Wednesday night saw a steady stream of people making their way to one corner of a small square in London. mySociety staff, past and present; friends and associates; stellar users of our services; funders, journalists — in short, folk who had played a part in mySociety’s early years or subsequent history — assembled in Conway Hall to celebrate our twentieth year as an organisation.
It was a wonderful opportunity to look back, sometimes with a slight sense of wonder, but also with some pride. It turns out that when you put together so many people with a bit of mySociety in their history, they have a lot to talk about, even if they come from quite separate bits of our timeline.
Traditionally, we put out an online impact report at the end of the year, covering the previous twelve months. Well, this year we’ve gone all out and covered our whole history as an organisation. Guests had special early access to this, with a print booklet left on each seat. Don’t worry if you weren’t there: we’ll be putting it out as a digital version closer to our usual December publication date.
The report doesn’t just present our history though; some sections look toward our future mission and purpose — something that Louise Crow, our Chief Executive, also folded into her speech. Anecdotes, facts, call-outs and thoughtful sidenotes contributed to an engaging and informative spin through the ‘eras’ of mySociety which you can read here.
And of course, there was the presentation of our awards. A couple of weeks ago, we told you which people and projects had been shortlisted; and now we can reveal the winners.
Driving Institutional Change award
The award was collected on behalf of Richard Bennett, aka the Heavy Metal Handcyclist, by his partner Eryn and sister Perin, and represents his activism and generosity in sharing knowledge with others to make the world more accessible for everyone.
You can read more about his work in our blog post of 2021.
Accelerating Climate Action award
This award was taken by Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming, in recognition of the way they’ve turned climate data into tangible climate action, using both our CAPE site and our MapIt API.
We wrote a bit about that in this post.
Exposing Truth award
Journalist Jenna Corderoy was recognised in this category, for her bold and sustained work in uncovering the Cabinet Office’s ‘FOI clearing house’ – bringing about change, using FOI, for the benefit of FOI.
Impactful International Use award
We awarded this one to Ukrainian FOI service Dostup do Pravdy (Access to Truth) – in their absence. The award was collected by our head of Transparency, Gareth Rees, and we’ll make sure it gets to them safely.
We’ve had a long relationship with Dostup; but our most recent coverage of their work can be seen here.
Campaigning for Justice award
The final award was given to Eleanor Shaikh for her tireless research uncovering injustice and official cover-ups around the Post Office Horizon scandal, which we recently wrote about here.
Of course, we really wish we could have given an award to all of our shortlistees, who are all doing such excellent work in their own areas. It was great to see so many campaigners, researchers, journalists and organisations chatting away and comparing notes over their methods: we hope the evening has resulted in some useful connections.
We were extremely touched by all the winners’ words when they came up to the podium to accept their awards. They indicated that our services had allowed them to attain breakthroughs that they either wouldn’t have managed without us, or which would have taken a lot more time and effort.
For us, the evening was a chance to see the living, breathing results of our lines of code and theories of change – ideas that we believe should help people to make a difference, but which are unproven until we hear of such incredible achievements. We are honoured to be a small part of that.
Might you be a part of our future?
Be part of our Board! As all of this activity makes clear, mySociety still has an awful lot to do — and a clear direction to take. If that sounds like something you’d like to be part of, you might be interested in our current Trustee and Non-Executive Director vacancies. As a Trustee or NED, you use your expertise and a little of your time to help steer our direction and input on all our activities. Find out more here.
Help us extend our impact further! Could we work together to achieve more? Part of our mission is to form mutually beneficial partnerships with other organisations, with each side supporting the other. If that sounds like something you’d like to explore further, drop us a line.
Finally, here are a few photos from the evening – click to see them at a larger size.
There was also a professional photographer in attendance, so we’ll make sure to come back and share those images once they’ve been processed – especially those of the award winners, which, it turns out, mobile phone snaps didn’t do justice to!
Thank you so much to everyone who helped make this such a joyous and moving event, from our shortlistees to our guests, and all the staff members who pitched in to make it go smoothly.
Photos: Sally Bracegirdle and Lizetta Lyster
The ways in which people and organisations have used mySociety’s services through the lifetime of the organisation have been impressive, inspiring and sometimes astonishing.
So, to celebrate our 20th anniversary, on 15 November we’ll be presenting awards in five categories, showcasing impactful usage of their services through the years.
- Driving Institutional Change
- Accelerating Climate Action
- Exposing Truth
- Impactful International Reuse
- Campaigning for Justice
The shortlist is as follows:
Driving Institutional Change
- The Give Them Time campaign used WhatDoTheyKnow to get the law changed over funding for nursery care in Scotland.
- John Graham-Cumming In 2009, John used the petitions website that mySociety had built for 10 Downing Street, resulting in Gordon Brown apologising on behalf of the British Government for its treatment of the computer scientist Alan Turing.
- Richard Bennett used WhatDoTheyKnow, coupled with the Equality Act, to make pathways more accessible for wheelchair users, sharing his methods so that others could do the same.
- Privacy International The ‘Neighbourhood Watched’ project used WhatDoTheyKnow to reveal the unchecked use of surveillance technology by police forces across the UK.
Accelerating Climate Action
- Zero Hour Using mySociety’s WriteToThem software, they’ve garnered the backing of over 150 MPs for their draft Climate and Ecology Bill.
- Sustain used data from CAPE, our Climate Action Plans Explorer, to analyse the degree to which local authorities are including food within their strategies to cut emissions.
- Save the Trees of Armada Way Plymouth’s grassroots campaign fought against the removal of much-loved trees in the city centre, using WriteToThem to send emails to the local councillors — apparently, the most emails they had ever received on a single subject.
- Jenna Corderoy Jenna is shortlisted for her investigation — using WhatDoTheyKnow — of the Cabinet Office’s controversial Clearing House, a secretive unit that screened and blocked FOI requests made by journalists and campaigners, often on matters of serious public interest.
- The Bureau of Investigative Journalism Their Sold From Under You project used crowdsourced and FOI data to reveal how much publicly-owned property was sold off by councils across England, in an attempt to fill funding gaps caused by austerity measures.
- Lost in Europe worked with people running FOI sites on our Alaveteli platform, in 12 different countries, to uncover previously unknown statistics around how many children disappear at borders.
Impactful International Reuse
- Dostup do Pravda/Access to Truth The Ukrainian Freedom of Information site continues providing access to information even in the difficult circumstances of war.
- vTaiwan, Public Digital Innovation Space, and the Taiwanese Ministry of Digital Affairs The Taiwanese government uses mySociety’s SayIt software to make deliberations on difficult subjects public and accessible to citizens.
- DATA Uruguay The organisation has built both FixMyStreet and Freedom of Information sites on mySociety’s codebases, changing the way their governments communicate with citizens at both local and national levels.
Campaigning for Justice
- Doug Paulley is a lifelong campaigner for rights for disabled people, using FOI to fight against access discrimination, especially around public transport.
- Eleanor Shaikh has dedicated hours and hundreds of FOI requests to finding out the truth behind the Post Office Horizon scandal, with her findings making front page headlines.
- After Exploitation use Freedom of Information to uncover the failings of the government’s measures to protect vulnerable detainees.
Of course, every single user of our services is a winner in our eyes – but watch this space to find out who takes home the award in each category!
Image: Rene Böhmer
The civic tech organisation ForSet runs AskGov, using our Alaveteli platform, and you may remember that we had a valuable exchange of views and experiences with their cofounder Teona Tomashvili in London last year.
In Copenhagen, fellows of the the Alliance of Democracies’ Democracy Tech Entrepreneurship Program, of which Teona is one, were invited to ‘pitch’ their project in a Dragon’s Den-like set-up. Teona gave an excellent explanation of the website — which would apply equally to any FOI site running on our Alaveteli platform — and you can watch it for yourself in this video:
Along with the glory of winning came a very useful prize in the shape of a cheque for $10,000 to be put towards the project, as you can see in the image below. This was presented by Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who founded the Alliance of Democracies.
Massive congratulations to Teona, whose pitching skills and determination were key to AskGov’s success in these awards.
‘Sold From Under You’ project used WhatDoTheyKnow Pro
Not long ago, we let you know about the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s project to map and quantify the scale of properties being sold by councils up and down the country as they try to manage with reduced budgets under austerity.
The investigation, which made use of our WhatDoTheyKnow Pro service to send and manage hundreds of Freedom of Information requests, has now been shortlisted for a Data Journalism Award in the Open Data category.
We’re delighted that our platform for professional users of FOI could be of help; this is just the sort of broad data-driven investigation, requiring FOI requests to multiple authorities, that it was conceived for.
You can read BIJ’s interesting account of their methodology and the impact that the project has had here. We wish them the very best of luck for the award finals next month.
Seven years ago, Bromley Borough Council was one of the first authorities to implement FixMyStreet Pro and we’ve enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship ever since. It’s been a true partnership as Bromley work closely with us, letting us know their needs and how best we can innovate to meet them. The resulting development then passes on to all our client councils.
The value FixMyStreet Pro brings to Bromley was recognised last night when the implementation was shortlisted for an award at the 2019 LGC Awards, in the category “Driving efficiency through technology”.
In the end, we just lost out to the worthy winner Orkney Islands Council — but If you’d like to know more about the features and development that got the project shortlisted, take a look at our case study here.
You may remember our recent post announcing that we’d been nominated for an Emmy and a BAFTA award. Always the bridesmaid and never the bride, you might have thought.
As you’ll recall, we created the app and the website tools for the Channel 4 programme alongside production companies Tiger Aspect and the Project Factory, who share the accolade.
So: yays all round – and don’t forget, our award-winning skills are for hire.
According to some, today is the day when the world is going to be saved. Not sure if I agree with that, but recognise that the inauguration of Barack Obama is of some importance :-)). And, naturally, so is the work carried out by mysociety.org. I therefore thought today would be a good time to point to some of its achievements in 2008.
So where to begin? Well, personally I think the work with the Commuting Time Maps is worth mentioning. Developed in collaboration with the Department of Transport it enables users to work out commuting distances from one point to another. This is arguably very useful information if you are house hunting, looking for a new office or if you are an estate agent wanting to provide clients with that extra information.
Or how about picking up an award for FixMyStreet at the SustainIT eWell-Being Awards. The judges said it was “[a]n excellent example of an independent website which empowers the general public in their dealings with their local council. It is a relatively simple application, yet highly effective and replicable.” Very well done indeed.
I know I have mentioned it before, but an obvious achievement is for the charity to have stayed alive and kicking for five years. The main man behind mySociety.org, Tom Steinberg, was around the time of the anniversary featured in an article in the Guardian. Check it out for some more in-depth information about Tom and the rise of mySociety.org!
Last week at the SustainIT eWell-Being Awards, we picked up an award for FixMyStreet. The judges said it was “[a]n excellent example of an independent website which empowers the general public in their dealings with their local council. It is a relatively simple application, yet highly effective and replicable.” One example the accompanying Independent supplement mentioned was “a community in Great Yarmouth which joined forces through FixMyStreet to clear their local unused railway track. The site made possible a dialogue between community members and the council’s community development worker, who organised a “clear up” day where locals could get involved with rectifying the situation, with tools, insurance and even a barbeque provided.” It’s great to see that sort of thing happening on the site, and also great to be recognised in this way.
Last night was the annual New Statesman New Media Awards, held in Westminster Abbey’s College Gardens. mySociety were finalists in two categories, Modernising Government and Contribution to Civic Society, with both Number 10 petitions and FixMyStreet nominated in both. Also, two other projects we host, PlanningAlerts and The Government Says, were both finalists in the Information & Openness category.
It was a lovely evening, seeing some people I haven’t seen for some time and meeting new people too. We ended up winning in both our categories – the Number 10 petitions site in Modernising Government, and FixMyStreet in Contribution to Civic Society, which is obviously fantastic for everyone involved. The judges were impressed at the open source nature of the petitions site, and the “deceptive simplicity” of FixMyStreet. This is now the third year in a row we’ve won the Civic Society award – TheyWorkForYou won in 2005, and WriteToThem in 2006, so we’re obviously doing something right. 🙂
It’s a shame that Chris could not be with us, but his mother did attend to see the projects he worked on recognised.
Thanks and congratulations to all the other winners and finalists.
At the ceremony last night, mySociety amazingly managed to pick up two awards, the Contribution to Civic Society Award for WriteToThem, and the Advocacy Award for PledgeBank.
I’ve put them next to last year’s award for TheyWorkForYou; not sure we can keep the pace up for next year! 😉
Thank you to everyone involved with the evening, to the judges, and of course to everyone who has used our sites to get in touch with a representative through WriteToThem or used PledgeBank to do things they couldn’t do on their own.