1. An invite to our Evening of Research

    eveningAs mentioned in a recent blog post, we’ve commissioned lots of research recently to find out what impact our sites have.

    So, we thought, why not have an event to talk about some of the projects we’ve been working on, and consider future research.

    Next Wednesday 19th November, we’ll be chatting about the following research projects in particular:

    Can online freedom of information tools like Alaveteli help citizens to exert power over under-performing institutions?

    Earlier this year mySociety instigated a research project to look at the place that Alaveteli and other FOI online technologies might have in creating cultures of transparency and accountability.

    We want to address this top level question: “In what circumstances, if any, can tools like Alaveteli be shown to have measurable impacts on the ability of citizens to exert power over underperforming institutions?”

    Researcher Dr. Savita Bailur will present the findings and methodologies of this project. Find out more about this research here.

    Examining the power of social information within website copy

    With Professor Peter John from University College London we undertook a research project to examine the power of social information within website copy. For example, do more people write to their politician if they are shown how many other people have done the same?

    Peter will talk about the methodologies behind this research and share some of its key findings. (more…)

  2. Bath Digital Festival: links and slides

     

    Ignite Night Bath by Gemma HumphrysThanks to everyone who came to see us, chat with us, or participate in the Bath Digital Festival – we had a great time.

    Here’s a handy list of the speakers and projects we played host to. Whether you were there or not, follow the links to find a wealth of inspiration and ideas.

    Ignite night

    This fast-moving event saw 12 speakers, each speaking for five minutes, with a deck of 20 slides. The slides advanced automatically every 15 seconds, but if you’d like to linger a bit longer on any of the presentations, you can access them at your leisure, below.

    (more…)

  3. Join us at our meet-up in Cambridge

    Cambridge, a beautiful cityNext Tuesday 4th November, a few of the mySociety gang will be enjoying the beautiful city of Cambridge.

    As well as meeting up in the day, we’ll also be hosting our monthly meet-up in the evening at the wonderful Makespace.

    Makespace is a community workshop in Cambridge for making and fixing things, meeting people, working on projects and sharing skills. Many thanks to them for hosting us!

    Our meet-ups are open to anyone who’s interested in hearing more about what we do, and learning about other innovative online projects that are taking place around the local area and beyond.

    At this meet-up, we’re really pleased to be joined by the following speakers:-

    Peter Murray-Rust: Peter is a pioneer in text mining through The Content Mine, a community of people and machines that aims to extract 100 million scientific facts from the scholarly literature, to make them available to the world for the benefit of everybody.

    He believes that content mining has huge potential to make knowledge available to everyone (including machines). This can enable new and exciting research, technology developments such as in Artificial Intelligence, and opportunities for Digital Democracy and wealth creation.

    Come along to hear more about the ContentMine project and their future plans.

    Hendrik Grothuis and Mike Soper: Hendrik and Mike will join us to speak about their latest research work with Cambridgeshire Insight.

    Cambridgeshire Insight is a shared knowledge base for the Cambridgeshire area. It allows users an efficient easy way to access and share data and discover research intelligence about their local area.

    It also acts as a valuable planning tool to support strategic planning for the growth and development of services in the county.

    Our very own Richard Taylor: Richard  is mySociety’s resident parliamentary researcher and his work includes analysing the voting records of all representatives on TheyWorkForYou.

    He will talk about his work with mySociety and his plans ahead of the upcoming general election.

    So, we hope you can join us for an evening of interesting talks, drinks, pizza and getting to know each other!

    When: Tuesday 4th November, 6pm – 9pm
    Where: Makespace, 16 Mill Lane, Cambridge, CB2 1RX
    How: Add your name to the Lanyrd page: http://lanyrd.com/ccbxwc, so we know you’re coming.
    Who: Anyone who fancies it.

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

    Photo by grytr (CC)

  4. Beat a path to Bath

    Bath Digital FestivalThe Bath Digital Festival has kicked off, and mySociety will be hosting, talking, and even judging at several of the events. Once we heard that the theme was to be ‘Digital for Good’, we were in: that phrase neatly encapsulates all that we aim to do, commercially and as a charity.

    We’re always happy to say hello, so come and grab us for a natter. Here’s a quick run-down of where you’ll find us.

    Ignite For:Good

    Tonight we’re hosting the fast-paced Ignite event, which will see 12 speakers racing against the clock to get their message across. Hope you’ve booked your tickets, though, as it’s now sold out.

    We suspect it’s going to be a raucous night with plenty to laugh about… but some real food for thought, too. Kick-off is at 6:15 – don’t be late!

    Bath Hacked

    The weekend of the 1st and 2nd of November will see a hackathon, based around open data and the city. There are some substantial prizes up for grabs, and mySociety’s Ben will be one of the judges.

    So, if you have the skills and some great ideas for how to improve Bath through the careful application of open data, see you there.

    Can digital tools help people become more powerful?

    Come and see Tom Steinberg discuss the impact that civic digital tools can have on ordinary people. This is part of the Inspirations night, when you’ll also be able to hear several others talking on topics as diverse as spyware, Kickstarter, and downloading a home.

    It’s on 4 November and tickets are still available.

     

     

  5. Do mySociety sites boost civic participation?

    Image by Phil Richards

    What impact do mySociety sites actually have? We could lose a lot of sleep over this important question – or we could do something concrete, like conducting academic research to nail the answers down for once and for all.

    As slumber enthusiasts, we went for the research option – and, to help us with this commitment we’ve recently taken on a new Head of Research, Rebecca Rumbul. Watch this space as she probes more deeply into whether our tools are making a difference, both in the UK and abroad.

    Even before Rebecca came on board, though, we had set a couple of research projects in motion. One of those was in partnership with the University of Manchester, funded by the ESRC, which sought to understand what impact our core UK sites (FixMyStreet, WriteToThem, TheyWorkForYou and WhatDoTheyKnow) have on their users, and specifically on their level of political engagement.

    Gateways to participation

    It’s perhaps worth mentioning that, while our sites appear, on the face of it, to be nothing more than a handy set of tools for the general citizen, they were built with another purpose in mind. Simply put, each site aims to show people how easy it is to participate in democracy, to contact the people who make decisions on our behalf, and to make changes at the local and national levels.

    Like any other online endeavour, we measure user numbers and transaction completions and time spent on site – all of that stuff. But one of the metrics we pay most attention to is whether users say they are contacting their council, their MP or a public body for the first time. Keeping track of this number ensures that we’re doing something to open democratic avenues up to people that haven’t used them before.

    Questioning impact

    But there are plenty more questions we can ask about the impact we’re having. The University of Manchester study looked into one of them, by attempting to track whether there was a measurable change in people’s political activity and engagement after they’ve used one of our sites. On Monday, researchers Rachel Gibson, Marta Cantijoch and Silvia Galandini presented their findings to an attentive audience at King’s College London.

    The project has taken a multi-pronged approach, asking our users to complete questionnaires, participate in online discussions, or keep a 12-week diary about political and community engagement (thanks very much to you, if you were one of the participants in this!). The result was a bunch of both qualitative and quantitative data which we’ll be able to come back to and slice multiple ways in the future – Gibson says that they haven’t as yet managed to analyse all of the free text diaries yet, for example.

    In itself this study was interesting, because not much research has previously been conducted into the impact of digital civic tools – and yet, as we know from our own international activities, people (not least ourselves) are launching sites all over the world based on the premise that they work.

    Some top-level conclusions

    The research will be published in full at a future date, and it’s too complex to cover all of it within the confines of a short blog post, but here are just a few of the takeaway findings:

      • A small but quantifiable uplift in ‘civic participation’ was noticed in the period after people had used our sites. This could include anything from working with others in the local community to make improvements, to volunteering for a charity.
      • No change was found in the level of political influence or understanding that people judged themselves to have. This was a surprise to the researchers, who had thought that users would feel more empowered and knowledgeable after contacting those in power, or checking up on their parliamentary activity.
      • As with our research back in 2011, the ‘average’ user of mySociety sites was found to be white, above middle-aged, and educated to at least degree level. Clearly this is a userbase which we desperately need to expand, and we’ll be looking carefully – with more research and some concentrated outreach efforts – at how we can do that.
      • Users tended to identify themselves as people who already had an interest in politics. Again, here is an area in which we can improve. Of course, we’re happy to serve such users, but we also want to be accessible to those who have less of a baseline interest.
      • Many users spoke of community action as bringing great satisfaction. In some cases, that was getting together in real life to make improvements, but others saw something as simple as reporting graffiti on FixMyStreet as an action that improved the local area for everyone.

    Thanks to the University of Manchester researchers for these insights and for presenting them so engagingly. We’ll update when the full research is available.

     Image: Phil Richards (CC)

  6. mySociety at MozFest14

    mozfest crowd

    MozFest14. If you know where to look, a mySociety human is in there. Somewhere.

    We were at the Mozilla Festival again this year. In practice, this meant we had a table at the Friday night Science Fair, ran a session in the Build and Teach the Web track about “Reusable Civic Tech”, and spent a lot of time meeting old friends and making lots of new ones (technically, we call that “networking”). This blog post is a shout-out to all the fabulous people we talked to, demonstrated with, learnt from, and perhaps even drank a cheeky beer with. It was excellent to meet you all.

    Because we’re based in the UK, we’re especially lucky that the Mozilla Foundation’s annual festival was once again held in London. It’s good for us because our friends from the London Mozilla Space are there, and also because this makes it easy for us to get to (unlike so many of the attendees, we didn’t need to travel all the way into the country first). In fact, the unique and lofty Ravensbourne venue is an excellent location for such an event — it’s easy to see what’s happening on the other floors, and it’s easy to wander up and down between them. There is a lot going on to see and do, and, just like last year, even the stairs are productive: we had some serendipitous encounters on our way between floors.

    Our primary activity at the festival was spreading the word about the Poplus federation and its reusable civic tech components. If you bumped into any of us, or if what we were demonstrating tickled your fancy, or if you are even now wearing one of the T-shirts we generously gave out: do please remember to get involved!

    Image credit: Mozilla in Europe CC BY-SA 2.0

  7. It would be great to meet you in Liverpool

    Liverpool largeFancy an evening of hearing and talking about civic technology, digital democracy and innovative online projects?

    If so, then you should definitely come along to our meet-up on 1st October in the wonderful city of Liverpool.

    We’ll be holding it at DoES Liverpool, so many thanks to them for hosting us!

    As a remote organisation with staff based all around the UK (and the world), we organise monthly meet-ups around the country to get together face to face, and to meet and hear from others who are also working on, and interested in, civic technology and cool online projects.

    So this time, it’s Liverpool’s turn.

    This month, we’ll be joined by the following awesome speakers:-

    Julian Todd: Julian, the co-founder of Publicwhip and ElectionLeaflets, will have only five days left of proper employment on the day of the meet-up. What did he learn from this two year experience in a large and successful American software company? Come along to find out.

    Paul Furley: Paul is the CTO of Sea Level Research, a startup based in Liverpool. This talk will introduce the centuries-old problem of predicting sea levels, why it now matters more than ever, and how Sea Level Research are trying to save the shipping industry millions of dollars.

    The guys from Fruitful: By removing the need for a traditional bank, Liverpool-based start-up, Fruitful, connects savers’ money with borrowers’ mortgages. Their peer-based marketplace aims to help savers earn more on their savings, while providing borrowers with the best possible mortgage deals.

    Luke and Tom from the Fruitful team will talk about how Fruitful came to be, and what they’ve learned about using technology to disrupt an established industry from the bottom up.

    Our very own Matthew Somerville: Matthew has been a key player in the development and maintenance of many of our websites including TheyWorkForYou, FixMyStreet, MapIt and WriteToThem, to name but a few.

    Matthew will talk about his latest work on SayIt, our project that allows you to present transcripts online so that they are browsable, linkable, searchable and shareable. Matthew has been working on face recognition to improve the appearance of speakers’ profiles.

    So, we hope you can join us for an evening of cracking talks, drinks, pizza and getting to know each other.

    Yes, that’s right, *free* pizza and beer will be available…what more could you want?

    When: Wednesday 1st October, 6pm – 9pm
    Where: DoES Liverpool, Gostins Building, Hanover Street, L1 4LN
    How: Add your name to the Lanyrd page: http://lanyrd.com/ccbxty, so we know you’re coming.
    Who: Anyone who fancies it.

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

    Photo by Neil Howard (CC)

     

  8. Three ways to join in with us at Bath Digital Festival

    Bath Digital Festival mySociety will be all over Bath Digital Festival (October 27 – November 5), and if you’re in the area, we’d love for you to join us.

    Here are three different ways to participate:

    1. Speak at our Ignite session

    Can you tell a short story about your adventures in Social Enterprise, or Doing Digital For Good?

    More than that – can you tell it within five minutes and while your accompanying slides progress automatically, every fifteen seconds?

    If that sounds like your idea of fun, we’d love to include you in the Ignite session that we will be hosting on Wednesday 29th October  at the Bath Brewhouse. Here’s where to sign up to speak.

    2. Come and watch other people speak at our Ignite session

    Ignite logoYou may be thinking, quite reasonably, that speaking at Ignite sounds a bit like that nightmare you had after polishing off too much cheese. The one where you were giving a presentation and your slides were progressing at an alarming rate.

    Equally, you may have no objection to watching other people have a go. In that case, we’d also love to see you there, and you can reserve your place here.

    3. See Tom Steinberg talking about Tech for Good

    tomFar more relaxing than an Ignite session, but every bit as interesting: come and hear Tom as he speaks on Tech-for-Good Without Going Bust (Much).

    Tom is mySociety’s founder and Director, and will be looking back at over a decade’s experience in not going bust (much), as we created and maintained projects such as FixMyStreet, WhatDoTheyKnow, WriteToThem and TheyWorkForYou.

    This event will be on November 3rd – watch out for full details on the Bath Digital Festival website.

  9. Join us for a special ‘Freedom of Information’ meet-up

    INFORMATIONOur next meet-up, on 3rd September, will focus on Freedom of Information (FOI). We really care about FOI at mySociety, which is why we created the FOI request filer WhatDoTheyKnow for UK citizens back in 2008, and Alaveteli thereafter for international use.

    So, we thought, why not host a meet-up to discuss FOI technologies, research and legislation in the UK and beyond?

     

    We’re delighted to be joined at this meet-up by the following guest speakers:-

    Maurice Frankel: Maurice is director of the UK Campaign for Freedom of Information. He has worked with them since it was set up in 1984, and has been its director since 1987.

    Maurice will talk about the possible government restrictions on the right of access to information in the UK; the problems caused by the Freedom of Information Act’s poor approach to public service contracts and the surprising limitations which the courts have imposed on the ministerial veto.

    Marietta Le: Marietta is from the Hungarian investigative journalism NGO Atlatszo.

    Atlatzso is a watchdog NGO and online news site for investigative journalism to promote transparency and freedom of information (FOI) in Hungary. They run various websites including KiMitTud, a freedom of information request generator for the general public, which runs using the Alaveteli platform.

    KiMitTud was launched in May 2012 and has helped people send nearly 3000 freedom of information requests so far. Atlatszo’s investigative journalists have been using it as a tool to dig up new stories and obtain important evidence in corruption cases. However, the success of Hungary’s Freedom of Information Act has led to the Hungarian government introducing a restrictive amendment to the law; a measure that is being challenged at the moment by a joint initiative of media outlets and transparency NGOs.

    Atlatzso also run the Tor-based anonymous whistleblowing platform Magyarleaks and a crowdsourced platform to anonymously report everyday corruption called Fizettem.

    Marietta will join us to speak about setting up an FOI site in Hungary using Alaveteli and the current threats to freedom of information in Hungary, following the recent restrictive amendment to the FOI law.

    Savita Bailur and Tom Longley: Earlier this year mySociety instigated a research project to look at the place that Alaveteli and other FOI online technologies might have in creating cultures of transparency and accountability.

    We want to address this top level question: “In what circumstances, if any, can tools like Alaveteli be shown to have measurable impacts on the ability of citizens to exert power over underperforming institutions?”

    To address this, researchers Savita and Tom have focused on three areas: a literature review to see what research is already out there, in-depth interviews with people who have installed FOI technologies in many different countries, and the compilation of a list of critical success factors. Read more about their research here.

    Savita and Tom are more than halfway through their research, and we’re delighted that they’ll present their preliminary findings at this meet-up.

    We’ll also discuss the latest developments on WhatDoTheyKnow, and Alaveteli developers (as well as other mySociety team members) will be around to answer any questions.

    There’ll be plenty of pizza and beer to go around too, so what could be better?

    Hope to see you there!

    When: Wednesday 3rd September, 6pm – 9pm
    Where: Mozilla Space London
    How: Add your name to the Lanyrd page, so we know you’re coming.
    Who: Anyone who fancies it.

    To see where we’ll be holding our next meet-ups over the coming months, check out our page on Lanyrd.

    Photo by Paul Keller (CC)

  10. See you in Birmingham?

    A Canal, an bridge in BirminghamWe’re pleased to say that some of the mySociety team will be in Birmingham on Wednesday 6th August for the latest mySociety meet-up.

    These meet-ups are for anyone who’s interested in what we do and in digital democracy and civic coding in general.

    Even if you’re not interested, coming along to hear our fabulous speakers might get you interested, and we like that.

    If you’d like to chat to our developers about using or contributing to the code that runs our websites, or you’d like to ask us about our current projects, then you’ll be coming to the right place – we’ll be happy to answer any questions.

    This month, we’re really pleased to be joined by the following speakers:

    Nick Booth: Nick is Managing Director of Podnosh, a former BBC political reporter and television and radio documentary maker.

    Podnosh was established in 2005, initially to make to make the Grassroots Channel podcast for the Birmingham Community Empowerment Network. Podnosh’s mission is to change the way the public and the public sector talk to each other and has grown from a brand which makes podcasts to a business which understands and helps people use social media for social good, and is developing tools to help organsiations capture their impact.

    Nick will speak about the Social Media Surgery movement he accidentally founded, which won a Big Society award in 2012.

    Peter Hicks: Peter is the creator of OpenTrainTimes.com and is an open rail data pioneer.

    Open Train Times displays real time arrival and departure information for each train company, helping passengers to plan their journeys. It also features track diagrams displaying the location of trains between signals.

    Peter will talk about his experiences using railway data feeds and the significance of National Rail Enquiries’ opening up of their real-time platform.

    Zarino Zappia: Our very own Zarino (one of our Designer superheroes) will talk about some of mySociety’s current design priorities, including a redesign of TheyWorkForYou.com.

    So come along to hear some fantastic speakers and to talk about civic tech in Birmingham and beyond. We hope to meet you there!

    When: Wednesday 6th August, 6pm – 9pm
    Where: The Wellington, Function Room on 1st Floor, 37 Bennett’s Hill, Birmingham, West Midlands B2 5SN
    How: Add your name to the Lanyrd page: http://lanyrd.com/czbtf, so we know you’re coming.
    Who: Anyone who fancies it.

    NB: Look out for Gemma (who’ll be wearing a mySociety t-shirt) who will show you up to the function room.  Watch our Twitter stream on @mySociety to check for last minute advice if we have moved venues for unforseen reasons.

    Photo by Neil Howard (CC)