1. Could you join the WhatDoTheyKnow team?

    About six million people a year visit mySociety’s Freedom of Information website WhatDoTheyKnow.com; there are well over 100,000 registered users, and over 385,000 requests have been made via the service.

    Of course, it’s fantastic that WhatDoTheyKnow is so well used, but the growth and popularity of the site brings its own challenges, not least the day-to-day admin that keeps the site running.

    Many aspects of the site’s operation are run by volunteers, supported by mySociety’s staff and trustees — and due to the site’s success we’re looking to expand the volunteer team.

    What does volunteering involve?

    The work is pretty varied, but there are some frequent and recurring tasks:

    Dealing appropriately with requests to remove material from the website

    This is one interesting challenge which arises fairly often. Sometimes these requests are from public bodies who’ve released information they didn’t mean to; and they can also come from individuals and companies who are named in correspondence on the site.

    These decisions are not always as black and white as you might expect. Some recent examples where we had to carefully consider the balance on both sides were:

    Responding promptly and accordingly to accidental releases

    Thankfully, the frequency with which public bodies accidentally release personal information in bulk via Freedom of Information responses is decreasing, but the WhatDoTheyKnow team still have to act promptly when this does occur.

    Supporting users

    We often help users on both sides of the FOI process. For requesters, we can answer questions about FOI and how to use it, and we also work with the staff of public bodies who are at the receiving end of requests.

    And all the rest

    There’s always more that can be done to promote the service, draw attention to interesting correspondence on the site, and lobby for improvements to our access to information laws.

    The wider team at mySociety help people around the world to establish and run their own online Freedom of Information services; and new features are being added to the UK site to make it more attractive to professional users such as journalists and campaign groups. Volunteers have the opportunity to get involved in these activities, helping steer the direction of new projects, based on their frontline experience of being a site administrator.

    Keeping the database of thousands of public bodies up to date is another challenge, especially given the frequency of reorganisations in the UK’s public sector.

    Commitments

    We work primarily by email, with regular video conferencing meetings, and occasionally meet up in person.

    As a volunteer, you can decide how much time you put in, and what aspects of running the service you decide to take part in — but ideally we’re looking for people who can spare at least an hour or two, a couple of days a week.

    We understand that people’s external commitments vary over time, and of course, there’s a flexible approach if a team member needs to step away for a stretch now and then.

    What makes a good WhatDoTheyKnow volunteer?

    There’s one characteristic that all the WhatDoTheyKnow volunteers have in common: a belief in the value of Freedom of Information, or, more widely, the expectation of transparency and accountability from the bodies which citizens fund.

    As for practical skills: perhaps you’ve been involved in moderating discussions on the web, or have experience with access to information, defamation, or data protection law. Or perhaps you have, or would like to gain, experience dealing with “customers” by email.

    Primarily we’re looking for people capable of making good judgements, and who can communicate clearly online.

    Before joining the team, new volunteers will have to agree to follow our policies covering subjects such as security and data protection. That said, part of the role may be, if desired, taking a part in developing and refining these, and other, policies as the service grows and changes.

    How to apply

    If helping us run WhatDoTheyKnow sounds like the kind of thing you’d be interested in doing, then please do apply to join us.

    We only have the capacity to bring on and train a few volunteers at a time, and it is important that those chosen to help administer the service are trustworthy and committed to its policies, direction and non-partisan stance. For these reasons, we are recruiting volunteers via a formal application process.

    To apply please write to us before the 20th of March 2017, introducing yourself, and letting us know about any relevant interests or experience you have.

    What do we offer in return?

    As a volunteer, the main reward comes from the satisfaction of assisting users, making good decisions, and helping run what is fast becoming a key part of the country’s journalistic and democratic infrastructure.

    Volunteers may be invited to mySociety events and meet-ups, providing a chance to take part in discussions about the future direction of the service and the organisation’s activities more generally. There have been a number of conferences held, where those running Freedom of Information sites around the world have got together to share experiences: one or more volunteers may be invited to join in, with travel expenses paid.

    Other ways to help out

    If volunteering to join the WhatDoTheyKnow team isn’t for you, perhaps there’s something on mySociety’s Get Involved page that is — or you could:

    Image: MarkBuckawicki [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

  2. Funding available for development work on Poplus Components

    poplusPoplus Components are interdependent, Open Source pieces of code for civic and democratic websites. Find out more on the Poplus website.

    Do you have an idea for a new Poplus Component? Or would you like to add features to an existing one?

    We’re currently inviting groups and individuals to apply for grants. You may apply for up to USD $5,000 to help you with development work on creating or improving a Poplus Component.

    • Priority will be given to proposals for the development of new Poplus Components, or new features for existing Components.
    • We will also consider grants for those planning to implement existing Poplus Components into wider projects.

    How to apply

    Please complete this form before 10th September 2014.

    We hope to inform successful applicants by 17th September. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

    Help us fund more projects

    This funding will be the final expenditure from the original Poplus start-up grant.

    If you represent a funding organisation, and might be interested in helping support the growth of Poplus through funding micro-grants, please do let us know! Poplus Components represent great ‘bang for your buck’, since they are re-usable across the entire eDemocracy worldwide community.