1. 100 parliaments as open data, ready for you to use

    If you need data on the people who make up your parliament, another country’s parliament, or indeed all parliaments, you may be in luck.

    Every Politician, the latest Poplus project, aims to collect, store and share information about every parliament in the world, past and present—and it already contains 100 of them.

    What’s more, it’s all provided as Open Data to anyone who would like to use it to power a civic tech project. We’re thinking parliamentary monitoring organisations, journalists, groups who run access-to-democracy sites like our own WriteToThem, and especially researchers who want to do analysis across multiple countries.

    But isn’t that data already available?

    Yes and no. There’s no doubt that you can find details of most parliaments online, either on official government websites, on Wikipedia, or on a variety of other places online.

    But, as you might expect from data that’s coming from hundreds of different sources, it’s in a multitude of different formats. That makes it very hard to work with in any kind of consistent fashion.

    Every Politician standardises all of its data into the Popolo standard and then provides it in two simple downloadable formats:

    • csv, which contains basic data that’s easy to work with on spreadsheets
    • JSON which contains richer data on each person, and is ideal for developers

    This standardisation means that it should now be a lot easier to work on projects across multiple countries, or to compare one country’s data with another. It also means that data works well with other Poplus Components.

    What can I do with it?

    Need a specific example? Yesterday, we introduced Gender Balance, the game that gathers data about women in politics.

    As you’ll know if you’ve already given it a try, Gender Balance works by displaying politicians that make up one of the world’s legislatures, one by one.

    That data all comes from Every Politician, and it’s meant that the developers have been able to concentrate on making a smooth and functional interface, knowing that the data side of things has already been taken care of.

    That’s just one way to use Every Politician data, though. If you’d like to use it in your own site or app, you can find out more here.

    We still need more data

    As you may have noticed, there are more than 100 parliaments in the world. In fact, despite having reached what feels like a fairly substantial milestone, we’re still barely half way to getting some data for every parliament.

    So we could use your help in finding data for the parliaments we don’t yet cover, and historic information for the ones we do. Read more about how you can help out.

  2. Hello, I’m mySociety’s new CEO

    Back in March, mySociety’s founder Tom Steinberg, announced that he would step down.

    Today, I’m pleased to announce that later this month I will be taking over the reins as Tom’s successor. I’m Mark Cridge, and I guess I should start by introducing myself.

    I’ve had a diverse 20-year career doing digital things. Most recently I was chief operating officer with the lovely folks at BERG, a London-based technology and design consultancy many of you might know. For the past year I was a senior advisor at Blue State Digital in London, the team responsible for the digital strategy used in President Obama’s electoral campaigns.

    I began my career back in 1996 in a small web design agency in Birmingham, before setting up glue London, a digital advertising agency, going on to become global managing director of Isobar, following glue’s acquisition in 2005. I originally studied Architecture before realising that wasn’t quite my cup of tea, and that the internet held more immediate attractions.

    I’m genuinely excited to take what I’ve learned over my time to date, and to apply it to help build on Tom’s achievements as mySociety’s founder — by creating even more digital tools that make a difference to the lives of citizens in Britain and around the world.

    What I’ll be focusing on

    mySociety’s mission is unchanged: we exist to invent and popularise new digital tools that enable citizens to exert power over institutions and decision makers.

    As CEO I plan to focus on mySociety’s users, partners and volunteers both in the UK and in dozens of countries internationally, where we now conduct the great majority of our work.

    My initial priorities will be to ensure that mySociety’s existing sites keep pushing the boundaries of what is possible in the world of civic technologies, whilst also thinking through where we can move into new and exciting areas.

    I want to make a new push to ensure that charities, activists and journalists around the world are able to run successful, high profile sites of their own, powered by mySociety’s open source technologies.

    We will also be building up our research team over the next few years, to ensure that we are providing tools and services that have genuine impact, which we ourselves are able to measure.

    All of which will build towards a reaffirmation of mySociety’s place as a key player within the global civic technology movement.

    Making this all possible

    Of course, all of this is possible only thanks to the generous support of our many funders — and needless to say we are always looking for more, if you think you can help then please do let me know. In particular, I will be spending a good deal of time delivering the three-year vision we developed with our friends at the Omidyar Network, with whom we announced a major $3.6m funding partnership earlier this year.

    That said, one of mySociety’s great assets is that we are not entirely reliant on donor funding, so I will also retain our strong focus on helping our commercial clients — from UK local councils and charities to global technology giants — to serve their own users better, by working with mySociety Commercial Services.

    All in all, I am indebted to Tom for leaving mySociety with sound finances and a world-class team of developers, both of which will be invaluable in helping me to take the organisation to the next level over its second decade.

    I am also grateful to Tom and mySociety’s trustees for putting their trust in me. I’ve been an admirer of mySociety, and a user of its sites, for many years. It is a great privilege to be appointed as CEO.

    I will be spending the next few months with the team as we plot and plan the next phase of our development which you can read more about here on this blog in the coming months. So if any of this sounds interesting to you then please get in touch.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    Mark

    And Tom says…

    A big welcome to Mark!

    I am excited that someone with so much digital experience has come along to guide mySociety in our second decade. We’ve always been an unusual social enterprise in that while we have a social mission, we also operate a first class software development and design team in-house. With Mark on board we will retain and grow that digital credibility, whilst focusing ever more deeply on the needs of our international partners, our UK clients, and growing our research capacity so that we know what is (and isn’t) working.

    I am looking forward to spending the next month brain-dumping to Mark, before I slip quietly out the door in early August.

    It’s an exciting time for mySociety, and I hope everyone will join me in celebrating Mark’s arrival!

  3. Heads up, nonprofits: Google Ad Grants is allowing multiple domains again

    This is a public service announcement for any organisations that have been making use of Google Ad Grants to run Adwords for free.

    We’re the grateful recipient of a Google Ad Grant ourselves, which is why you might see our ads appearing on some Google searches. We find that Google Ads are a great channel to bring our sites to the attention of people who might not already know about them, but who are searching for phrases like “Who is my MP?”, “How did my MP vote?”, or “How can I report a pothole?”. Every year they bring us thousands of new visitors.

    The single-domain rule

    A couple of years ago, the rules around Google Ad Grants changed, stipulating that recipients must only link to a single domain, and that that should be the domain of the grantee organisation. For us, with our multiple sites, that meant making some changes. Our ads currently point at a series of landing pages here on the mySociety.org site, each of which acts as a springboard to one of our other domains.

    This is permitted behaviour and in many cases it resulted in a pretty good user experience, allowing us to focus on exactly what the user was searching for, and deliver them there.

    For example, if someone searches for ‘report a pothole’ and clicks on our ad, they’ll land on this page.

    Inputting their postcode takes them directly to the second page of FixMyStreet, with no extra clicks than if they had gone through the homepage, plus there’s the opportunity for us to talk a bit about what the site does and why it exists at all.

    Linking to additional domains

    However, we recently discovered that Google Ad Grants’ rules have been relaxed a little (at least, they have here in the UK. As terms and conditions vary from territory to territory, you should check your own region’s Google Ad Grants terms and conditions). Here’s what they look like in the UK:

    In certain cases, you may be able to promote multiple domains in a Google Ad Grants account after your original Grants application has been approved.

    To request adding new domains to your account, fill out the Additional Website Domain Request form. Your request should be reviewed within 5 business days.

    Reasons you can request an exception

    You can request an exception to the website policy if you have other websites that:

    • Promote ongoing projects with similar content owned by your organization
    • Contain the same information as your main domain but for a different language
    • Replace your original website because you’ve changed your domain since applying for Ad Grants

    We applied and within just a couple of hours, we were authorised to link directly to our own websites.

    This is brilliant for us because it means we can really maximise the value we get from the grant. We can now point searchers directly to deep content such as MPs’ voting records on TheyWorkForYou, and specific public authorities on WhatDoTheyKnow. We’ll probably also keep our landing pages, at least for the time being, because we think they are a good user path for the relevant search terms.

    So, if this is a ruling that was causing you headaches, it is worth revisiting the terms and conditions and seeing whether you are now eligible to do the same. Let us know how you get on!

     

    Image: Martin Deutsch (cc)

  4. Google’s election search – now powered by YourNextMP

    Have you ever typed a phrase like ‘what’s the time in New York’ or ‘what is 28 km in miles’ into Google? If you’ve done so in the last couple of years, you’ll have seen answers given on the results page itself, inside dedicated answer boxes.

    YourNextMP results on GoogleFor the next couple of weeks, Google users in Britain who search for key election data will see the answers presented in-page in this increasingly familiar way.

    We’re delighted to share the news that these answers are being supplied as open standard data from Democracy Club’s brilliant, volunteer-powered YourNextMP project, as well as our own long running TheyWorkForYou. The aim is to make information easily accessible to anyone who seeks it: we are one of a few data sources to be supplying Google.

    YNMP data on GoogleWe’re particularly excited about this because YourNextMP is powered by PopIt, a Poplus Component which is used to create nice clean open standards Popolo data on politicians.

    We think that adoption of open standards data by companies as big as Google points towards a promising world in which there is a lot more good quality, open standard data on political issues of all kinds.

    Try it for yourself: search for uk election candidates or a question like who can I vote for?

     

    How was this made possible?

    We’re so delighted to see essential civic data being brought to the search engine’s vast numbers of users. It’s all down to the power of open standards and re-usable open source software.

    YourNextMP provides feeds via an API, which are available for anyone—large organisations like Google, or individual people like you, perhaps—to use in their own projects.

    YourNextMP’s use of the Popolo open standard for government means that the data is clean, machine-readable and easy to slot in anywhere—including Google.

    Three cheers

    We think a few shout-outs are due. This simple but far-reaching usage of YourNextMP data is only possible because of many good people bringing good things together:

    • Democracy Club, and the huge amount of work that this volunteer-run organisation put in to gather and check candidate data
    • The many volunteers who gave their time in adding and refining that data
    • Popolo, driven by the work of James McKinney
    • Poplus, because YourNextMP is based on the people-and-positions storing Component, PopIt
    • Google.org, whose funding allowed the creation of Poplus in the first place.

    What YourNextMP has achieved

    Just as was hoped, YourNextMP data has been used to underpin a variety of projects by many individuals and organisations.

    Google may be the latest and the biggest, but we’re no less pleased to see how it has made possible numerous tools to educate or inform the public before the election, as well as powering stories and infographics in several national newspapers. See our previous post for more details on this.

    And there’s more. YourNextMP, because it’s built on Open Source code, won’t be going into hibernation until the next election in this country.

    The UK voting may be over on May 8, but there are elections all over the world still to come. Our friends in Latin America will be taking the code and adapting it for use in Argentina whose election process starts in August. ¡Viva YourNextMP!

     

     

  5. Calling all teachers: downloadable lesson plans

    If you’re a teacher, looking to spend the Easter holidays planning lessons, our latest news could save you a little time.

    mySociety has collaborated with the Citizenship Foundation on the creation of materials for use in schools.

    These activities, written and tested in consultation with teachers, introduce students to concepts of democracy, citizenship and community. A number of the materials also show students how they can use mySociety websites such as WriteToThem, WhatDoTheyKnow or FixMyStreet to bring about change.

    We hope that you will find these activities useful. They span years 1 to 13, will fit into a variety of curricula from Politics to Geography, and are completely free to download and use. Access them here – and please do pass the word on to your teacher colleagues.

    Image: Rachel (CC)

  6. mySociety CEO Job Advert now Live

    As I announced recently, I’m going to be stepping down from mySociety and handing over to a new CEO. This diminutive blog post is simply to point out that the job advert is now online, and ready to accept applicants.

    I’ve had a lot of fun doing this job, and whilst it can be demanding you’ll never get to work with a better tech team and still get to focus on things that matter. Please tell your nicest and most thoughtful friends to apply.

  7. A future for HassleMe

    Image by Heartlover1717HassleMe, mySociety’s nifty little reminders site, will continue to send ‘semi-unpredictable’ emails to subscribers – but under new ownership.

    Not gone yet

    Some canny commenters noticed that we’d tagged HassleMe in our post about closing down some of our sites, but then hadn’t actually included it in the list of projects that were due for closure.

    That came about because, although we’d initially added HassleMe to the list of sites headed for the dumpster, there was also some internal debate about saving it.

    A small cohort of mySociety staff members were so fond of the site that they wondered whether they might take on its running and maintenance in their own time.

    The good news is that the answer is ‘yes’, and thus HassleMe’s new owners are Hakim, Ian, Paul, and Zarino.

    If you have an active Hassle, you’ll have received an email to inform you of this change in ownership (and offer an opt-out, if you’d prefer).

    A bit of HassleMe history

    HassleMe began as a small piece of script, intended purely for internal mySociety use.

    Back in mySociety’s early years, there were only a few members of staff, almost all coders. They knew it was important to keep communicating with the public about what they were doing, but blogging often fell by the wayside in favour of other tasks.

    HassleMe was a coders’ solution: a programme that would periodically send an email to a random member of staff and tell them that it was their turn to blog.

    Crucially, the reminders were not equally spaced: they would come *about*, but not *exactly* as frequently as you’d set them to. This element of surprise seemed to make the reminders more effective.

    Clean the toilet, walk the dog, write a poem

    In time, HassleMe was turned into a public service, and people used it for all kinds of things.

    Perhaps it was the hassles set to the longest frequencies that were the most interesting. Hassles could be set to recur at frequencies up to ten years, and so people soon realised that they could send messages to a future self. Some of them were prescient:

    Are there men on Mars already? What are the plans?

    Check back in another ten years with that one, we’re almost there.

    Of course, we’re fond of all our projects, past and present, but we’re glad to be able to tell you that HassleMe has a future, under new ownership. If you’d like to set up your own little reminders, or send a letter to your future self, you can do so here.

     

    Image: Heartlover1717 (CC)

  8. mySociety Services is expanding: seeking a Sales Consultant

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

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

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

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

    Image: Lauren Mitchell (CC)

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

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

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

    Your chance to guide Collideoscope’s development

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

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

    What Collideoscope already does

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

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

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

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

    And what we’re planning to do

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

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

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

    We thank you all in advance for your time!

    Image: Justin Swan (CC)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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