Our Climate programme is benefitting from generous support — £495,907 over three years — from The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activities in the UK.
As you’ll know if you’ve followed along with our updates, mySociety’s Climate programme focuses on the local response to climate change, by sharing open and accessible digital services and data to support faster, fairer, more informed and more effective action.
Now, thanks to funding made possible by National Lottery players, we want to strengthen the ecosystem of local networks and enable citizens and communities to be more engaged in the local climate policy environment. A key part of this is our collaboration with other organisations — we bring our strengths; they bring theirs, and together we create projects that are more than the sum of their parts.
Additionally, we are actively listening to all sorts of organisations to understand what tools and data they need, before wrapping those needs into our development programme: it is this approach that has led to many of the new features on CAPE, the Climate Action Plan Explorer.
And this National Lottery funding has already allowed us to embark on an ambitious outreach plan, speaking to a wide network of NGOs, charities, campaign groups, journalists, researchers and local authorities across the UK — those who are working in climate, those in associated spaces and even those with a more tangential relationship to the issue (because it’s a truism that climate will affect every area of life). We’ve been finding out where our commonalities are, how our data and tools can be of help, and what opportunities there might be to work together.
We will, of course, continue to keep you informed as we make progress — and we want to offer our sincere thanks to The National Lottery Community Fund for their help in making that progress happen.
After almost seven years at this wonderful organisation I will be stepping down as Chief Executive of both mySociety and SocietyWorks at the end of March.
It has been an absolute privilege and honour to lead the transformation of our group over my tenure and I’m full of all sorts of emotion in stepping down. Whilst there is never a perfect time to make a decision like this, it is something I’ve been thinking about for a number of months, and with a new strategy in place, now feels like the right time to make way for a new leadership to take things forward all over the next few years.
I’m very pleased to say that I will be leaving things in extremely capable hands, as my longstanding colleague Louise Crow will be leading the mySociety team as Interim Chief Executive. A decision will be made later in the year about longer term arrangements. In parallel, Angela Dixon will be taking on the role of Interim Managing Director of SocietyWorks, having joined us just a few months ago as Finance and Commercial Director.
Louise Crow, as many of you will know, has been with mySociety for over 15 years; first as a developer, then Head of Development and most recently as Programme Director, leading on the development of our Climate programme. She is an awesome leader: eloquent, experienced, trusted by the team and our boards, and familiar to many of you through the numerous partnerships and collaborations that we have been part of.
Whilst Angela Dixon has only been with us for a short time, she’s had an amazing impact already and is exactly what SocietyWorks needs for the next stage of its rapid growth serving local authorities across the UK. She’ll be focused on driving our commercial business forward and unlocking all sorts of savings and service improvements for council staff and citizens alike.
Together Louise and Angela are a formidable and passionate leadership team for mySociety and SocietyWorks and I am very confident leaving things in such safe hands.
There’s a lot to be proud of when looking back over the last seven years, not just for me, but for the exceptional mySociety team without whose support and hard work none of it could have happened. Together, our first job was to successfully transition from Tom Steinberg’s leadership – a delicate task to replace the original founder, but one that also brought new possibilities for change throughout the organisation.
And changes there have been! Over the last few years we’ve launched SocietyWorks, contributed to the democratic response to the climate crisis, and extended our many beautiful, elegant, and well used services to many more citizens across the UK.
I’m particularly proud of the research and analysis we’ve produced, and the insights — from ourselves and others — we’ve been able to share through our TICTeC events as the leading convening space for civic technologists across the globe. We’ve successfully expanded the scope of our Transparency Programme, launching Pro services for WhatDoTheyKnow in the UK and for our European Alaveteli partners.
Whilst I joined fully aware of the difficulties of sourcing charitable funding, over my seven years I’ve certainly had my eyes opened to the scale of the challenge. The critical lack of sources of unrestricted funds, and the particular difficulties of securing funding for our core democratic and transparency work in the UK continues to be deeply concerning in the light of the relentless undermining of hard fought for rights and active erosion of trust in the political process.
I’m grateful for the incredible support we received over the years from the likes of the Luminate and Hewlett foundations. And then as they withdrew from the UK, we responded by establishing relationships with a whole new set of funding partners including the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, Adessium Foundation, Swedish Postcode Foundation and others, and most substantially of all, in our work towards addressing the climate crisis, the support of the Quadrature Foundation and National Lottery Community Fund.
Beyond grants we’ve significantly diversified our income by establishing our wholly owned commercial business SocietyWorks to create a new local government service business working with over 30 councils and providing essential unrestricted funding in the form of profits donated to the parent charity – this has proven to be an incredibly successful strategy in securing the long term sustainability of our work. We would not be here today without the amazing efforts of the team to build such a strong companion business to the charity.
And underpinning all of this are the individual donations that we receive from hundreds of people each year, who value so much the help that they receive from our core UK services FixMyStreet, TheyWorkForYou and WhatDoTheyKnow. This is where the real impact of our work happens, with over 11 million people each year visiting and making use of our online services to understand how decisions are made on their behalf, how they contribute to better decision making, and advance the causes and issues most relevant to them and their communities.
What I’m most personally proud of and what I’ll miss the most is working with such an amazing, dedicated and knowledgeable team. I’ll be leaving an organisation much changed but still true to its activist roots, who still truly believe that people can and want to work together to build a fairer society.
I’ll be leaving a somewhat larger team, that is now equally gender balanced, with a greater diversity of background and experience, an experienced senior leadership team, and with our new board chairs Catherine Brown at mySociety and Mandy Merron at SocietyWorks rounding out a very different cast from the organisation that I originally joined.
I’ll give the final note of thanks to the many passionate volunteers who have helped us and continue to play a pivotal role in the day to day running of or services in the UK, the many generous board members we’ve giving their time freely, and to the organisers, friends and collaborators we’ve worked with over the years to develop, share and make use of all this tech for the benefit of society as whole.
A couple of months ago we started a search to find three new team members for our Better Cities practice: a Product Manager, Web Developer and Sales & Partnership Manager.
We’ve now signed up our new colleagues and I’m excited to say that Matt Jukes will be joining as Product Manager. He’ll be leading the development and expansion of our Better Cities services and building upon our recent work to launch FixMyStreet 2.0.
Matt is a familiar name to many people in the UK Civic and Gov Tech sphere — most notably for the transformation work he led over the past couple of years at the ONS (Office of National Statistics). Matt brings with him an excellent pedigree of building and leading teams. What was of particular interest to us was the way that he talks openly and publicly about the projects he’s working on, which sits very well with our approach.
Stuart Harrison will be joining us in January from the ODI (Open Data Institute) as a new Web Developer on our commercial and Better Cities work. Stuart brings a wealth of public sector experience and is already an avid user of mySociety’s services. We’re very lucky to have snagged him, not least as he brings masses of insight and experience into how Open Data meets the commercial world.
Finally our new Sales & Partnership Manager Rachel Baker will start in early January
(we’ll let you know who they are once we’ve got that all wrapped up shortly). She comes with valuable entrepreneurial and marketing experience from previous startups and will also be working from our growing base around Bristol and Bath.
Rachel will work with our Local Authority partners in the UK and around the world, on FixMyStreet for Councils which has undergone a substantial revamp over the last few months. And will help us better connect with like-minded partners who might benefit from making use of our services — if this is of interest please get in touch.
And one departure
Finally and sadly we also say goodbye to our dear friend and colleague Ben Nickolls.
Ben has been with us as Head of Services for the past four years, working with me and the commercial team. He has been instrumental in turning around the fortunes of our services team over the past 18 months, giving us a firm basis for the public sector product and service business we are seeking to grow over the next couple of years.
Now with the groundwork done, Ben is off to pursue his startup ambitions with the wonderful Libraries.io project, which aims to document and provide access to all of the Open Source libraries in the world. This is a hugely ambitious project. We’re very excited for Ben and wish him all the luck — we’ll be watching his progress closely.
So all change for the new year in our Better Cities practice. There will be lots more to share on our progress in the coming months.
Post updated 20th December with news that Rachel is joining as our Sales & Partnership Manager.
We recently shared news of some substantial funding from Omidyar Network, and the goals which that funding will help us to achieve.
Those goals are quite ambitious, and we’re going to have to focus hard on a number of core projects to meet them. Consequently, we’ve made the hard decision to let go of a few of our other sites; sites which need time and attention, but which won’t help us towards meeting those key aims.
A bit of background
mySociety has built loads of websites during its time: it’s the way we’ve historically worked. When we started up, we just wanted to make cool civic sites that would do useful things; if we could get the funding, and someone was willing to build them, we’d go for it.
All of the projects we launched were based on pretty sound ideas; all of them strove to empower people and open up democracy in one way or another.But, as we’ve become a more mature organisation, with responsibilities towards our partners and funders, that scattergun approach doesn’t fly any more. Running a website, no matter how small and self-sufficient it is, requires some investment, in terms of maintenance, user support, and updating, and sadly, right now we can’t maintain everything to a level that keeps it useful and functional for users.
Over a decade since mySociety first started, some of those early sites have proved their worth. They’ve grown and matured with us. Here in the UK, our Freedom of Information site WhatDoTheyKnow has over 400,000 visitors a month, and sites like TheyWorkForYou, FixMyStreet and WriteToThem have become UK institutions in their own right.
Alaveteli, the software which underpins WhatDoTheyKnow, has been adopted in 21 countries; the FixMyStreet Platform is being used in 11, with both set to increase as we concentrate on reaching out to international partners over the next few years.
These projects are core to our Omidyar Network funding and the results we’ve promised to deliver from it.
Goodbye to these
Along the way, though, there have been some projects which, for one reason or another, have not gained quite as much traction.
You might say they were before their time: Pledgebank, for example, predates Groupon, Kickstarter and similar pledging concepts.
In some cases, the world moved on: most MPs now have their own channels for contacting constituents online, so HearFromYourMP isn’t quite as vital.
In others, we simply don’t have the necessary resources that the project needs: FixMyTransport is a good example of that.
It’s been a difficult decision, but if we are to focus on our targets for the coming years, we can no longer afford to dedicate ourselves to these sites. To that end, we’ll shortly be retiring:
In February, Pledgebank will stop accepting new pledges, although users will still be able to sign up for existing ones until the end of June. We’ll be emailing all owners of pledges to let them know that the site will close at that time.
From the 1st of March, you’ll no longer be able to create a report on FixMyTransport. If you are running an active campaign or problem report, we’ll email to let you know of the site’s closure, which is planned for the end of June.
MPs can continue to use HearFromYourMP to send newsletters to their constituents, but we’ll be letting them know that the service will be retired before the General Election.
In February, ScenicOrNot will be mothballed so that users can no longer rate photographs. We’ll be keeping the leaderboard intact and developers will still be able to use the site’s data.
It’s not without regret that we’ll be saying goodbye to these sites – each and every one of them is based on a sound idea that fell well within mySociety’s remit to provide civic and democratic digital tools.
Like most mySociety sites, the code of all of the above is Open Source and you are welcome to pick it up and adapt it to your needs. We’d be delighted if there was interest, from other individuals or groups, in running something similar, based on our code.