1. Join us for a special ‘Freedom of Information’ meet-up

    INFORMATIONOur next meet-up, on 3rd September, will focus on Freedom of Information (FOI). We really care about FOI at mySociety, which is why we created the FOI request filer WhatDoTheyKnow for UK citizens back in 2008, and Alaveteli thereafter for international use.

    So, we thought, why not host a meet-up to discuss FOI technologies, research and legislation in the UK and beyond?


    We’re delighted to be joined at this meet-up by the following guest speakers:-

    Maurice Frankel: Maurice is director of the UK Campaign for Freedom of Information. He has worked with them since it was set up in 1984, and has been its director since 1987.

    Maurice will talk about the possible government restrictions on the right of access to information in the UK; the problems caused by the Freedom of Information Act’s poor approach to public service contracts and the surprising limitations which the courts have imposed on the ministerial veto.

    Marietta Le: Marietta is from the Hungarian investigative journalism NGO Atlatszo.

    Atlatzso is a watchdog NGO and online news site for investigative journalism to promote transparency and freedom of information (FOI) in Hungary. They run various websites including KiMitTud, a freedom of information request generator for the general public, which runs using the Alaveteli platform.

    KiMitTud was launched in May 2012 and has helped people send nearly 3000 freedom of information requests so far. Atlatszo’s investigative journalists have been using it as a tool to dig up new stories and obtain important evidence in corruption cases. However, the success of Hungary’s Freedom of Information Act has led to the Hungarian government introducing a restrictive amendment to the law; a measure that is being challenged at the moment by a joint initiative of media outlets and transparency NGOs.

    Atlatzso also run the Tor-based anonymous whistleblowing platform Magyarleaks and a crowdsourced platform to anonymously report everyday corruption called Fizettem.

    Marietta will join us to speak about setting up an FOI site in Hungary using Alaveteli and the current threats to freedom of information in Hungary, following the recent restrictive amendment to the FOI law.

    Savita Bailur and Tom Longley: 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?”

    To address this, researchers Savita and Tom have focused on three areas: a literature review to see what research is already out there, in-depth interviews with people who have installed FOI technologies in many different countries, and the compilation of a list of critical success factors. Read more about their research here.

    Savita and Tom are more than halfway through their research, and we’re delighted that they’ll present their preliminary findings at this meet-up.

    We’ll also discuss the latest developments on WhatDoTheyKnow, and Alaveteli developers (as well as other mySociety team members) will be around to answer any questions.

    There’ll be plenty of pizza and beer to go around too, so what could be better?

    Hope to see you there!

    When: Wednesday 3rd September, 6pm – 9pm
    Where: Mozilla Space London
    How: Add your name to the Lanyrd page, so we know you’re coming.
    Who: Anyone who fancies it.

    To see where we’ll be holding our next meet-ups over the coming months, check out our page on Lanyrd.

    Photo by Paul Keller (CC)

  2. See you in Birmingham?

    A Canal, an bridge in BirminghamWe’re pleased to say that some of the mySociety team will be in Birmingham on Wednesday 6th August for the latest mySociety meet-up.

    These meet-ups are for anyone who’s interested in what we do and in digital democracy and civic coding in general.

    Even if you’re not interested, coming along to hear our fabulous speakers might get you interested, and we like that.

    If you’d like to chat to our developers about using or contributing to the code that runs our websites, or you’d like to ask us about our current projects, then you’ll be coming to the right place – we’ll be happy to answer any questions.

    This month, we’re really pleased to be joined by the following speakers:

    Nick Booth: Nick is Managing Director of Podnosh, a former BBC political reporter and television and radio documentary maker.

    Podnosh was established in 2005, initially to make to make the Grassroots Channel podcast for the Birmingham Community Empowerment Network. Podnosh’s mission is to change the way the public and the public sector talk to each other and has grown from a brand which makes podcasts to a business which understands and helps people use social media for social good, and is developing tools to help organsiations capture their impact.

    Nick will speak about the Social Media Surgery movement he accidentally founded, which won a Big Society award in 2012.

    Peter Hicks: Peter is the creator of OpenTrainTimes.com and is an open rail data pioneer.

    Open Train Times displays real time arrival and departure information for each train company, helping passengers to plan their journeys. It also features track diagrams displaying the location of trains between signals.

    Peter will talk about his experiences using railway data feeds and the significance of National Rail Enquiries’ opening up of their real-time platform.

    Zarino Zappia: Our very own Zarino (one of our Designer superheroes) will talk about some of mySociety’s current design priorities, including a redesign of TheyWorkForYou.com.

    So come along to hear some fantastic speakers and to talk about civic tech in Birmingham and beyond. We hope to meet you there!

    When: Wednesday 6th August, 6pm – 9pm
    Where: The Wellington, Function Room on 1st Floor, 37 Bennett’s Hill, Birmingham, West Midlands B2 5SN
    How: Add your name to the Lanyrd page: http://lanyrd.com/czbtf, so we know you’re coming.
    Who: Anyone who fancies it.

    NB: Look out for Gemma (who’ll be wearing a mySociety t-shirt) who will show you up to the function room.  Watch our Twitter stream on @mySociety to check for last minute advice if we have moved venues for unforseen reasons.

    Photo by Neil Howard (CC)

  3. mySociety are coming to Bristol

    Bristol largerOn Wednesday 2nd July, some of the mySociety team will be in Bristol for the latest mySociety meet-up.

    These meet-ups are our way of getting out and about to meet other people interested in civic tech, digital democracy, open data and more.

    We’re also very happy to chat about mySociety websites and the code that runs them, so if you have any questions, do come along to meet us.

    We’re really excited to be coming to the vibrant city of Bristol, where loads of inspiring civic tech projects are being developed.

    This month, we’re really chuffed to be joined by the following guest speakers:-

    Matt Jukes: Matt is Head of Digital Transformation at the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Matt’s talk is titled ‘The Puzzle of Procurement’ and is about trying to build a government website to Government Digital Service (GDS) standards at the ONS without the benefits of their team, while trying not to break procurement rules.

    The Delib team: Ben Fowkes and his Delib colleagues will chat about what projects are exciting them at the moment in the world of digital democracy, policy crowd-sourcing, public consultation, participative governance and open source. They’ll focus particularly on a local project they’ve been running with the Mayor of Bristol, George Ferguson, called George’s Ideas Lab.

    Sarah Prag: Sarah worked, until recently, at GDS, where she was the Product Manager for the launch of GOV.UK. She’s now living and working in Bristol, with a focus on local public services. Sarah will talk about the user centred approach GDS took when they developed GOV.UK, and how this can be applied to other digital services.

    So come along to hear some fantastic speakers and to talk about civic tech in Bristol and beyond. We hope to meet you there!

    When: Wednesday 2nd July, 6pm – 9pm
    Where: The Royal Navy Volunteer Pub Function Room, 17-18 King St, Harbourside, Bristol , BS1 4EF
    How: Add your name to the Lanyrd page: http://lanyrd.com/cyycy, so we know you’re coming.
    Who: Anyone who fancies it.

    NB: Look out for the mySociety hoodie (they look like this, only usually with a person inside). Watch our Twitter stream on @mySociety to check for last minute advice if we have moved venues for unforseen reasons.

    Photo by shrinkin’violet (CC), license available here

  4. Come and meet us in Edinburgh

    edinburghOn Wednesday 4th June some of the mySociety team will descend on Edinburgh for the latest mySociety meet-up.

    This year we plan to go to a different UK city on the first Wednesday of every month; we’ve already been to London and Cardiff so far, so it’s now Edinburgh’s turn!

    MySociety meet-ups are for anyone who’s interested in civic and democratic projects, open data, transparency and more.

    If you’d like to chat to the mySociety team about our projects, or discuss ideas of your own, then you’ll be coming to the right place. We’ll also throw in a few beers and some pizza for good measure.

    This month, we’re really chuffed to be joined by the following guest speakers:-

    Andy Wightman: Andy is a writer, researcher, analyst, commentator and activist on issues of land, power, governance, democracy and money. He is author of ‘Who Owns Scotland’ and ‘The Poor Had No Lawyers’ and, in an attempt to make landownership information more transparent, runs the Who Owns Scotland website.

    We are delighted that Andy will join us at this mySociety meet-up to talk about land ownership, community land rights and open democracy in Scotland.

    Aaron Crane and James Mackenzie from Cutbot: Cutbot is an online media monitoring and public affairs organisation based in Edinburgh. In June 2012 they began the process of challenging the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA)’s licensing regime around media monitoring, specifically concerning the fees paid by charitable and other not-for-profit clients, and also the fees and other conditions to which they were subject.

    The NLA currently charges small companies like Cutbot (with a turnover in the tens of thousands) just over £5k for a licence to scan content for their clients, while the largest companies, with turnovers in the millions, pay just £10k. Google pay no equivalent licence for carrying out the same activities: they’re treated as non-commercial.

    In March of this year, the Copyright Tribunal endorsed this fee structure, despite claims by Cutbot and others that it’s extremely unfair.

    Aaron and James will talk about their fight to get the NLA’s rules changed. They’ll also talk about the UK Supreme Court’s ruling against the NLA’s claim that the act of viewing freely-provided public content on the publishers’ own websites requires a licence. This has now been referred up to the European courts.

    The nitty gritty: 

    When: Wednesday 4th June, 6pm – 9pm
    Where: The Edinburgh TechCube, 1 Summerhall Place, Edinburgh, EH9 1PL
    How: Add your name to the Lanyrd page: http://lanyrd.com/cyyct, so we know you’re coming.
    Who: Anyone who fancies it.

    NB: Look out for the mySociety hoodie (they look like this, only usually with a person inside). Watch our Twitter stream on @mySociety to check for last minute advice if we have moved venues for unforseen reasons.

    Photo by Moyan Brenn (CC)

  5. Chatting about e-democracy and e-philosophy in Cardiff

    Thanks to everyone who came to Wednesday night’s meet-up at the uber-cool Founders Hub in Cardiff: it was great to meet you all.

    Apart from being fascinated by the Founders Hub’s 3D printer (we managed to print a bottle opener to crack open our beers!), we were really impressed with the interesting conversations and provocative debate that followed Daniele Procida and Sam Knight’s presentations.

    sam knightYour Senedd: Motivations for creation and the development process

    First up, it was really inspiring to hear Sam Knight talk about his motivations behind setting up and developing Your Senedd. Your Senedd is your go-to website to find out about the Welsh Assembly; whether you want to know who your Assembly Member is, their background and what speeches they’ve made, or read recent debates, it’s all there. You can even sign up for the weekly newsletter that gives an overview of what the Assembly is working on that week and what odd Assembly terminology actually means.

    It’d be fantastic if TheyWorkForYou also covered the Welsh Assembly, as we do with the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Scottish Parliament, but we don’t currently have the time or resources ourselves — in fact, both those assemblies were mainly done by volunteers.

    If you’re interested in volunteering to help out, please join the mailing list.

    Sam set up Your Senedd back in 2011 in order to help more Welsh people engage with their Assembly, after hearing that only half of Welsh people knew who their first minister was. He also wanted to find a way to provide the Welsh public with information from the Assembly that wasn’t just inflammatory or sensational, as in the pre-Your Senedd days most of the Welsh Assembly debates reported by the mainstream media were ones that provoked anger, meaning that the public didn’t get to hear about the debates that really did matter to them. Your Senedd provides the public with impartial information about all Assembly debates.

    The future of Your Senedd

    Sam has improvements in mind for the website too: as with TheyWorkForYou, he plans to show Assembly Members’ voting history; he’d like to produce easy-to-read guides on how the Assembly works and how the public can get involved; and he would like the site to become more of a two-way conversation, instead of a one-way broadcaster. He plans to put all of the Assembly’s Statements of Opinion (similar to Westminster’s Early Day Motions) on the site and encourage the public to vote on them. What a great way to get people more involved with politics!

    Group of guysYour Senedd doesn’t just encourage the public to engage more in Welsh politics – Sam said that one Assembly Member was so scared that his lack of participation in debates shown on his Your Senedd page would damage his reputation, that he’s been involved with every debate since! Scaring Assembly Members into action wasn’t part of Sam’s original motivation, but it’s certainly an added benefit!

    If you have any questions for Sam, or any ideas of how Your Senedd could be improved or shared, please give him a tweet.

    Daniele Procida: ‘The Bodiless Head of the Programmer’

    skeleton at Founders HubOur second talk of the night was by Daniele Procida, who gave us an exclusive preview of his presentation for DjangoCon Europe, where he’ll be presenting in May. Daniele is co-organiser of DjangoCon Europe and runs DjangoCMS, as well as managing the University of Cardiff’s School of Medicine’s website.

    Daniele’s presentation was called ‘The Bodiless Head of the Programmer’ and drew from his background in philosophy. Daniele asked provocative questions such as ‘Who are the programmers that are increasingly building the world we live in and determining the systems that govern our lives?’ and ‘Does it matter who they are or just what they do?’.

    The liberalist stance is that it only matters what people do and not who they are – which as Daniele pointed out, is perfectly good and the correct approach when it comes to the justice system for example, but he questioned this approach when thinking about programmers. According to Daniele, we need to be more concerned about who programmers are, to make sure that not only one type or group of people are building our virtual new world, and therefore not taking into account the needs of those who are different from them.

    Daniele’s opinion is that there are currently too many white males in programming which liberalism says doesn’t matter (because the things they make should matter) but actually it does matter, because their inherent privilege affects the things they make and the way they see problems, meaning they can never fully understand the experience of someone who has lived without said privilege.

    Daniele’s presentation and thoughts fuelled a really good debate amongst those who came along – a healthy mix of agreement and disagreement was great to see, reminding us that we’re all entitled to our own opinions!

    If you’re intrigued by Daniele’s talk and viewpoints – try and check him out at DjangoCon in May.

    Many thanks to both Sam and Daniele for coming to do presentations – hope to see you again when we’re back in Cardiff!

    mySociety Monthly Meet-upspizza

    Our meet-ups now take place at different cities across the UK on the first Wednesday of every month. The next one will be in Bath on 7th May. Sign up here.

    Our programme of meet-ups is open to everyone. So whether you’re an open source veteran, or just a curious newbie interested in anything you see on mysociety.org, please come along.


  6. We’re coming back to Cardiff

    Welsh daffodils Cardiff CastleInterested in civic coding, open data and eDemocracy?

    Then come and join mySociety for a chat, beer and pizza at the Founders Hub in Cardiff on Wednesday 2nd April!

    We’ll be joined by guest speakers:

    Sam Knight: Founder and developer of Your Senedd and Labour Councillor for Cathays.

    Your Senedd was launched in 2011 and aims to make the Welsh Assembly more accessible to the public by providing information on all Assembly Members and publishing all Assembly debates. Sam will be chatting about his motivations behind setting up Your Senedd and the development process.

    Daniele Procida: Daniele manages Cardiff University’s School of Medicine’s website, and the applications that publish it. These include Arkestra and other open-source Python/Django applications.

    Come along to hear Daniele’s talk “The bodiless head of the programmer”.

    He’ll also be around to chat about his work on django CMS and encouraging others to contribute to open source software.

    When: Wednesday 2nd April, drop in any time between 6pm and 9pm
    Where: The Founders Hub, 119 St Mary Street, Cardiff, CF10 1DY
    How: Add your name to the Lanyrd page: http://lanyrd.com/2014/mysocial-2-april/, so we know you’re coming.
    Who: Anyone who fancies it.

    NB: Look out for the mySociety hoodie (they look like this, only usually with a person inside). Watch our Twitter stream on @mySociety to check for last minute advice about where we are sitting or if we have moved venues for unforseen reasons.

    Photo by [Duncan] (CC)

  7. Meet us in Birmingham

    Old Contemptibles by Andy Howell17th December is the date to mark in your diaries if you’re local to Brum – that’s when we’ll be in the pub. Come along  for drinks and a chat.

    When: 6pm onwards, Tues 17th December
    Where:  The Old Contemptibles on Edmund Street B3 2HB. Map
    How: Add your name to our Lanyrd page to let us know you’re coming.
    Who: Anyone who fancies it.
    Hashtag: #mysocial

    Not sure how long it would take you to get there? Take a look at our handy public transport times map.

    NB: Look out for the mySociety hoodie (they look like this, only usually with a person inside). Watch our Twitter stream on @mySociety to check for last minute advice about where we are sitting or if we have moved venues for unforseen reasons.

    Photo by Andy Howell (CC)

  8. See you in Manchester

    Edge Street Window by Duncan Hill

    Yep, now it’s Manchester’s turn. We’ve been having mySociety meet-ups in towns all over the UK –  it’s been great to meet people for a friendly chat and a drink.

    If you’re local to Manchester and you’d like to know more about what mySociety do, drop by. There’s no agenda, but we’re always happy to talk about open data, eDemocracy, and online civic stuff in general. And we hear that our chosen venue does excellent pancakes.

    We’re in town ahead of the Capita Channel Shift conference. If you’re also attending, you’d be welcome to come and join us for a drink and a chat about digital tech for local government.

    When: 7pm onwards, Weds 4th December
    Where:  Home Sweet Home on Edge Street, M4 1HE. Map
    How: Add your name to our Lanyrd page to let us know you’re coming.
    Who: Anyone who fancies it.
    Hashtag: #mysocial

    NB: Look out for the mySociety hoodie (they look like this, only usually with a person inside). Watch our Twitter stream on @mySociety to check for last minute advice about where we are sitting or if we have moved venues for unforseen reasons.

  9. This Wednesday, come and meet Henare from Open Australia

    Image by Open Source Way

    If you’ve been thinking of popping along to one of our Wednesday night meet-ups, but the cold weather has been discouraging you, here’s a little incentive.

    This week, we’ll be joined by Henare Degan, one of the directors of the OpenAustralia Foundation. In Henare’s words, “You can talk to me about civic hacking down under, but I’ve also been on the road for over seven months now, so come and chat to me about travelling too”.

    Open Australia run an Alaveteli-based RightToKnow site (like WhatDoTheyKnow) and a Parliamentary monitoring site (like TheyWorkForYou), among other projects. Come and find out how things differ in Australia.

    Or just come, as usual, for the good times.

    • When: Wednesday 6th November, drop in any time between 6 and 9pm.
    • Where: Mozilla Space London
    • How: Add your name to the Lanyrd page, so we know you’re coming.

    Photo by OpenSourceWay (CC)

  10. OGP, “Out of the blue” sites and Oration

    OGP logoJen writes:

    Next week is a really exciting event for us here at mySociety International. You’ve probably heard about it; the Open Government Partnership annual meeting. This coincides with Global Transparency Week and a lot of international friends grouping in London for the first time in a while. It’s going to be good to catch up on interesting projects from other international groups. And don’t forget to come along to our drinks if you’re in town!

    A few more things about OGP before I let you know what we’ve been up to over the past month.

    In other news:

    • Over the past few months we’ve been working on a Pombola website with PMG from South Africa. We’re getting closer to completing this and can’t wait to show you the results.
    • We’re also hoping to start work really soon on an Alaveteli install for South Africa, so watch this space!
    • Other Alaveteli sites are nearing completion in Ukraine, Italy and Croatia. More on those as they appear… If you have installed Alaveteli, Pombola or FixMyStreet and not had contact with our international team please do drop us a line! We love to hear from you! Along this vein we recently came across Nuvasuparati in Romania and Aduanku in Malaysia. The best kind of surprise!
    • We are still offering some days of assistance to people that want help or advice setting up these sites, so do get in touch if this is you. Don’t be shy! We can discuss your ideas and your project and see where we can help.

    Where to find us:

    25th and 26th OctoberMozFest, London (Dave W)

    30th Oct – 1st NovemberOGP Annual meeting, London (Paul, Jen)

    30th OctobermySociety Drinks, London (Paul, Jen, Dave W)

    25th November to 30th November – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Singapore (Dave W)

    27th to 30th NovemberWorld Forum for Democracy, Strasbourg (Jen)

    If you want a more formal chat, send me an email before the date and I’ll arrange a meet up. Especially for Dave’s Malaysia and Singapore trips as these are arranged expressly with the idea that we will spend time with interested local groups!