1. Let’s try this again! WhatDoTheyKnow’s tenth anniversary party

    Back in February, as you may remember, we announced an evening of celebration in London for WhatDoTheyKnow’s tenth anniversary.

    And then it snowed, public transport ground to a halt, and we made the tough decision to call the party off.

    But it was only ever a postponement. Now we’re in a more temperate season and we’re determined to get this milestone celebrated! We’ve rescheduled, and we’re looking forward to an evening of talks covering the project’s past, present and future, not to mention chat, drinks, nibbles and the best FOI-based playlist you’ve ever heard.

    If you’d like to come and join us for this event in London on the evening of July 3rd, please email Gemma with more about yourself and why you’d like to come. Spaces are limited so let us know asap if you’d like to attend.

    Image: Gaelle Marcel

  2. Memorable FOI requests from WhatDoTheyKnow’s first ten years

    To help us mark WhatDoTheyKnow’s tenth anniversary, we asked volunteers, supporters and users to tell us which Freedom of Information requests from the site’s first ten years particularly stuck in their minds.

    The result was an eclectic mix of stories that really show the breadth of how WhatDoTheyKnow has been used. They have very little in common — unless you count the imagination and tenacity of those using FOI to try to uncover significant information.

    Doug Paulley, WhatDoTheyKnow volunteer

    A exposé that helped bring in the living wage for carers

    Doug is one of the team of volunteers who give up their time to keep WhatDoTheyKnow running, using their experience and knowledge of FOI to moderate the site, give users guidance, and help set policy. Doug is also an extremely active user of FOI, having used the act to uncover many examples of discrimination and malpractice over the years.

    He highlights the story of a care home talking the talk, but very much failing to walk the walk when it came to paying its staff the living wage.

    “The exposure brought about by FOI played a significant part in the campaign for Leonard Cheshire, care home operator with 2,100 residents, to significantly increase carers’ wages to (just short of) the voluntary living wage. Journalist Heather Mills covered the story in Private Eye.” Read the whole story here.

    Owen Blacker, mySociety trustee

    Missing historic information on Cold War targets

    Owen co-founded FaxYourMP, the earliest version of mySociety’s  WriteToThem, and has been an important part of the organisation ever since — he’s now one of our trustees and a non-executive director. He recalls the building and launch of WhatDoTheyKnow and indeed was one of its earliest registered users.

    Owen particularly remembers a pass-the-parcel like series of FOI requests in which he was handed from one organisation to another:

    “I went round in circles trying to find out some Cold War information that nobody claims to know any more. In 1980, the entire Civil Service, nationwide, ran a dry run of a Cold War nuclear attack on the United Kingdom, called Operation Square Leg. I’m slightly concerned that we spent a lot of money planning the civil contingencies of a Cold War attack — a sensible things to do, arguably — but no longer know where we were expecting to be hit or at what megatonnage.” Owen links to the requests from this blog post.

    Will Perrin, Indigo Trust

    Safer streets and better data handling

    Will is not only a trustee at Indigo, supporting mySociety’s work with parliamentary monitoring organisations in sub-Saharan Africa, but he’s also a trustee of London’s King’s Cross Community Projects. Indeed Kings Cross — a locality in which Will has a personal stake, with a long record of community action — is the subject of two of the three FOI requests he singled out:

    First was the Kings Cross Walkability audit which revealed just how hostile to pedestrians the area was back in 2008. At the time, Will wrote in his blog: “Crossing the road in Kings Cross is a nightmare and now we have an official report commissioned by TfL that sets it out in black and white.”

    Today he recalls its impact: “This document underpinned the police taking a corporate manslaughter case against TfL to the Criminal Prosecution Service with regard to a cyclist’s death in 2011. The case did not proceed but was instrumental in changing TfL’s attitude to cyclists’ rights.

    “Then this request revealed a massive overspend by Network Rail in refurbishing its own offices at Kings Cross”.

    Finally, Will’s third choice of request had wider implications for the country as a whole:

    “The National Police Chiefs’ Council revealing that there was no governance system in place for the Automatic Numberplate Recognition System (ANPR) and the existence of Met’s ‘Olympic Data Feed‘ led to a new governance system being instilled; some 2 billion records were deleted along with the introduction of a vastly reduced retention period.” Annotations at the foot of this request give a little more background.

    Matthew Somerville, mySociety developer

    A long-standing pillar of mySociety’s development team, Matthew wrote the core code behind many of mySociety’s most notable websites and tools, including FixMyStreet and TheyWorkForYou. He spends his working days coding for mySociety’s useful tools, and much of his free time coding his own useful tools, if his website is anything to go by. What was his most memorable FOI request?

    “It was a request asking Royal Mail for information about all their postboxes, made by Tom Taylor.  I had to write a crowd-sourcing tool to locate them, as the information provided included street name but no actual location; they then (from another FOI request a few years later) released the co-ordinates as well.”

    The data is mapped here. Why is this request significant?

    “I’m not sure it’s really significant, but I do get plenty of people telling me they’ve used the site, and it’s something Royal Mail never got around to providing (even though that was their reasoning for refusing to release it)…”

    So there we are: a handful of the 458,219 requests that WhatDoTheyKnow has processed to date. There are so many stories around FOI requests: each of them represents someone’s burning question; many of them result in a response that’s important, or fascinating, or historic. And that’s what makes WhatDoTheyKnow so rewarding to work on.

     

  3. 50 news stories uncovered by WhatDoTheyKnow’s users

    We’ve talked a lot about our new service for journalists and other professional users of Freedom of Information — but it’s not always the professionals who uncover the news stories.

    This week, we mark WhatDoTheyKnow’s tenth anniversary. As part of the celebrations, we thought we’d look back on the news stories that came about because of requests made through the site. Many of these began with an FOI request submitted by a user with no links to the press, and were picked up by news outlets because the response was of public interest.

    From the restrictions on what names can be given to a baby in this country, to an accidental torpedo release, and via a geographically-accurate Tube map, it makes for fascinating reading. You can see them all here.

  4. Ten years of WhatDoTheyKnow

    On 22 February 2008, we posted an announcement on this very blog: “the new mySociety Freedom of Information site is now live”.

    More than 450,000 requests later, WhatDoTheyKnow is marking its tenth anniversary: as part of the celebrations, we’ve put together a timeline showing how WhatDoTheyKnow has intersected with the history of FOI in the UK since we first gained our right to information in 2005. If nothing else, you may enjoy looking at the site’s rather more primitive design back in its early days.

    The past decade has seen legal challenges, contributions to Parliamentary inquiries, and the development of our code for use in other countries (26 and counting). It has proved that an ambitious project can be kept going thanks to the efforts of unpaid but skilled and dedicated volunteers.

    Most of all, though, it’s seen you, the general public, submitting requests for information, and sharing the responses you receive. That was always the idea, and, it turns out, it’s a pretty sound one.

     

  5. The big one million: celebrating FixMyStreet

    This month, FixMyStreet.com sent one more report off to a council. There was nothing to distinguish it from all the other reports of fly-tipping, potholes and graffiti… except that it was the one millionth to be sent since the site began.

    Back in 2007, when mySociety first launched FixMyStreet, we had a feeling it’d be useful — but we couldn’t have foreseen the take-up it’s had not only here in the UK, but across the world and in many forms. One million seems like a real milestone, so in celebration, here’s a whistle-stop tour of FixMyStreet’s life so far.

    First through the doors

    The first report ever sent to a council through FixMyStreet was this one, concerning a broken streetlight.

    It was created by a mySociety staff member during beta testing of the site, and sent off to Oxford City Council — who fixed the streetlight. Proof of concept, and we were off.

    Official launch

    Once it was clear that everything was working smoothly, FixMyStreet had its official launch that March.

    Those who know and love FixMyStreet may be surprised to hear that in this first incarnation, it was given the slightly less snappy title of Neighbourhood Fix-It.

    Some might suggest that names have never been mySociety’s strong point. Personally I think we got much better at that later.

    Early take-up

    Just a week after launch, users had already filed over 1,000 reports — a sign that there really was a need for this site.

    The reasons for its popularity? After all, all councils these days provide a fault-reporting system themselves, so why the enthusiastic take-up of a site that duplicates this functionality? We think the reasons are twofold:

    • You don’t have to worry about which council is responsible for an issue: FixMyStreet just automatically sends it off to the right one. There are lots of reasons why you may not know where to send a street report, not least the UK’s two-tiered system of local authorities.
    • We make the reporting process as simple as possible. It’s that whole ‘swans looking graceful but paddling like crazy under the waterline’ thing: we put in an awful amount of work to make sure that you don’t even notice the issues FixMyStreet has to deal with to make the user experience super-smooth. Back in 2012 we blogged about some of the thinking behind the site; for example here’s why FixMyStreet begins by asking just one simple question.

    Name change

    By June we’d realised that Neighbourhood Fix-It wasn’t the snappiest of names, and thus was born FixMyStreet as we know and love it.

    Early app-dopters

    In June 2008, Apple launched their app store.

    Our developers saw the future, it seems: by December that year, we’d launched a FixMyStreet app (NB, the links in that 2008 post don’t work any more: if you’d like current versions of the app, you’ll find them here for Apple and here for Android).

    The FixMyStreet apps have been downloaded more than 40,000 times, and we’re seeing a real growth in those who use it to make their reports: in the last year it accounted for 27% of reports. This reflects a general increase in the use of mobile (you can also use your mobile’s browser to access www.fixmystreet.com) — 55% of our visitors came via a phone or tablet in the last year.

    Open for re-use

    Like most mySociety software, the code that FixMyStreet runs on is Open Source: that means that anyone can pick it up for free, and run their own site on it.

    In March 2011, a group of coders in Norway were the very first to do this, with their version FiksGataMi (it means FixMyStreet in Norwegian. They could have gone for Nabolaget Fikser Det, which means Neighbourhood Fix-It, but, well, you know…).

    Since then, we’ve made real efforts to make the code easier for others to deploy, and ensured that the improvements we add to our own FixMyStreet are also available for all the others: just recently we rolled out version 2.1 of the codebase.

    Taking a peek to see what’s being reported around the world is one of our favourite, if non-standard, means of armchair travelling.

    For example:

    FMS around the world

    A Norwegian puddle-prone footbridge gets in the way of christenings, confirmations and school meetings; meanwhile in Spanish city Alcalá de Henares, a resident complains about the smell created by rubbish lorries while allowing us a splendid view across the rooftops; and in Malaysia, a pack of stray dogs is causing problems for one reporter.

    FixMyStreet Professional

    We’d wanted to provide a reporting system that bettered those offered by local councils: in June 2012 that goal was seemingly affirmed when some councils purchased the system to place on their own websites.

    We officially launched FixMyStreet for Councils, with Bromley and Barnet being the very first local authorities to implement it. Since then, we’ve been in a continual process of improvement, driven by input and collaboration with many councils around the country. Several more have become clients, too. We’ll have more news on the latest developments soon (and meanwhile, if you are from a council, you can learn more here).

    Diverse uses

    One of the nicest things about a codebase like FixMyStreet is that it can be deployed in many — sometimes surprising — ways. If you’ve followed our blog over the years, you’ll have seen the Channel 4 collaboration Empty Homes Spotter; the bicycle incident-reporting platform Collideoscope; and a project fighting corruption in Malaysia.

    Bringing out the poetry in potholes

    There’s something about FixMyStreet that inspires some users to exercise their powers of descriptive prose: we celebrated many of them in this 2014 post.

    Then there are the reports which attract comments from other users. Lots of them, year in, year out. This one about seagulls in Brighton, for example, has become a one-stop forum for people all around the country to come together in their mutual despair of and/or love for our coastal avian friends.

    Ever more reports

    stats page fms

    You can track the progress as we head towards the next million reports on our new stats page; where you might also be interested to see which councils are currently responding to issues most quickly, and what categories of problem are most-reported at any given time.

    As you can see, at the moment the site is handling around 4,000 reports a week: but you can expect that to rise when the weather gets colder — we always get a lot more pothole reports in the winter.

    And, are you wondering just what that millionth report was about? Nothing is ever simple: because some reports are made and then subsequently deleted at the user’s request, or because they contravene FixMyStreet’s house rules, we can’t just identify report number 1000000 as the millionth. Those deleted reports retain their original numbers, even though they’re not live.

    But doing a quick bit of calculation, we suspect that the rightful millionth report might be this utterly unremarkable one in Knowsley. Long live the unsensational reports that simply get things fixed.


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    Image: Alison Benbow (CC by/2.0)

  6. Happy birthday FixMyStreet

    On Friday the 2nd of February, 2007, the very first public report was sent through FixMyStreet. It concerned a broken light on a canal footbridge in Oxford.

    It’s a little-known fact that FixMyStreet was originally called Neighbourhood Fix-It. Launching the site was a good idea, but changing that name may be the next best thing we ever did.

    Ten years on, the site has processed over 900,000 reports, sending them to every local authority in the UK. In doing so, it helps citizens take an active part in keeping their own local communities clean, safe and functional. Meanwhile it ensures that you, the user, never have to give a second thought to which council needs to receive which type of report.

    But it’s not just a local success: FixMyStreet’s codebase has also been used to set up similar sites in more than 20 countries worldwide, from the Maldives to Malaysia and beyond.

    It’s been adopted as several councils’ primary fault-reporting interface on their own websites, from Bristol to Oxfordshire and even Zürich, and we’ve worked in partnership with these authorities to develop new features that make it as useful and simple to use as possible. Watch this space, as we’ll be talking a lot more about these soon.

    FixMyStreet continues to surprise even us. Thanks to its remarkable flexibility, the codebase has also been used to underpin a number of other projects, including Collideoscope, where you can report cycling collisions and near misses, and the Channel 4 tie-in, the Empty Homes Spotter. We know there will be many more to come.

    So, here’s to FixMyStreet. At heart, it’s a little site that matches a pin on a map with the body that’s responsible for that location. But when you consider what it’s achieved — getting communities fixed up, making council reporting interfaces more user-friendly, empowering people to take their first steps into local participation, even challenging corruption — well, we hope you’ll see why we’re proud of how far FixMyStreet has come.


    Image: S. (CC by-sa/2.0)

  7. Stats, technology and at least one really bad joke about tapirs: the mySociety year in review

    If you’re wondering what a year in Civic Tech looks like, well, here’s the answer:
    plenty of coding, video calls with partners around the world, the occasional conference, and tea. Lots of tea.

    Oh, and then there’s the annual treat of posing for the team photo on a windy winter’s day. That’s us, above. Damp. Cold. Still believing in the transformative power of digital technologies.

    We bundled it all together, with plenty of stats, a couple of jokes, and tweets from some of our happy users.

    Here’s the result. Sit back and enjoy the mySociety Year in Review, 2015.

     

    Read the 2015 mySociety Annual Report

  8. WhatDoTheyKnow informed half a million people last month

    In September, it was just over 491,000.

    In August, nearly 495,000.

    July, more like 480,000 and June, 470,000.

    In May, we were just ELEVEN blinkin’ visitors off half a million.

    But in October, finally, we saw half a million unique users accessing WhatDoTheyKnow.

    Talk about edge-of-the-seat stuff.

    half a mil

    It’s one of the figures that isn’t greatly talked about when it comes to WhatDoTheyKnow: people tend to focus on the number of requests being made, or answered.

    But just as significant, in our view, is the number of people who access the information that comes from those requests. In fact, it’s the main reason that WhatDoTheyKnow publishes Freedom of Information requests, and their responses, online. It maximises the benefit, for everyone.

    We reckon that, on average, 20 people view every request (some have many more viewers, others have fewer). That’s 20 people being informed for the price of one – a pretty good deal, we hope you’ll agree.

  9. My last post

    As you may well already know, I’m leaving mySociety and taking some time off to chillax and think about what I should do next.

    Today is my last day and it seems appropriate to sign off with a blog post, 11 years and 5 months after the first one that I can find.

    It feels too early to share any deep thoughts on what mySociety means, where we are with civic tech, what worked and what didn’t, what I learned as a founder and what we should all be focusing on next.

    One of my many reasons for wanting to move on was to regain the kind of mental freshness and detachment that comes from having fewer responsibilities for a while. So I promise that I’ll think and write more.

    Follow me on Twitter if you want to, or add your email address to my new notification list if you just want a ping when I’ve written something. Or mail me direct at tom@tomsteinberg.co.uk if you want to talk about anything.

    My main reason for writing today is to thank people. A lot of people gave up very significant portions of their lives to get mySociety to a point where it helps so many people in so many countries in so many different ways.

    So I’ve written a huge list of thankyous. If you’re missing, ping me and I’ll thank you too 🙂

    Thank you to:

    Paul Lenz for his strength, energy, focus, morality, tolerance of my foibles, and his financial and legal skills that stop this happening to me.

    Tim Morley for loving and caring for PledgeBank for so many years, and for bringing a little Esperanto to our lives. And for cooking.

    James Crabtree for writing the original article that said that something like mySociety should exist, and for being a patient trustee from many timezones away

    Tony Bowden for being the first person to try to help people outside the UK to benefit from the ideas and tools we’d built here, and for the miracle that is EveryPolitician (100+ countries, anyone?)

    James Cronin for being the chair of trustees for so long, and doing so with a calm, kind level-headedness that I think would drive other charity CEO’s wild with jealousy. And for being such a key part of starting mySociety in the first place.

    Mark Cridge for taking on the challenge of running mySociety, and for resisting the temptation to use me as a scapegoat for everything [n.b. this thanks may be retroactively repealed]

    Ian Chard for keeping the server lights on, for making me believe I can do more with every day of my life, and for telling me about the British Library’s amazing online newspaper archive.

    FOIMonkey for spotting when councils dump tons of private data out via accidental FOI. You are what other people mean by eternal vigilance.

    Deborah Kerr for being eternally patient and kind to the users, even when they were taxing, and for doing super retreat organising on a shoestring.

    Ganesh Sittampalam for a billion hours of patient FOI administration, helping make WhatDoTheyKnow the institution it is today.

    Alex Skene for so much volunteering on WhatDoTheyKnow, for grown-up management advice that I took seriously, and for surprising me at the Olympics

    Abi Broom for nothing*.

    Richard Taylor for years of diligent volunteering on WhatDoTheyKnow, making us all laugh with his videos of council meetings, and being perhaps the most knowledgeable person about every vote in Parliament who has ever lived.

    Adam MacGreggor for server cabinet wrangling at difficult moments.

    Ben Nickolls for heading up such a happy, productive commercial team, and for helping me understand that £200 is an entirely reasonable sum to spend on bicycle pedals.

    Owen Blacker for a lot of trustees meetings, and for always keeping us spiritually close to the digital rights world.

    Ethan Zuckerman for helping me gain perspective, and for being my biggest fan in the USA.

    Jen Pahlka for being an even bigger fan than Ethan, and for endlessly quoting me on stages around the world.

    Sam Smith for early hacking, for running OpenTech, and for reminding me that chippiness always has a place.

    Dave Whiteland for the stories, and for travelling far and wide to help people take advantage of our tools and learnings. And, on a personal note, for showing me what it means to be a truly good son.

    Michal Migurski for making Mapumental so beautiful, and for bringing your tech skills to Code for America

    Amandeep Rehlon for being the volunteer finance department before we had a finance department, and for giving me the unique pleasure of sending my expense receipts to the Bank of England’s financial crises department.

    Bill Thompson for organising the first puntcon, where I first met Chris. And for giving feedback on the very earliest versions of the mySociety plan.

    Etienne Pollard for helping at every stage, whether a drama hippy, a McKinsey suit, or a harried public servant.

    Stephen King for, yes, representing our biggest funder, but also for being clear, friendly, and a quiet champion for mySociety. And for sometimes helping translate from Californian to English.

    Alistair Sloan for being such a dedicated WhatDoTheyKnow volunteer that he once got the bus from Glasgow to London for a meeting.

    Duncan Parkes for making Mapumental performant in the post-flash era, even when it looked like it might not be possible. And for the best retreat presentation ever.

    Struan Donald for the puns, the deadpan one liners, and for making both FixMyStreet and TheyWorkForYou so much better.

    Micah Sifry and Ellen Miller for making me unofficial members of the US civic tech family.

    Eben Upton, now Raspberry Pi legend, who booked me a speaking gig in the Cambridge Microsoft Research labs which is where I first met Francis Irving and (I think) Chris Lightfoot.

    Dan Jellinek for bringing together VoxPolitics with me and James Crabtree, which was the precursor to mySociety.

    Janet Haven for the money. For her ‘massive thermonuclear powered bullshit detector’ [ht Tom Longley]. And, oh yes, for becoming a friend too.

    Ayesha and Keith Garrett for design help on PledgeBank, and sysadmin skills, long ago.

    Tim Jackson for taking a philanthropic punt on a wild idea, long ago, which worked.

    Robin Houston for doing battle on a project you didn’t really love, but that was for the right purpose.

    Pierre Omidyar for making all that money at eBay, and then deciding that we deserved some of it.

    Tom Loosemore for hacking together our very first web presence, and for being a positive, confidence inspiring presence in good times and bad ever since.

    Mike Bracken for the vital job of helping us get out first significant grant, and then years later for successfully smuggling mySociety values into government.

    Richard Pope for being a ceaseless fount of new ideas, and for driving the first redesign of TheyWorkForYou.

    Edmund von der Burg for showing that you can both be a charming coder, and capable of building an office out of a shipping container, with your own hands.

    Julian Todd for realising that vote data in the UK parliament deserved clear, regular, semi-automated analysis to make it useful for most people, and then for making it real in PublicWhip. If history is fair it will note him as the inventor of modern vote analyses.

    Helen Goulden for helping us navigate the tricky paths to government money, back when there was any.

    Doug Paulley for blazing onto the scene as an amazing new WhatDoTheyKnow volunteer.

    Martin Wright for turning us from an organisation that sucked at design, to one that really rocks. And for his enduring love of Yo.

    Stef Magdalinski for the name of the charity, and for trusting me with TheyWorkForYou

    Nick Jackson for happy rats and research stats.

    Jason Kitcat for the very first mySociety.org!

    Matt Jones for mySociety’s logo, which is still going strong, albeit in a gently shaded new style.

    Alex Smith for helping us through TV-driven load spikes with customarily despairing good humour.

    Manar Hussain for diligent, challenging trusteeship that was always good humoured, and never afraid to bring in new ideas.

    The public sector for being such a terrible employer of programming talent that it gave us both Matthew and Steve

    John Cross for being a brilliant WhatDoTheyKnow volunteer.

    Steve Day for being a brilliant, sensitive engineering manager, wise far beyond his age, all whilst riding a BMX.

    Christoph Dowe for helping organise the series of Berlin-based conferences that first brought together Europe’s civic hackers, and which ultimately helped attract funding to the scene.

    Liz Conlan for the coffee advice

    Chris Mytton – for introducing the words ‘craft ales’ to mySociety’s internal discourse, for showing that not going to university has no impact on your ability to be either an amazing coder or a well rounded human being.

    Steve Clift for being there to talk to about digital politics when nobody else was interested, and for loving Poplus into life.

    Dave Arter for wrestling Mapumental into a truly beautiful state, for your Github robot, and for convincing me that Wales is disproportionately full of bright young coders.

    Gareth Rees for helping make Alaveteli our most-used platform, and for bringing a little race-car glamour to our team.

    Rebecca Rumbul for getting our new research programme of to a flying start, and for showing me that the art of creative swearing is never truly mastered

    Jen Bramley for cheerfully travelling the world and making people feel that mySociety must be worth working with if everyone is so nice

    Gemma Humphrys for bringing a tornado of efficiency to our events organisation, and for having absolutely no boundaries that I am aware of.

    Rowena Young for being a person I could really moan to, when things got tough.

    Myf Nixon for being our organisation’s voice, for looking after our users, and for making sure that we get noticed.

    Tony Blair for starting a war that inspired Julian Todd to build PublicWhip, and much later for commissioning a petitions website that caused all sorts of fun and games.

    Seb Bacon for making DemocracyClub happen in 2010, for starting the conversion of WhatDoTheyKnow.com into the generic Alaveteli, and for going off to OpenCorporates to make it harder for the b*&^&ds to get away with it.

    Sym Roe for making DemocracyClub happen in 2015, and for giving a lot of his time to the cause of good political information in the UK.

    Tim Green for being the new Chris Lightfoot

    Tom Longley for giving us a no-nonsense introduction to how hard it was going to be to conduct successful partnerships in the developing world.

    Mark Longair for making sure that technological excellence and human kindness are are the core of what we do.

    Camilla Aldrich for the lungs

    Angie Martin for giving all she could, for as long as she could.

    Zarino Zappia for ceaseless energy and good humour, and for asking hilariously straight questions about why we made terrible design decisions previously

    Karl Grundy, Kristina Glushkova and Mike Thompson for helping us grow a commercial team, over several years.

    The vandal who repeatedly smashed up the phone booth on London’s Caledonian Road, and thus planted the idea for FixMyStreet

    William Perrin for helping make government interested in data and tech before it was cool, and for virtually single-handedly starting the UK government’s work on Open Data. And for all the support and the ideas in his post civil service life.

    Fran Perrin for the support, and for protecting me from William’s ideas.

    Louise Crow for showing me what a technology leader really looks like.

    Matthew Somerville for always standing up for the user, for making everything work, and for doing it all in a tenth the time expected. And for a hug when I needed it most.

    Francis Irving for joining at the right time, for leaving at the right time, and being a monster of thoughtful product design and speedy, skilful implementation in between. For always being excited, and always wise.

    Chris Lightfoot for giving me a brief, life-changing glimpse of what the raging, brilliant light of genius looks like. And being the person who introduced me to Anna.

    Anna Powell-Smith for everything, everyday.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    * Trust me, this is how she’d want it

  10. Now we are 10

    At some point in the final quarter of this year – and the exact moment differs, depending on who you believe – mySociety turned ten.

    Our Director Tom, mySociety’s founder, describes this as “a frankly improbable milestone”. He has seen mySociety grow from an idea on the back of an envelope, to an international social enterprise with friends, partners, volunteers and clients around the world.

    Last week, at a small birthday party, Tom pulled out five key elements of  mySociety’s first decade – elements that symbolise different facets of the organisation’s growth and impact.

    Not all of our many friends, associates and partners could join us at that party, so I’m going to share those elements here.

    1. mySociety’s first project

    writetothem screenshotThis screenshot shows the brand new design for WriteToThem.com, which we have just recently put live.

    WriteToThem, our site for sending messages to politicians, was the first mySociety launch. That was way back in 2004. This launch, says Tom, was a key moment because it showed that mySociety wasn’t just ideas and bluster – it could build useful things that people actually wanted.

    WriteToThem was of course followed by sites like FixMyStreet, FixMyTransport and TheyWorkForYou, all built by marvellous developers to whom the organisation owes great thanks (see the foot of this post for a large quantity of thanks).

    2. Our volunteers

    Another of our UK websites is WhatDoTheyKnow, which lets you make or browse Freedom of Information requests, as simply as possible. It’s visited about half a million times a month, and has become a bit of a UK internet institution – a place you go for a certain kind of information.

    Confirm or Deny blog post

    Above is a screenshot from FOI blog Confirm or Deny: a list of 366 interesting things we know because of FOI requests made on the site. It was lovingly compiled by Helen, one of our volunteers; she’s a member of the truly heroic team who help keep that site running, and it represents the dedication that all our volunteers bring to their work.

    See the thanks section for lots more gratitude to our volunteers – and read more about volunteering for mySociety here.

    3. Our international partners

    kimittud screenshot

    Above you can see a screenshot of Ki Mi Tut, a Hungarian Freedom of Information site, run by a local NGO. It already contains nearly 2,000 FOI requests.  This site is a deployment of Alaveteli – the technology we spun out of WhatDoTheyKnow so that people around the world could run sites that would help citizens to chisel information out of their governments.

    Ki Mi Tut symbolises the growing success of our international team, and mySociety’s international focus more generally. If you know mySociety as the builder of  UK sites, you might not know that the great majority of our development efforts today goes towards helping groups like this to run services around the world: helping people to keep an eye on their politicians, obtain information from governments, get streets fixed and so on.

    4. Our commercial work

    empty homes spotter

    mySociety isn’t just a charity any more – mySociety ltd is our trading subsidiary, and is growing fast. It’s twice the size the whole of mySociety used to be, and it’s still growing.

    As a symbol of this success, we proffer mySociety’s first Emmy nomination – yes, we were surprised too! – for a site and app we made for a campaigning TV show in conjunction with Channel 4.

    5. mySociety’s future

    Tom finished by giving a glimpse at a new tool we have in development – SayIt – focused on helping people around the world find out more about what decision makers have been saying about things that matter to their lives, their homes, their jobs their kids or their communities. SayIt will go into a public alpha early in the New Year, and we’ll talk more about it then.

    Unlike our earlier projects, SayIt isn’t being built for Britain first – it’s being built to work anywhere.  We’re not building it alone: it’s just one of the components that form the Poplus partnership, a federation of collaborative empowerment tech builders that we have kicked off in conjunction with FCI Chile. And we promise we’ll let you all have a play very soon.

    So, that’s it – a whistlestop tour of our first decade, and a glimpse at what’s to come.

    We’d like to thank you for reading this far – and talking of thanks…

     

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