For a charity like mySociety the appointment of a new Chair and Trustees is an important opportunity to bring new leadership and energy to our boards and to the organisation as a whole.
Over the next three months we are looking to appoint a clutch of new board members for UK Citizens Online Democracy (our charity board) and for mySociety Ltd (our commercial board) as well as the uniquely important appointment of a new charity board Chair.
After 15 years of service, our Chairperson, James Cronin will be stepping down at the end of the year.
James was one of the original founding group of volunteers who established mySociety. He has been a Trustee and Chair of UK Citizens Online Democracy and a Non-Executive Director of mySociety Ltd for most of their existence. James has been critical to the success of mySociety over the years and continues to be a mentor for me and the team.
Before then another of our very long-standing Trustees, Owen Blacker, will be stepping down at our AGM in July. Owen was also one of the original cohort of mySociety volunteers and has similarly served for over 15 years. We’ll miss Owen’s technical expertise, passionate defence of privacy rights and support of LGBT rights, and our board will be diminished as a result.
Strengthening our boards
So with this changing of the guard we have the opportunity to appoint new leadership and advisors to our boards and we hope you might consider applying.
A strong and diverse board is essential to ensure that our organisation is well-run, solvent, operating within the law, and making the right strategic decisions.
Three years ago we went through a similar exercise, appointing new Trustees Rachel Rank, Tony Burton and Nanjira Sambuli. We also established our commercial board with Jonathan Flowers, Tim Hunt and Anno Mitchell all being appointed. We also very recently appointed Mandy Merron as a new Trustee following a number of months in which she acted as an independent advisor to our Finance Committee.
So over the past few years we’ve already brought in new voices and opinions, improved our gender balance, and moved to fixed term appointments with a maximum of two consecutive three year terms and we’re keen to continue this progress through the next phase of our development.
Applications and appointments
For our charity board we are looking for new Trustees who can bring additional legal and policy experience. Specifically we need help in understanding the impact of any legal challenges we might face, especially in relation to data protection and Freedom of Information. We also need advice on how best to shape and influence public policy and consultations, especially where they relate to Democratic Participation, Place and Communities or International Development.
Trustees should have experience of working with the charitable or not for profit sector and must have a passion for our goals and experience of pursuing them.
For our commercial board we would like to appoint new Non-Executive Directors with SaaS development experience and service provision to government and the public sector. We would especially welcome experience in developing and scaling software as a service products, and working on, or commissioning, service provision within Local and Central Government; especially in relation to Democratic Participation, or Place and Communities.
It would be beneficial for Directors to have experience of working with the charitable or not for profit sector, but this is not essential. They of course must have a passion for our goals and experience of pursuing them.
We’re keen to continue to diversify the make-up of our boards and are particularly keen to see applications from women and underrepresented groups.
A unique new Chair
Appointing a new Chair is an exceptional opportunity to join a pretty amazing and committed, impactful charity. You’ll work with your fellow Trustees and the senior management of mySociety to help shape and direct our growth and development over the next few years.
We want to recruit a Chair who represents the best of what mySociety has to offer, who can help extend our ambition, hold us to account and champion our cause. They will need to be comfortable representing UKCOD and mySociety publicly and be prepared to speak on our behalf from time to time.
They will help us continue to diversify our board and team across a range of occupational and personal backgrounds, ensuring we deliver on our support of equal opportunities in ways that reflect the range of our users and work programmes.
They will be able to use their experience and connections to contribute towards helping more people to be active citizens and improving access to and participation in democratic processes around the world.
The closing date for all applications is 10.00am, Monday 13th May.
If our mission motivates you in the way it motivates our staff and volunteers, we would love to hear from you and you can find full details for how to apply here.
Image: Xiang Hu
Our recent TICTeC event in Paris was hosted by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, OECD.
Reflecting on Civic Tech and the role of the OECD, their Director of Public Affairs and Communications Anthony Gooch contributes this post.
Acronyms tend to hold a certain degree of mystery, and yet we use them all the time in policy making. On 19 March, I welcomed a new acronym to the OECD: TICTeC, aka “The Impacts of Civic Technology Conference”. It was my first TICTeC, but the fifth annual edition, bringing together more than 200 participants from civil society, academia, business and government from around the world – all of them working hard to find solutions that marry technological capacity with civic engagement and participatory practices.
Our intention in hosting TICTeC was two-fold: to demystify each other’s acronyms and to draw on both of our convening powers to explore new opportunities for collective action.
As an international organisation, the OECD is a partner for civil society and the people behind movements and organisations. We know that policy is not made in a vacuum and its impacts are not limited to one part of society alone. To ensure that we deliver on our mission of “Better Policies for Better Lives”, we must help governments to respond to the needs of their citizens. This also involves evolving our thinking about the route to collective intelligence and where technology plays a role. Our vocation goes beyond the provision of cold, dry facts – we are in the business of improving people’s lives.
In the past decade, Civic Tech has shifted from a fringe movement of hackers and coders to a more mainstream term – importantly, used by policy makers and shapers. Three years ago, the OECD didn’t really use the term “Civic Tech”. Organisations such as ours are not known for our speed and reactivity, but it is now part of our vocabulary.
In 2016 I read an article by Catherine Vincent in Le Monde: Civic Tech: Is it going to save politics?. It said: “By connecting a wide number of citizens, Civic Tech allows them to access information, creates a space for dialogue and sharing opinions, essentially harnessing collective intelligence ensuring better citizen participation in democracy”. Could these elements help the OECD to maintain its relevance and credibility in a rapidly changing societal context?
We’ve seen the values of Civic Tech – transparency, accountability, participation, citizen engagement – as a compass for helping us navigate and improve our engagement with people. It has also taught us lessons about how to achieve greater impact. Even more importantly, it exposed us to a community of people behind the technological solutions, who are challenging their own assumptions and working on concrete projects.
What have we learned from them?
- The real potential of these technologies has yet to be realised;
- Offline engagement strategies – meeting people where they are – are equally, if not more important for the adoption and the quality of impact of Civic Tech;
- Open source – decentralised, collaborative peer production of software – is vital for shared tools, but the digital divide isn’t simply erased by Civic Tech;
- We need to be constantly evaluating our assumptions.
We’ve continued to witness manifestations of Civic Tech in government practice over the years. Our colleagues at the OECD have examined the role of GovTech, participatory budgeting, open government data and local level efforts in our reports and we’re sharing this experience further and further. The TICTeC community provides a different and complementary vantage point and a host of potential avenues for collaboration.
At TICTeC 2019, we shared a number OECD of initiatives that focused on:
- Quantifying intra-urban inequalities in subjective well-being;
- More inclusive public services design and delivery;
- Citizen engagement around people’s quality of life via the OECD Better Life Index and where to go next.
OECD was not just there to present, but to harness the collective intelligence of the Civic Tech community. What struck me during TICTeC was the focus on seeking to measure the real impact of Civic Tech and understanding its limitations. We tend to attach much hope to technologies that strive to help us navigate misinformation, political processes and systems, and public services. After more than decade, Civic Tech as a field is maturing and facing the challenges of greater public expectations and its own sustainability.
The OECD is committed to serving people from all parts of the globe, and we strive to bring the wealth of experience, views and ideas to bear on policy making. This is something that crystalises at our annual OECD Forum, including more voices to help us address the world’s pressing challenges in an open, dynamic and creative space. Since 2017 and continuing with the 20th edition on 20-21 May “World in EMotion”, it is an opportunity to get Civic Tech organisations and actors into the OECD bloodstream – channeling and transmitting this interest and enthusiasm to our colleagues and stakeholders.
For the third year, we will be hosting the Civic Innovation Hub, showcasing Civic Tech and social innovations that strive for better outcomes. Presenters will discuss how their projects are having an impact on what matters in people’s daily lives – from education to environment, community to jobs – and touching on opportunities and challenges for making positive change. We will also shed light on the tensions happening in on- and off-line spaces in terms of inclusiveness, accountability and efficiency.
Whether we use technology because we want to revitalise the relationship citizens have with their cities, their communities or their representatives and governments, we understand it is the vehicle, but not the destination. We must continue to share our visions, our successes and our failures, and seek opportunities to collaborate. We are excited to continue working together to achieve greater impact.
Anthony Gooch, OECD
We’re starting the new year in the best way possible — with a new project that we’re really excited to get our teeth into.
Just before we all went off for the Christmas holidays, we learned that mySociety had won the contract to work on the Discovery and Alpha phases of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG)’s Central Register of Planning Permissions. To put it simply, this is the first couple of steps towards an eventual plan to aggregate and share, as Open Data, information on residential planning applications from councils across England.
Those who have followed mySociety for some time may remember that we have some experience in this area: we’ve previously worked around planning permissions with authorities in Barnet and Hampshire. More widely, many of our projects involve taking data from a range of different sources, tidying it up and putting it out into the world as consistent, structured Open Data that anyone can use. The most ambitious of these is EveryPolitician; the most recent is Keep It In The Community, and in both cases we suspect the issues — data in a variety of different formats and of widely differing qualities, being stored in many different places — will be broadly the same when it comes to planning permissions.
But we don’t know exactly that for sure, and neither does MHCLG, which is why they’re very sensibly getting us to kick off with this period of research, testing and trying out proofs of concept. With work that will involve our developers, design team, consultation with experts in the field and collaboration with MHCLG, we’re right in our happy place.
Best of all, the project ticks a lot of mySociety boxes. The eventual Open Data set that should come out of all this will:
- Help central government utilise digital to best effect: once this dataset exists, they’ll be able to develop tools that support the planning system and housing markets
- Aid local authorities in keeping consistent and useful data on their own planning applications, allowing them to analyse trends and plan wisely for the future
- Benefit the building industry as well as local residents as they have access to information on which applications have previously succeeded or failed in their own areas
- Be open to developers, who — as history tends to show — may use it create useful third party tools beyond the imagination of government itself.
This project is one of a number of pieces of work we’ll be doing with central and local government this year. With all of these, we’re committing to working in the open, so expect plenty of updates along the way.
mySociety has been a leading light in the Civic Tech movement since 2003, helping to shape and define the sector and building services used by over ten million people each year in over 40 countries worldwide.
During this time Civic Tech has grown and matured; delivering plenty of impact, but also hitting numerous stumbling blocks along the way. In mySociety’s fifteenth year we’re taking stock of the best way to achieve our long term goals and ambitions.
So today at the Code for All summit, Heroes of Tech in Bucharest, we announced our intention to become an affiliate member of the Code for All network.
mySociety and Code for All both recognise the power of working in partnership, of being honest and self-critical about the effects of our work, of working openly and transparently and seeking the best outcomes for citizens in their dealings with governments and the public sector.
Code for All is probably best known for Code for America, which set out the blueprint for a civic tech group working closely with government. Now that Code for All is growing beyond these early roots to become more than a collection of individual ‘Code For’ organisations it is broadening its own perspective to include more groups outside of government, we feel that this is a good time for mySociety to deepen our collaboration within this growing movement.
Every success we’ve had has come from working well with our partners. Each of our services internationally is run by a local partner with mySociety providing development help and support and the benefit of our service development and research experience.
In recent months through our Democratic Commons project we’ve worked with numerous Code for All partners, including CodeForPakistan, OpenUp, CodeForJapan, ePanstwo, G0v and others. Those of you who have attended our TICTeC conferences will know that they attract many members of the Code for All network as participants each year.
What mySociety can bring to the network is a unique international aspect, a commitment to collaborate and combine our efforts on cooperative democratic projects, a willingness to more widely share our research and evidence building experience and a desire to improve the positive impact of our work.
We would benefit from more of our work being seen as truly collaborative, and are no strangers to the challenges of seeking grant and project funding and the importance of working together to achieve this.
With all the challenges facing democracy — governments struggling under austerity; fake news and dark money distorting the truth; a slow burn environmental catastrophe playing out around us; hard won rights and the norms of a fair and just society under threat — now more than ever feels like an important time to be working more closely together.
So we’re excited by the opportunities that this timely partnership will deliver and keen to see where this takes us.
March 3 is Open Data Day, and groups all around the world will be using Open Data in their communities, to show its benefits and to encourage the sharing of more data from government, business and civil society.
Obviously, that depends on their having some good-quality data to work with — and we’d like to help make that happen. Or, more accurately, help you to help make that happen.
Just as with Global Legislative Open Week last October, we’ll support groups who would like to run a workshop, getting together with other like-minded people to improve the open political data available for your country in Wikidata.
Funding and support available
Thanks to the Wikimedia Foundation, we’re able to offer some support to individuals/groups who are interested in running Wikidata workshops during February. If you’d like to hold an event like this, it’s pretty simple: all you need is a space, and someone with some existing Wikidata skills who can show others how to add or improve data. Then you just have to pick a date, and put out the word for people to join you.
We can help with a few things, so let us know once you’ve decided to take part, and we’ll chat with you about what might be useful. Here’s what we can offer:
- A small amount of funding to help cover event costs
- In-person support during your event – we may be able to send one of our EveryPolitician/Wikidata team to your event to present, participate and advise
- A review of your country’s existing political information in Wikidata and some pointers about possible next steps
- Ideas for how you and your attendees can:
a) Use the data for interesting research and projects, and
b) Improve the data for future research queries/projects
Workshops can take place at any time until the end of February.
So, if you’d like to be part of this push to improve and use political information in Wikidata in order to contribute to the Democratic Commons, we’d be thrilled to hear from you. Please do get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
The words ‘annual report’ might bring to mind a dull brochure dotted with graphs, pie charts and photos of directors in suits.
That’s not quite how we do things at mySociety though. Our annual report takes just five minutes to read, with plenty of nice pictures and not a suit in sight.
Got a moment? Take a look now.
Yesterday Matt explained what we hope to achieve with the Democratic Commons, our drive for shared, high-quality political Open Data.
If you read that and thought, ‘Blimey, that sounds like a lot of work’ — well, we thought so too. Hence, three new job openings.
As so often at mySociety, the skills we’re looking for aren’t exactly mainstream: on the other hand, if you do have a particular interest in the field, the chances are you’ll be a very good match.
So if you’re a bit of a geek about political boundary data…
Or if you have big ideas about how to build and maintain a large-scale distributed architecture for sourcing and updating basic political information…
Or if writing queries to extract data from Wikidata sounds like something you might do just for kicks … well, then the chances are that you’d fit in very well.
Find out more about all the vacancies here and please do pass them along to anyone who might fit the bill.
And because we know that it can be hard to make a big decision, especially before you know exactly what a workplace is like, we’ve done two things: we’ve expanded our Careers page to include more of a description of our so-called ‘company culture’, and we’ve opened up a blog post where you can ask us anything about working here.
In June this year, a Lords Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement was appointed. Submissions of written evidence were invited, and of course, this being very much our area, we felt the need to contribute.
Our written evidence is a fairly quick read. Nonetheless we hope that it gets the essential points across, drawing on our experience in what works and what doesn’t in technology for civic engagement.
You can view all the submissions the inquiry received on the Parliament website. The committee will report their findings by the end of March next year.
In my last post I introduced the concept of the Democratic Commons:
“A concept of shared code, data and resources where anyone can contribute, and anyone can benefit — we can help build and strengthen core infrastructure, tools and data that allow other democracy organisations and campaigners to hold their own governments to account.”
Over the next few weeks we’re going to elaborate more on what we mean by this, what we’re doing to help contribute and make more connections to help others contribute.
I’ve asked our own Matt Jukes to take on a new role as Head of Product with a remit to better articulate our vision both internally and externally about why we do what we do and why it’s important. As you might know Jukesie’s not afraid of sharing what he’s up to and he’s already been giving some insights into how we’ve been developing our Better Cities practice.
He’ll be taking this a stage further by talking about the ‘Democratic Commons’, why it is important and mySociety’s role in making it a reality. Except to hear a LOT more from Jukesie on this and our other product stories over the coming months.
We’re able to dedicate more time to this because we’ve also just hired our new Sales Director, David Eaton, who joins us from a ten year stint supporting Local Government at Public-I.
David is a really important hire for us in our Better Cities team at a perfect time. He’ll be leading the charge as we roll out FixMyStreet Pro to more councils around the UK – if you haven’t already you can try out a live demo of the service.
He’ll be joining in early October and if you’d like to find out more about FMS Pro before then please do get in touch.
Finally as we’re on a bit of a team update we made one really important promotion over the summer that we haven’t yet shouted about enough.
We’ve promoted Louise Crow to the role of Head of Development and she’s been busy with refining the day to day management of our development team and she’ll be ensuring we’ve got good plans in place for each person’s career development.
Louise has been an essential member of mySociety since joining back in 2009 and has been an invaluable support and mentor for me personally since I joined a couple of years ago.
Just as importantly Louise is also looking to ensure we’re properly connected into wider external developer networks and connecting to other friendly civic organisations who share our mission or might benefit from some support.
So congrats to Louise and Jukesie and looking forward to getting David in post in a few weeks.
You may know Dr Ben Goldacre from his ‘Bad Science’ and ‘Bad Pharma’ campaigns, which fight misinformation around medicine. Ben has just launched his latest project, the AllTrials Transparency Index — and mySociety helped with the website side of things.
The AllTrials campaign focuses around the fact that a shockingly large proportion of clinical trials do not have their results publicly published.
Not only does this devalue the time, goodwill and even potential risk put in by participants, but there are also issues around bias. Those trials published tend to be the ones which show positive results: if that doesn’t sound like such a terrible situation to you, try playing this game from the Economist magazine, which graphically depicts the problems with skewed coverage. At worst, such selective publication can be dangerous, or lead to poor choices from bodies making medical purchasing decisions.
Transparency and data visualisation are two areas where mySociety has a long history, and so it came to be that we fashioned the deceptively simple AllTrials Transparency Index site, on which anyone can browse the transparency index of the world’s major drug companies, and dive in deeper to the data to see how it was compiled. The source data is free for others to download too, so anyone can integrate it into other projects.
AllTrials are also tracking whether companies register new trials:
That’s the part that anyone can understand — and now, notes for the more technically-inclined who may be wondering how we took the data on each drugs company and presented it in a way that can be quickly and easily taken in.
This is an ongoing campaign with a commitment to future audits, so we wanted to make it easy for the AllTrials team to update the site and republish the source data each time they do.
It’s a static Jekyll site. We wrote a custom plug-in to parse a CSV and produce a page for each company within that CSV, as well as creating some summary data that feeds into the graphs on the front page.
This data is then pulled from the CSV, and D3 is employed to build the graphs and insert them into the generated pages.
The end result is a site that looks good and which can automatically update whenever the underlying data changes. We hope we’ll have played a small part in helping to ensure that it does — and for the better.