Darius has updated us on the developments at Parasykjiems.lt. After series of tests run on their data it looks like the team has quite a big chunk of data to look through still. Some of it needs correcting, some of it is missing. Darius is meeting the representatives of Transparency International Lithuania this Wednesday to discuss potential additional resources for this task. He also added:
“There are also some small programming things that need to be addressed:
* migrate from sqlite to mysql on our server
* merge DB refactoring branch
* make some other small improvements, such as introduce “Subject” field in the message, and improve “Feedback” form, as we have no means to contact the person who contacted us.”
Yesterday we have witnessed the official launch of parasykjiems.lt, Lithuanian clone of WriteToThem. The first launch of the site happened on the 13th of January, though not on its own domain and the site was not fully functional yet. Users could send the requests to their local MP’s but did not receive responses. Now, it’s possible.
I spoke to Darius Damalakas today about the feedback on the new website. He mentioned writing to his local MP about a street, which required attention of his local authorities. The response he has received was positive, promising to include the street in the plans of street repairs for 2011. So Darius considers it a good sign for the start of the project.
When asked about promotion, Darius responded honestly. They still need to finish uploading all the data on Vilnius to be able to give the promotional activities a big push. The local Transparency International team has promised support on that. They also plan to use their Facebook fan page for that very purpose.
Darius is meeting the members of their mailing list tomorrow to discuss the past and the future of their work and to pin down next steps so I am sure we will learn about those from their blog. One major consequence of the launch will be the development of a generic platform to be used by other regions. The details on that development and cooperation between few countries will become clear quite soon and I will share them with you.
For now, let’s celebrate the new website and please, if you have worked on something similar in the past, do let us know. Darius would love to share experiences and learn from others!
In Lithuania in the meantime Darius Damalakas is working on launching the beta version of parasykjiems.lt, site which was tested for the last few weeks:
“This week we will launch the site in beta, meaning that people will be able to send emails directly to their representatives. Currently all emails were sent to our own private email box for testing purposes, but it will change this week.”
KąVeikiaValdžia.lt Policy Feed has also experienced a small change. According to their blog, Emilis and the team decided to simplify the design of the main page after last year’s experiment:
“It used to be KąVeikiaValdžia.lt was greeting visitors with an enormous list of newest published documents by Seimas (Parliament), Government and an assortment of Municipal press offices. This was very well indicative of the resources the database contains – more than 20 thousand of them – but it was too daunting for a first time visitors who still make a significant portion of web site traffic. The list itself wasn’t that bad – it was the original names of documents that one really needs to get used to.
Late last year a different approach was experimented with – that of a fairly minimal front page with a prominent search field and links to preformed sample queries on the most popular topics: Presidential affairs, Ministry of Education, some municipalities and several politicians.”
It’s great to see the team pronouncing the very essence of successful projects, something we strongly advocate too:
“Simplicity proves itself as a good entrance to complex systems.”
Have a look at the current design and let the developers know what you think. They ask you for feedback and even better ideas!
I have asked Darius Damalakas (the Lithuanian clone of Write To Them parasykjiems.lt) to explain the international approach to the development of WTT clone websites in Central and Eastern Europe. This quote is a bit long, so I do apologise, but he did it in such a great way that I could not summarize it any better. So over to Darius:
“WTT projects can be roughly grouped into 3 big parts:
a) The government representative database
b) The mechanisms of finding a relevant representative for the end-user
c) The infrastructure of sending emails and receiving replies from gov
First, we must understand how the countries are different in the government hierarchy. On the biggest scale we can see that every country has members of parliament (MP). However, there are countries where MPs are elected based on constituencies. Constituencies are based on territories, that is, MPS have a territory associated to them. On the other hand, there are countries where MPs are elected without any territorial association. Lastly, there are countries which have both types of MPs.
It is this primary factor (the territorial association), which is different country to country. Other levels of government representatives usually fall again in the same two categories.
If we look at Lithuanian WTT project as an example, we can observe two things:
a) Lithuania has both types of MPs )based on constituencies, and not
b) All other representatives are strictly based on territorial regions.
It will be one of the goals to clearly analyse these differences in a meeting in Belgrade 15th of January. Every country will have to collect their own database of government representatives. The only sharing that is possible here is the information format part, that is, how and what information will be stored in the database. Also, keeping information up to date is very important, and mechanisms which facilitate process of keeping information up to date will probably save some amount of time to every country .
Next thing to discuss are the mechanisms of finding a relevant representative for the end-user. These can be grouped again into at least 2 groups, and some sub-groups:
1) Finding representative based on territory:
a) the search can be based addresses (municipality, city, street, house number) and mapping these to gov representatives;
b) the search can be based on geographical data. that is, an exact coordinates on the earth globe can be mapped to government representatives.
2) Finding representatives without any associated territory:
a) search based on topics that are interested for the user. This would be more or less like Google approach – end user types some topic, and the site scans billions of information to find a list of relevant MPs and/or other representatives;
b ) search based on some strict pre-defined list of criteria. For example, grouping MPs by the committees they are attending, by their interests, votes or anything else;
c) any other solution.
Lithuania’s approach is currently “a.1” , that is, search based on addresses. Other countries might choose different search mechanisms, but the goal is actually use several mechanisms at once. For example, Lithuania WTT will definitely use some search mechanism to find MPs not associated to any territory.
Lastly, there is the infrastructure of sending emails and receiving replies from gov representatives. This also involves publishing
replies on the site, as well as collecting various statistics for the site. This part can be shared by all projects at once, since sending
and receiving email is not different from country to country, so this part can be re-used 100%, compared to search mechanisms, which would be shared by a much smaller percentage.
To summarise, there are quite a flew places where projects can benefit if they share the same code base. Government representative databases will require a lot of effort from every country, but information update process can be facilitated by having a common process for every country. Email infrastructure as well as publishing replies and collecting statistics and search mechanisms are the key targets for sharing.”
During my conversations with project developers I also learn about the local events they are attending. Emilis Dambauskas from KąVeikiaValdžia.lt Policy Feed mentioned a data journalism workshop organised by Transparency International Lithuania last week. Emilis found it really inspiring to attend the meeting with Danish journalist, Nils Mulvad, Journalist of the Year winner. He also managed to talk to other developers involved in preparations for municipality elections scheduled for March 2011 about ways of getting the data to work with. I have also learned about plans for Transparency Camp in spring of 2011, so it looks like spring will be very busy in transparency world in the region.
As for the projects themselves, do not forget that parasykjiems.lt is at the first stage of testing, so we will hear about the results fairly soon!
Today I had a quick chat with Darius Damalakas, who is in charge of the Lithuanian clone of Write To Them and who explained exactly where they are with it. After few weeks of development, parasykjiems.lt is at the first stage of testing. Darius has asked the ManoValstybe (their umbrella project) team of 40-50 people to start sending their e-mail messages to this beta version of the site here and below.
They all need to follow simple steps: choosing the type of message they want to send (private messages are designed to land in MP’s inbox only, public ones will also be published on the website), sending the message, receiving the confirmation e-mail. While they do so, project developers should receive the sent messages to their inbox and test replying to those. By today Darius has received about 5 messages, so it’s early days and they need another two weeks to ensure that all the potential problems are identified. Only then will they test the second stage – sending messages to the real people, MP’s.
In the meantime he is really interested to hear from other projects working on similar solutions, so I am really happy we will have few posts on that soon. In his words:
The real goal of WriteToThem in Lithuania is not to suceed only locally, but to create/develop and launch similar sites in several countries at once. I really hope projets in other countries won’t start working from scratch, but instead take the functional basis from the project in Lithuania and just plug in their own sources of information.
Well, we will hear from others fairly soon too, so stay tuned!