exploitation use Freedom of Information to uncover the failings of the government’s measures to protect vulnerable detainees.

    Of course, every single user of our services is a winner in our eyes – but watch this space to find out who takes home the award in each category!

    Image: Rene Böhmer

  7. Rewatch Democracy 2043, our Festival of Debate event

    In case you missed it — or in case you want to watch it all again — here’s the video from our #Democracy2043 event of May 24.

    Our insightful panel discuss what kind of democracy they’d like to see in 2043, and, perhaps more importantly, what we need to put in place in order to make it a reality.

    Many thanks to our panelists for their brilliant inputs: Emma Geen, Disability Activist; Immy Kaur of CIVIC SQUARE; Joy Green, Systemic Futurist; Dr Kim Foale of Geeks For Social Change and our own Chief Executive Louise Crow.


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  8. #Democracy2043 at the Festival of Debate

    What if you could reshape democracy for the better – and you had twenty years to do so?

    That’s the question our panel will be tackling at our #Democracy2043 event, part of the Festival of Debate – and we’ll be asking for your thoughts and ideas, too. Join us in person in Sheffield, or online on May 24. Either way, you can book your free tickets now.

    We’ve assembled a panel of really insightful speakers, each of whom will bring a new angle to the question of what we want a better, fairer, more vibrant democracy to look like, and what we need to put in place to get there by 2043.

    • Dr Kim Foale, Founder & Studio Lead, Geeks For Social Change
    • Emma Geen, Interim Manager, Bristol Disability Equality Forum
    • Joy Green, Systemic Futurist
    • Immy Kaur, Co-founder and Director, CIVIC SQUARE
    • and mySociety’s own Chief Executive Louise Crow

    Why are we looking forward twenty years? Well, this is mySociety’s 20th anniversary, and we’re using the opportunity not just to look back on what we’ve done, but to understand what part we must play in the future. The world looks very different now than it did at our beginnings in 2003, and undoubtedly there are seismic societal changes to come.

    This event is one part of our ‘futures’ process, helping us to ensure that the services we provide are still relevant and that we can work together to help shape the kind of democracy in which everyone can thrive. We hope you’ll join us and help tackle these complex, but compelling questions.

  9. Innovations in Climate Tech: finding partnerships

    Yesterday was the second Innovations in Climate Tech event. People from councils and organisations came along and discussed all kinds of projects and ideas.

    The key question? What they might do with a small injection of money designed to kickstart digitally based, local climate related projects.

    If you’re ready to go ahead with your application, start here. Otherwise, read on.

    Projects beginning to form

    You can see all the ideas that were floated in our first meetup on our Padlet, but here are a few of the projects that emerged and appeared to be gaining the most momentum yesterday. 

    • A national knowledge sharing tool This project would seek to create a comprehensive list of what has been done digitally around Climate Adaptation, showcasing lessons learned, successes and failures. The instigators could also develop playbooks, open source tools and a knowledge sharing forum for councils and citizens. Notes here.
    • Community resilience to extreme weather events A plan to bring people together to embed community resilience, sharing information about flood risk, how to make your home more able to cope with the effect of climate change and extreme weather events. There was also a suggestion of broadening the existing community warden role to encompass community resilience issues. Notes here.
    • Adaptation gardens Showing people how they could garden in a different way to adapt to a changing climate: eg with drought resistant plants, water conservation methods, pollinator friendly plants and other eco-friendly methods. Notes here.
    • Digital toolkit for events Putting together a digital toolkit that people can use for climate-related community events, ensuring it’s accessible and reusable in lots of different situations. Notes here.

    Seen a project that you’d like to try too?

    Maybe you’re a council officer who thinks one of the ideas above would fit well within your constituency.

    Or maybe you’re a community group that could help shape the project and replicate it in your area.

    There may be an opportunity to join up with other folks working on the idea, and perhaps expanding their plans into more than one region. 

    Feel free to fill in our form and indicate that you are open to working with others on one of the existing ideas. 

    What you should know about the grants

    • You do not have to have attended either of the prior sessions to bid, but please do give consideration to what we are looking for: small, locally-based trials of projects that work with a local council at the intersection of democracy (broadly defined) and climate. A local authority must be involved in the project.
    • Need to find a partner council? Let us know and we’ll shout out on Twitter for you.
    • This is seed funding, designed to allow for testing, planning and trying new approaches; things that aren’t possible with restricted grants. So don’t worry about having a detailed plan — your application can be short and simple.
    • Applications close at 23:59 on Monday 31st October 2022. We aim to have made our decisions and awarded the grants by Monday 7th November 2022.
    • Funding will cover the period until March 31 2023  — though your project may continue onwards for as long as you like. We’ll hold a wrap-up event in spring showcasing the work to date.

    Apply now

    Ready to bid? Apply here.

  10. Climate monthnotes July 2022: Preparing for a Summer of events

    There’s lots, as ever, to report from the Climate team this month, so I’ll try to pick some highlights… this time with a Shakespearean flavour, as I (mySociety’s Liverpool correspondent) celebrate the opening of the Shakespeare North Playhouse in the nearby town of Prescot. May the bard’s lyrical visions propel us into a summer of climate action!

    All things are ready, if our mind be so

    In the previous monthnotes Jen trailered Innovations in Climate Tech – our online, half-day event, featuring inspirational examples and discussion about how civic tech projects are supporting climate action around the world, and how we might be able to seed more projects like this, with the cooperation of local authorities, here in the UK.

    This month Jen’s been lining up speakers for the event (which takes place on 21st September), and Siôn has been planning how we can use workshops in the second half of the event to share best practice and build more connections between technologists and local authority officials.

    If you’re from a local authority, or you’ve been involved in a climate-related technology project, and you’d like to share your work at the event, there’s still time to submit a proposal for inclusion in the programme.

    We’re also excited to find we’ve been accepted to speak at the upcoming Code for All 2022 Summit (also happening in September), so we’re looking forward to working our sessions there into our wider plan for building connections between the climate and civic tech communities.

    And finally, to complete the Summer events trifecta, we’ve been laying plans for an informal online get-together about energy efficiency and retrofit, since it’s proved such a popular subject during our prototyping weeks, and we’d really like to find the most impactful contribution we could make in the space, especially with fuel costs expected to continue rising well into 2023. If this interests you, share your availability for the week in which we’re planning to meet and join our climate updates newsletter to hear how things develop.

    Once more unto the breech dear friends

    All good things must come to an end – and our series of six rapid prototyping weeks has certainly been a good thing! This month we’ve been preparing for the final week in the series, focussing on how improved collection and sharing of MP, constituency, and local climate action data, between environmental charities and organisations, could enhance public understanding of climate challenges and solutions, and build networks across local communities.

    We’re really excited to be working on this with a number of really big names in the space—including The Climate Coalition, Green Alliance, Friends of the Earth, the Wildlife Trusts, Hope for the Future, WWF, and Climate Outreach—and we’re really excited to see what recommendations come out of the week.

    We’re also putting the final touches to our write-ups of the last two prototyping weeks (on fair transition and energy efficiency for private rental tenants) and will be posting them on our Climate Prototyping page shortly.

    Friends, romans, countrymen, lend us your ears!

    Siôn has been sharing our procurement and energy efficiency prototypes with a whole range of organisations, getting their input on next steps we should take, and potential collaboration opportunities. So far we’re excited to have met with the Centre for Local Economic Strategies, UK Green Building Council, Architects Climate Action Network, Living Rent, Energy Local, Connected Places Catapult and Citizens UK.

    Meanwhile, Myf has been renewing our efforts to promote CAPE to journalists, as one of the core audiences where we think up-to-date, accessible data on local authority climate action could really enable a new level of scrutiny and cross-pollination of climate actions around the UK. We’re looking to potentially speak at a few journalism conferences in the coming months, and we’re planning to prepare a set of online resources that might give journalists an idea of how they can use our data to find stories.

    We also presented CAPE and the Scorecards at Friends of the Earth’s Environmental Data for Change event—which I was honoured to be asked to facilitate on FoE’s behalf—right at the end of June. It was an absolutely packed call, which left everyone buzzing with ideas for the future. We’re continuing to work with Friends of the Earth, and other attendees from the event, on how we take the this great momentum, and shape a community of practice around sharing and building on the rich environmental data available in the UK, to power more informed climate action.

     

    Photo by Red Zeppelin on Unsplash.