1. Launching TICTeC2015: The Impacts of Civic Technology Conference

    digital london

    25th March 2015, 9.30am – 5.30pm
    2nd Floor, 8 Eastcheap, London, EC3M 1AE


    mySociety is delighted to announce the launch of TICTeC2015 – or to give it its proper name, The Impacts of Civic Technology Conference.

    This is the first in an annual series of conferences from mySociety, in which we’ll focus on the impact that civic technology and digital democracy are having upon citizens, decision makers and governments around the world.

    We’ll discuss themes of engagement, participation, institution, social behaviour, politics, community, digital capability, communication and ethics relating to the use and study of civic technology.

    TICTeC2015 will bring together individuals from academic and applied backgrounds as well as businesses, public authorities, NGOs and education institutions to discuss ideas, present research and build a network of individuals interested in the civic technology landscape.

    This one day conference provides the opportunity for researchers to present theoretical or empirical work related to the conference theme.

    We also welcome proposals for individuals to lead workshops or give presentations relating to the conference theme.

    Individuals from all backgrounds are welcome to attend the conference, to learn and find out more.

    Click here for more details on the event, how to register and how to submit a proposal.


    Photo by Simon Hadleigh-Sparks Licence (CC)

  2. Join us at our meet-up in Oxford (and do a lightning talk if you fancy it!)

    Oxford is for bikesHappy New Year to you all.

    Next Wednesday 7th January we’ll be hosting an evening of talks, drinks and lively discussion in the beautiful city of Oxford.

    As it’ll be exactly 4 months until the General Election, we thought we’d invite along speakers who are involved in projects which aim to help us better understand the election process and the outcomes.

    We’re also really keen to hear about civic projects that you are involved in to help citizens better understand the General Election, so please do apply to present a lightning talk if you’d like to spread the word. (more…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Hopefully see you there!

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

    Photo: thegloaming, (CC)

  4. Brighton here we come

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

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

    This month’s speakers are:-

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

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

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

    Find out more about Jason on his website.

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

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

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

    Read more about Eric on his website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Photo: Bev Goodwin (CC)

  5. Highlights from our Cambridge meet-up

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

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

    Peter Murry-Rust

    Speaking about The Content Mine

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

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

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

    Richard Taylor

    Speaking about TheyWorkForYou.com

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

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

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

    Mike Soper and Hendrik Grothuis

    Speaking about Cambridgeshire Insight

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

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

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

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


    Videos of full talks, including Q&A:

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

  6. 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…)

  7. 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.


  8. 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)

  9. 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.



  10. 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)