1. How to publish local FixMyStreet reports onto your Facebook page

    If you run a Facebook page or group for a local community, you might like to add a FixMyStreet feed. This will publish recent reports, made within the geographic area that you define, as posts on your Facebook page, like this:

    FixMyStreet on a Facebook page

    Adding a FixMyStreet feed to your Facebook page is not difficult, but you do need to be an administrator for the page you want it on.

    Also, it is a multi-step procedure. In other words, you might like to fetch yourself a cup of tea before following along with the instructions below.

    Here’s what to do:

    1. Visit FixMyStreet.com and locate the area you want a feed for

    Does your Facebook page deal with a particular city or town, or an area within that town?

    You’ll probably want to publish the FixMyStreet reports that are made within that area. The wider the area you choose, the more reports you will be publishing, so think carefully about what your followers will actually want to see on your Facebook stream.

    Once you’ve decided, locate that area on FixMyStreet by putting a postcode or place name into the box on the homepage. It doesn’t need to be precise; you just need to locate any spot within the area that you want to cover.

    find area on FixMyStreet

    You’ll be taken to a page showing all recent reports for the surrounding area.

    Local area on FixMyStreet

    Don’t worry if this isn’t the exact area that you want your feed to cover, so long as you’re at a point within that area – we’re going to refine that in the next step.

    You can click and drag the map or zoom in and out if you’re not quite within the area that you want to be.

    2. Create your feed

    At the very foot of the FixMyStreet page, below the list of reports on the left, you’ll see a little icon marked “get updates”. Click on this.

    get updates from FixMyStreet

    You now have the choice of several options. You can get a feed for:

    – All problems reported within 2km, 5km, 10km or 20km, or within a population of roughly 200,000 people

    – All problems reported to your local council

    – All problems reported within the ward of your council

    Choose which option most closely matches the area that your Facebook page deals with, and click the green button marked ‘Give me an RSS feed’.

    Pick your FixMyStreet feed

    3. Grab the URL

    Your feed page will look something like this:

    FixMyStreet RSS feed

    It’s basically just the data from FixMyStreet, with none of the site’s styling or functionality around it. This is what we need Facebook to grab and publish on your page.

    You will need the URL (web address) of this page in a short while – just keep it open while you go through the next steps.

    4. Log into Facebook

    You don’t need to be logged in as the page that you want the feed on; it’s fine just to be logged in as yourself, the administrator of that page.

    5. Connect an RSS action to your Facebook page In order to publish FixMyStreet reports, you’ll be using what’s called an RSS feed – a stream of data that can be picked up and published anywhere else. In this case, the data stream is found on what you saw in step 3: the ‘bare bones’ FixMyStreet page; and the target for publication is your Facebook page.

    Facebook itself does not provide a way to publish RSS feeds, so we’re going to use a service called IFTTT.

    IFTTT stands for ‘If This, Then That”, and it’s a really nifty, free service that basically allows you to say: “Every time [something] happens, do [something else].

    We are going to use it to say “Every time a new post appears in the RSS feed that I specify, publish it to my Facebook page”.

    Here’s what to do.

    a) Sign up for an IFTTT account, if you don’t already have one.

    IFTTT homepage

    b) Click on ‘my recipes’ and then ‘create a recipe’:

    create an IFTTT recipe

    c) Click the word ‘this’:


    d) Search for the word ‘feed’ and then select the orange RSS symbol:


    e) Click ‘new feed item’:

    new feeditem

    f) Input the URL of your FixMyStreet feed (the one we kept open earlier, in step 3) and click ‘create trigger’:

    input url

    g) We’ve set up the first half of our ‘recipe’—the ‘IF THIS’. You can see it as the orange RSS feed sign in the sentence now.
    So next we’re going to tell the recipe what to do when that feed updates.
    Click the word ‘that’:


    h) Search for Facebook and select ‘Facebook pages’:


    IFTTT will take you through the steps of linking with Facebook and choosing which page to publish to. Just make sure you say ‘yes’ to everything.

    i) Choose how you would like updates to display – I think a link post looks most suitable

    This format allows you to add a message to every item it publishes: probably a good idea, because it helps give context to these posts that are going to appear in your Facebook stream.

    FixMyStreet reports are often written in the first person, so if they appear without a title or explanation, they may look as if they are posts from you yourself – take a look at the example at the top of this post and you’ll see what I mean.


    j) Input some text if required, eg “Here’s a new report from x area”:

    fill in

    k) Click ‘create action’ and you’re done. Note that your feed will not start publishing out until the next report is made on FixMyStreet.

    Do let us know in the comments below if you go ahead and install this functionality – plus any tips you might have.

    By the way, you can use this method to publish any RSS feed to your Facebook page, so you could also publish anything from blog posts to YouTube videos, so long as you can find the RSS source, which is usually signaled by that little orange icon: rss


    A user, Alan, has kindly been in touch with this message:

    I connected to Facebook Pages, and assigned a Facebook Page I manage (a trial site). Then, later, I couldn’t figure out how to change to another Facebook Page I manage. After much delving, I found that people can change the Facebook Page to where the feed should go on this page.
    Also of note: I have also had a dabble with zapier.com which seems pretty good at doing the same thing. It offers a range of subscription plans ranging from free.


  2. Collaborate on your SayIt transcripts

    Leafcutter ants by Jon PinderOver the last few days, we’ve looked at various ways to use SayIt. This is the final post in the series for now, and it’s highlighting a feature rather than pointing out a use.

    SayIt is still in active development – that’s to say, we’re working on it and adding new features all the time.

    One of the significant features that recently went live is that SayIt sites can now have more than one editor.

    Who needs to collaborate?

    We can think of lots of reasons to collaborate:

    • If you’re minuting meetings, you can get others to share the burden of recording, proofing and editing.
    • If you are collecting together statements about a wide topic, or expect your project to run over some length of time, you can call in people to help.
    • If you’re running a campaign, you can ask your supporters to help you crowd-source relevant material.
    • If you are part of an oral history archive, or similar community project, you can share access with others in your group.

    …and we’re sure that there are many other uses too.

    How to collaborate

    You’ll need a SayIt site.

    If you haven’t started your SayIt site yet, just go to this page to start one up. If you’ve got one already, log in.

    Then invite your collaborators. Just click on the ‘invite friends to help’ button.

    invite collaborators to SayItPut in the email address of a friend or colleague. We’ll send them an invitation to help add and edit speeches and sections.

    Share your SayIt

    Repeat as required. You can invite as many people as you like.

    Ways to use SayIt

    Check out our series of step-by-step blog posts to explain how to:

    Image credit: Leaf Cutter Ants by Jon Pinder (CC)

  3. How to use SayIt to store interviews from your research project

    Jenni Murray by Steve BowbrickOur free, open source software SayIt is primarily designed for making and publishing transcripts of meetings – but it can also be very useful for anyone who needs to store interviews or other collections of the spoken word.

    When interviews are stored in SayIt, not only are they accessible in an easy, attractive format – but you can also search, browse by speaker or chronologically, and share snippets with colleagues or peers.

    We can see SayIt being of use to oral historians, researchers, people who conduct focus groups – and doubtless there are many more potential uses too.

    In this post, I am going to walk through the process of setting up your own SayIt site, and publishing some interviews.

    I haven’t got any interviews I’ve conducted recently, but I have got a book of interviews right here, so I’ll use that as an example. Note that this is copyrighted material, which I am using purely for the sake of an example. In these small quantities, that’s fine, but of course we recommend that you only use your own material, or content that is in the public domain.

    If you’d like to follow along, you’ll need a transcript of one or more interviews. It should take less than half an hour to get started, and fully understand how SayIt can help you.

    1. Sign up

    Begin by going to this page.

    Sayit sign-up

    You’ll need to input:

    • A portion of the URL (web address) – choose a word or phrase that relates to your topic: it needs to be lower case and without spaces or irregular characters (ie, just letters and numbers). Unfortunately for the grammatically correct, this means my chosen ‘womanshour’ can’t have an apostrophe!
    • A title – keep it short; this will go on the top bar of every page of your site.
    • A description – again, not too long; this will sit next to the title on every page.

    Don’t worry too much about the title and description, though: you can go back and edit them at any time in the future.

    signup for SayIt, part 2

    In part 2 of the sign-up process, input an email address, choose a username and pick a password. We’ll send an automated message to your email which you click to confirm your account.

    Or, if you have a Twitter account, you can link your SayIt account to that, avoiding the confirmation step.

    You’ll only have to go through this sign-up phase one time: once you have an account, you can start any number of new SayIt sites without signing up again.

    Step 2: Start adding your interviews

    Click on any of the screenshots if you’d like to see them bigger.

    Start adding speeches on SayItWe’re going to add interviews a statement at a time. For the purposes of inputting interviews into SayIt, we regard a ‘statement’ as each turn someone takes in speaking.

    Type or copy and paste the first statement into the ‘text’ box.

    Adding a speech to SayItThen fill in as many details as are appropriate in the surrounding fields. SayIt uses this information to arrange your interviews in a useful way, as you’ll see later.

    Speaker: The name of the person speaking

    Section: You might use this to allocate specific interviews or sessions. Sections are particularly useful if you are transcribing interviews, in ways that you’ll see shortly.

    Source URL: For this type of usage, you probably don’t need this – it is useful when your material comes from a website.

    Date and time: You can input a date if you don’t know the time, and vice-versa. Or, if you don’t know the time, leave this blank and SayIt will organise your statements in the order you input them.

    Event and location: If these details are of importance, add them.

    Title and tags: This allows you to add descriptive words to your statements which may help you find all statements on a certain theme, for example.

    All fields are optional, and you can go back and edit them later if you want to. When you’ve finished, click ‘Save speech’.

    A saved speech on SayIt3. Add some more, and see what happens

    Then click on ‘add another speech’ and paste in the next statement in your interview.

    If you’ve filled in the ‘section’ field, SayIt will start doing clever things: arranging all your statements within their own section, and predicting the speaker and date fields so you don’t have to input that information for every statement (you can overwrite these if SayIt makes a wrong assumption, though).

    Here’s my section called ‘Betty Boothroyd interview’:

    Speeches within a section on SayIt

    It arranges the conversation in an easy-to-read format. By clicking on any of the speaker’s names, I can see every statement allocated to them:

    One person's speeches on SayIt– and what’s more, I can search just this person’s statements, or the whole of my SayIt site.

    I went on to add several more interviews, giving each one its own section – if I click on the ‘Speeches’ link at the top of the page, I can see them neatly arranged:

    Sections on SayItWhile on the speaker’s page, I can see every person whose statements I’ve added:

    Speakers on SayIt

    And the homepage is keeping count of how many speakers, speeches and sections there are:

    homepage of a SayIt instance

    4.Get help

    For big projects, it makes sense to collaborate! Click on the button marked ‘invite some friends to help you’ on the speech input page, and you’ll be able to send emails that invite your associates to log in and join you.

    5. Other options

    In this walk-through, we’ve looked at how to manually import your interviews, on a site that is hosted by us. More advanced users may wish to look at bulk imports, and/or hosting their own SayIt site.

    Both will soon be possible – get in touch if you’d like to know more.

    And that’s it

    I hope I have demonstrated how useful SayIt can be for storing interviews. Please do let us know if you have a go. We’d love to find out what projects it’s being used for – and your suggestions for new features will be very useful in helping us decide priorities for development.

    Other ways to use SayIt

    See our posts on:

    Using SayIt to publish transcripts of meetings

    Using SayIt to make collections of statements

    Coming soon:

    – Collaborating with others on SayIt

    Jenni Murray image by Steve Bowbrick (CC)

  4. How to use SayIt to publish transcripts of meetings

    A Scribe from the Book of HoursIn yesterday’s blog post we talked about using our free, Open Source software, SayIt, to create collections of statements, like our collections of Party speeches.

    That’s one use of SayIt – but we actually built it with a slightly different aim in mind: the storing and publication of transcripts.

    SayIt really does transform transcripts – so, if you regularly take minutes of meetings at work, or in another capacity, it’s worth a look.

    That’s easy for us to say, we know. But if you play with it for half an hour, we think you’ll see the benefits.

    Making online transcripts better for your readers

    Traditionally, transcripts of meetings are published as PDFs or Microsoft Word documents. The information is there; you’ve done your duty in making it available – but do you ever wonder if it’s really working for your readers?

    For example, let’s say you are a clerk in the local council, and you routinely publish transcripts from council meetings online.

    The chances are that residents access your transcripts when they have an interest in one specific topic. Typically your meetings cover many subjects, and readers have to wade through pages to find the part they want. On SayIt, searching is very easy, even for people who are not very familiar with internet technology.

    Search on SayIt

    Or suppose that you are a member of a pressure group, and you’ve transcribed a local community meeting to share on your website. You might want to highlight particular parts of the meeting. With SayIt, you can link to individual statements, so it’s simple to share them by email, social media, or on your website.

    A SayIt speech is linkable in context


    See some examples

    If you’d like to see how your meeting transcripts will look, once they’ve been published on SayIt, have a browse through these two examples:


    Getting started

    SayIt sign-upReady to have a go? Here’s how to start your own SayIt site:

    1. Go to this page and sign up.

    We’ll ask you for:

    • Part of the URL (web address) for your site – for example, if you choose “TotnesCouncil”, your new URL will be http://TotnesCouncil.sayit.mysociety.org. Note that URLs can’t contain spaces or non-regular characters.
    • A title: this will appear in the top bar of your website. Don’t sweat too much: you can always change this later. In this example we might choose “Totnes Council meetings”.
    • A description (optional): this is a good place to explain the purpose of your site at a little more length. You might write something like “Transcripts from local council meetings in Totnes, UK, 2014 onwards”. Again, you will have the chance to change this later if you like.

    2. Confirm your email address

    If this is the first time you have used SayIt, you will need to input your email address, then go to your email and find our automated message so you can click on the confirmation link.

    SayIt congratulations

    Keep a note of your password, as you will need it whenever you want to edit your site.

    Inputting transcripts

    SayIt is currently in Beta – that’s to say, it’s functional and live, but we’re still developing it.

    In this phase, you can manually type (or copy and paste) each statement of your transcript in. Soon, it will also be possible to import a document of the entire meeting, as long as it’s in the required format – if you have a lot of existing transcripts and you’d like to try this, get in touch and we may be able to help.

    In this post, we’ll look at the manual input of speeches.

    Manual input

    You will need either a copy of your transcript, or a recording of the meeting you wish to transcribe.

    Here’s how to begin:

    1. Click on the ‘add your first statement’ button.

    Add your first speech to SayIt

     2. You can paste, or type, your content directly into the box marked “text”.

    Adding content to SayItIn the fields below the text box, you have the option to add more details about this piece of text. None of these fields are mandatory, but all of them add functionality or information to your transcript:

    • Date and time If you know these, they are useful because they will help SayIt to order your speeches chronologically. Don’t worry if you don’t know them, though – SayIt automatically arranges speeches in the order that you input them, unless the timestamps tell it otherwise.
    • Event and location What sort of meeting was it, and where did it happen? For our example, we might input “Totnes Town Council Meeting” and “Guildhall, Totnes”.
    • Speaker Enter a name, and then click on the underlined text to add it to your database. As with all text fields on SayIt, once you have added it, it will be offered as an auto-fill option for subsequent speeches. Attaching names to your speeches also means that SayIt can do clever things, like display everything said by one speaker.

    If you are not sure who spoke, don’t worry – you can leave this field blank, or enter a name such as ‘Unknown’.

    • Section Meetings often have distinct sections: an introductory period, apologies for absences, following up on agreed actions, etc. Or you might use Section to identify items on the agenda. If you use the Section field, SayIt will automatically arrange your transcript into groups of associated content.
    • Source URL If you are taking speeches from a source such as a news report or another website, you can add the web address so that interested people can see it in context.
    • Title and tags: These enable you to tag your content – for example, you might want to tag everything to do with road-building, and everything to do with tourism, et cetera. That means that your readers will be able to find the sections of the content they are most interested in.

    When you’ve added everything you want to for this part of speech, click “Save speech”.

    Well done! You’ve just added your first speech to SayIt.

    You can go back and edit it at any time – and that applies to every field.

    A SayIt speech

    3. Continue adding speeches.

    As you do so, SayIt will be making connections and organising things neatly.

    Tip: If you click ‘add another speech like this’ then fields such as ‘event and location’ will automatically be filled for you – you can overwrite them if they are incorrect for your next speech.

    Click on ‘Speakers’ to see an icon for everyone you’ve added:

    Speakers screen on SayIt

    – and click on any one of those icons to see just their speeches:

    One person's speeches on SayIt

    Clicking on ‘Speeches’ in the top bar will show you every speech you’ve input; if you used Sections, they will be divided up neatly:

    Speeches on SayItClick on any of those sections to see its content:

    speeches on SayIt

    You’ve done it

    So there you are, now you’ve seen what SayIt can do – we hope you liked it enough to consider using it in the future. Remember, it’s completely free.

    Let us know if you hit any problems, or if there are features you’d like us to add. SayIt is in active development at the moment, so your feedback will help shape it. We’d also love to hear if you are using it.

    Importing content

    Manual inputting is clearly only practical for shorter meetings (or people who have plenty of time on their hands!). As mentioned above, we’ll be adding the ability to import your transcripts.

    They will need to be in the format that SayIt accepts, which is Akoma Ntoso, a schema for Parliamentary document types – you can read more about that here.

    If you already have documents in Akoma Ntoso, get in touch and we can get them imported for you.


    You can host SayIt on your own servers, but for beginner users it’s quicker and easier to start by creating a version that we host, as described in the steps above.

    If you decide later on that you want to host the content yourself, and perhaps embed it on your own website, that option will remain open to you.

    SayIt is a Poplus Component – open-source software that is designed to underpin digital democracy projects. It can stand alone, or work with other Poplus Components. The source code is also available for developers to modify and improve, so if you are already imagining more ambitious ways that you might use SayIt on your website, let us know.

    Other ways to use SayIt

    We’ve recently written about:

    Using SayIt to make collections of statements.

    Using SayIt to store interviews from your research project

    We’ll also be looking at the following soon:

    – Collaborating with other users on SayIt transcripts

    Image: A scribe from the Book of Hours (public domain)

  5. How (and why) to use SayIt to make a collection of statements

    West Pier on fire

    When we developed SayIt, we envisioned it primarily as a tool for publishing transcripts of meetings, but there’s another way you can use it, too: to create a collection of statements.

    Our recent publication of Labour and Conservative party speeches is a good example of this kind of use. Each speech is published as an isolated item – not as part of a chronological conversation – but SayIt still gives you benefits such as being able to see and search within everything said by a specific speaker.

    We hope that the Labour and Conservative SayIts might encourage others to set up similar projects. You could, of course, just as easily publish everything said by Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, UKIP, et cetera (do let us know if you’d like to do this, and we can help you). There are other potential uses too, as we’ll see below.

    In this post, we’ll be looking at how to set up this kind of SayIt instance.

    A collection of statements on one topic

    You can use SayIt to collect together statements from one person or many different people, on a specific theme, or at a specific event, or within a specific place. Some examples might be:

    For me, a Brighton resident, the West Pier makes a great subject: it’s a long-time political hot potato here in Brighton, surrounded by rumour and controversy.

    Plenty of different public figures have made plenty of statements about it, over a period of many years.

    Why use SayIt this way?

    Those statements can all be found quite easily on the web, but by gathering them together, you get quite a different picture from the one you get if you are hopping from one source to another.

    Reading news stories is one thing; a collection of direct quotes from key figures is much more immediate, and gives an accessible snapshot of all views around the issue.

    Also, once your statements are in place, SayIt organises them neatly so that they can be viewed by speaker, read chronologically, or searched for any keyword. You have to see it in action to really understand the benefits, so why not give it a go?

    How to make your own SayIt collection

    Convinced? In this post, I’m going to walk through the process of creating the West Pier SayIt – follow along, and you’ll see how to make a SayIt on your own chosen subject. It’ll take less than half an hour.

    1. Sign up

    Begin by going to this page.

    Signing up for SayIt

    You’ll need to input:

    • A portion of the URL (web address) – choose a word or phrase that relates to your topic, and it’ll help search engines find it. This needs to be lower case and without spaces or irregular characters (ie, just letters and numbers).
    • A title – keep it short; this will go on the top bar of every page of your site.
    • A description – again, not too long; this will sit next to the title on every page.

    Don’t worry too much about the title and description, though: you can go back and edit them at any time in the future.

    signup for SayIt, part 2In part 2 of the sign-up process, you need to input an email address, choose a username and pick a password. We’ll send an automated message to your email which you click to confirm your account.

    Or, if you have a Twitter account, you can link your SayIt account to that, avoiding the confirmation step.

    You’ll only have to go through this sign-up phase one time: once you have an account, you can start any number of new SayIt sites without signing up again.

    2. Start adding statements

    SayIt success

    Now you can start assembling your collection. Click on the big green button marked “Add your first statement”.

    Add a speech to SayIt

    Here’s my first statement about the West Pier, found after a quick Google, and copied and pasted into the SayIt interface.

    I can leave it like that – all other fields are optional – but to capitalise on SayIt’s full potential, it’s best to add information to as many of the fields as you can:

    • Speaker: Who made this statement? Type in the name and then click the blue underlined text to add it to your database.
    • Section: This field is useful when you are transcribing a meeting: you can use it to indicate different agenda items. But, for this ‘scrapbook’ type of usage, you might group together certain statements: for example, are they fact or conjecture? Official or off the record?
    • Source: Put in the URL where you found the statement, and then your readers will be able to click through to see it in its original context.
    • Date and time: You don’t have to have both, but filling in this field means that SayIt will automatically arrange your statements in a chronological order.
    • Event and location: Here you can note the type, and place of the event: was it at a meeting in the town hall? A press conference at the council offices?
    • Title and tags: Filling in this field helps people who are interested in specific topics to find the statements they are really interested in. I might tag this statement with words like ‘arson’ or ‘policy’.

    Like almost everything else in SayIt, all these fields – including the statement itself – can be edited in the future. And, once you’ve input a name or date or URL, it’ll be suggested for all future fields, as soon as you’ve typed two characters that match.

    Edit Post ‹ mySociety — WordPressClick ‘save speech’ and you’ll see a green button inviting you to add another speech – you can go on doing so for as long as you like.

    3. SayIt begins to organise your data

    Once you’ve added a few statements, you might like to click around – try ‘speakers’, ‘speeches’, and the homepage of your site to see what SayIt is doing to your data.

    On the Speeches page are all the statements I’ve input:

    West Pier speeches on SayItOn the homepage, it tells visitors how many speeches and speakers there are, and gives the chance to search them:

    West Pier SayIt homepage

    And on the Speakers page, there’s an icon for each person in my database:

    West Pier people on SayIt

    Click one, and you can see everything said by that person (or body, in this case):

    One person's statements on SayIt

    You can add more detail to each speaker, as well. Click on the ‘edit speaker’ button, top right.

    There are a number of options here, some of which may be useful to you, depending on the context of your project. For example, if you are collecting historic statements, you may wish to include birth and death dates for each speaker.

    If your speakers are politicians, it may be useful to add details of their posts and the dates they held them.

    In many cases, you may like to add the short or longer biographical statement.

    And, if you’re not a fan of the Cluedo-like avatars that SayIt automatically allocates each speaker, you may like to add a headshot for yours. I added a couple of logos.

    Note that, at the moment, SayIt just asks for a link to an image that’s already on the web. Take care, though: any image you add to the site should belong to you, or be freely available under a licence like Creative Commons.

    SayIt with user images


    4. Get help

    For big topics, it makes sense to collaborate! Click on the button marked ‘invite some friends to help you’ on the speech input page, and you’ll be able to send emails that invite your associates to log in and join you.

    And that’s it

    I hope I have demonstrated how useful SayIt can be for this sort of collection. Please do let us know if you have a go. We’d love to find out what projects it’s being used for – and your suggestions for new features will be very useful in helping us decide priorities for development.

    Other ways to use SayIt

    See also:

    Using SayIt to publish transcripts of meetings

    Using SayIt to store interviews from research projects

    We’ll be posting soon on:

    – Collaborating with other people on SayIt

    Image credit: Slbs (CC)

  6. Subscribe to FOI requests on any topic

    Hanging Fruit Bat by Tambako the JaguarIn a recent blog post, we showed how to subscribe to Freedom of Information requests made to your local council on WhatDoTheyKnow.com.

    All good, but what if you’re interested in a topic, rather than an authority?

    Well, you can set up many different kinds of alert on WhatDoTheyKnow. For example, you can opt to receive a daily email every time an FOI request or response contains your chosen keyword.

    If you’ve also subscribed to a specific body, you’ll receive the alerts all rolled into one email – in fact, however many alerts you set up, they’ll always be aggregated in this way, so there’s no need to worry about flooding your inbox.

    How to subscribe to a word or topic

    Let’s say, for the sake of an example, that you have a particular interest in bats – maybe you work for a bat conservation project, or you’re a student doing a thesis on bats.

    Whatever the case, you might find it useful to receive an email every time an FOI request is made about bats. By subscribing to an alert, you’ll be tipped off if, for example, someone asks about bats causing an impediment to building works, or if new wildlife survey results are released in response to a request.

    1. Search for your term

    Every alert begins with a search.

    Go to the homepage of WhatDoTheyKnow.com and use the search box at the top right of the page:

    WatDoTheyKnow topic search boxSearching for ‘bats’ gives me almost 500 results of FOI requests where the word ‘bat’, ‘bats’ or ‘batting’ is mentioned – either in the request itself, or in the response.

    Search results about bats on WhatDoTheyKnow









    2. Refining your results

    Most of these results are highly relevant, but there is one slight complication:

    Wrong kind of bats on WhatDoTheyKnow








    Some of the results contain different meanings of the word ‘bat’: there is one about Bat Mitzvahs, several about bus stops which have ‘BAT’ as part of a location code, and one response which mentions baseball bats as a crime weapon.

    We can refine these results, and make sure we only subscribe to the ones we want, with an Advanced Search – click on the link next to the search box to see how.

    Link to Advanced Search on WhatDoTheyKnow






    WhatDoTheyKnow’s search engine can handle advanced search operators, and also a number of search types that are tailored to the site.

    Advanced search tips









    For example, you can search within particular date spans, or within requests made by a specific user. If you scroll further down the Advanced Search page, you’ll also see that it’s possible to search for all requests within a certain status type (eg “successful” requests) – and all of these search operators can be used in combination.

    For our immediate needs, however, we only want to ensure that our search brings up results about the right kind of bat. I can do this either by using the – sign, or the word ‘NOT’ in front of words I wish to exclude:

    Search with exclusions






    Search with exclusions







    Click the Search button again, and you’ll see that this process has weeded out the most obvious irrelevant results.

    If I subscribe to this search string, I will receive an email alert every time (the right kind of) bats are mentioned in a request or response.

    Deciding what you want to receive

    In the example above, I will receive several alerts for each relevant FOI request, over several days, as it goes through the process of getting a response.

    I’ll get one when the request is first made, one when the authority respond to say that the request has been received, one when a response is made, and potentially others, if there is any more correspondence going back and forth, for example in the case of a request for an internal review.

    That can be fine – many users like to track requests in this way. But if you want to, you can refine your search using the ‘status’ operators – for example, if you only want to receive an alert when a request has been successful, you could search for:

    bats NOT baseball NOT mitzvah NOT bus status:successful.

    Now your search results will only find those requests where a response has been received, and the user has marked that it answered their question adequately. You can see the various statuses available here.

    Once you have refined your search results to your liking, you are ready to subscribe.


    At the top right of the search results page, you will see a green button titled  ‘Track this search’:

    Track this search








    At this point, we ask you to sign up or sign in:

    sign up or in











    If you already have a WhatDoTheyKnow account, all you need to do is log in, and you’re done – your alert has been set up.

    If you don’t have an account, it’s as simple as filling in your email address, name, and picking a password.

    The site will then send you a confirmation email with a link in it – clicking on this helps to confirm that you are a real person, and that you have entered a genuine email address – which you’ll need, if you are going to receive alerts!

    That’s it

    Now all you have to do is wait for our alerts to come into your email. You can set up as many as you like, for as many topics or authorities as required.

    Every email has a link at its foot, allowing you to delete your alerts when you’ve had enough. If you want to stop receiving one or more of them, just click ‘unsubscribe’.

    Let us know whether you find this service useful, and how you’re using it!



    Image: Tambako the Jaguar (CC)

  7. How to keep up with hot topics in your local area

    O'Connell Street  by Herr Sharif

    It’s surprising how many people know about our websites, but haven’t heard about one of their useful features: email alerts.

    In previous blog posts, we’ve described how you can set up alerts so that you receive an email every time:

    What do most people subscribe to? Mentions of their own town or city; speeches by their own MP; and FixMyStreet reports within their own area. It makes sense – of course we are interested in the issues which affect our own community.

    Now here’s another way to be the first to know about what’s going on in your local area: you can subscribe to alerts from WhatDoTheyKnow.com, and receive an email every time someone makes a request for information to your local council (or any public authority of your choice).

    Alerts about Freedom of Information requests

    WhatDoTheyKnow is our Freedom of Information site. It allows people to ask for information from public bodies such as councils, state schools, the NHS, et cetera – and it publishes both the requests and the responses.

    If you ‘follow’ your own local authority, the site will automatically send you an email whenever anyone makes a request to it (condensed into a daily digest).

    Because people use the Freedom of Information act to find out about things that really matter to them, these alerts can be a great way of keeping up with local concerns. If you’re a journalist, a councillor, a local activist or just an interested member of your own community, they can be both fascinating and invaluable.

    If you’d like to ‘follow’ requests made to your own local council, here’s how:

    1. Go to WhatDoTheyKnow.com

    WhatDoTheyKnow homepage










    The homepage is at www.WhatDoTheyKnow.com.

     2. Search for the authority you want to follow

    As you can see from the homepage screenshot above, WhatDoTheyKnow currently covers more than 15,500 authorities – everything from local councils to Government departments, state schools and more. The easiest way to find the authority you need is to use the search box on the right of the page:

    Searching for an authority on WhatDoTheyKnow











    In this case, there is only one result for my search term, ‘Brighton Council’.

    search results on WhatDoTheyKnow















    Below this result, I can also see previous FOI requests made to my council.  Here’s where I get a taste of why this alert subscription might be so useful and interesting to me, as a local resident. There are requests about bus subsidies, allotment waiting lists, council salaries, school catchment areas… and lots more.

    If you prefer, you can refine your search results by selecting “requests”, “users”, or “authorities” below the search box – in this exercise, we are looking for your local council, so you should click “authorities”.

    3. Follow

    Follow an authority on WhatDotheyKnow












    On the right hand side of the page, you will see the title: “Follow this authority”, then the number of people who are already doing so, and a green ‘Follow’ button.

    This button allows you to sign up for email alerts.

    Below it, as you can see, there is also an option to access an RSS feed – this is useful if you use a “Reader” or “News Aggregator” to keep up with blogs and other feeds from a variety of sources.

    But today, we’re signing up for an email alert, so click the green button.

    4. Sign in or sign up

    sign up or sign in2014-09-16 10.13.29









    At this point, we ask you to sign up or sign in.

    If you already have a WhatDoTheyKnow account, all you need to do is log in, and you’re done – your alert has been set up.

    If you don’t have an account, it’s as simple as filling in your email address, name, and picking a password.

    The site will then send you a confirmation email with a link in it – clicking on this helps to confirm that you are a real person, and that you have entered a genuine email address – which you’ll need, if you are going to receive alerts!

    That’s it

    You are now registered, and you’ll receive an email once on every day that anyone makes a request to your local council, or an existing request is updated (eg the council responds, or someone leaves an annotation).

    Every email alert has a link at its foot, which you can follow to ‘manage’ your alerts: if you want to stop receiving one or more of them, just click ‘unsubscribe’.

    Want more?

    Of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to your own council. If you have a particular interest in any authority – perhaps your children’s school, a government department, or local public bodies- you can sign up to alerts in exactly the same way.

    No matter how many alerts you subscribe to, they all arrive in just one email, so they won’t clog up your inbox.

    In a forthcoming blog post, we’ll also be looking at how to subscribe to topics or keywords, and how to use operators to get a slightly more refined alert.

    Image: Herr Sahrif (CC)

  8. How to manage your TheyWorkForYou alerts

    Whisper Bells by Patsy Wooters

    In our two previous blog posts, we’ve looked at how to set up alerts on TheyWorkForYou.com so that you receive an email whenever your chosen politician speaks in Parliament, or whenever your chosen topic is mentioned.

    Now we’re going to look at how to manage your alerts, and how to make sure you have the right type of alerts set up for your needs.

    How to see which alerts you are subscribed to

    Perhaps surprisingly, you don’t need to register for an account to receive alerts from TheyWorkForYou (although if you do create one, it’s quicker and easier to manage your alerts).

    At the bottom of every alert email, there is a link:

    TheyWorkForYou alert management linkThis link is unique to you, and by following it, you will be able to see the alerts to which you are subscribed.

    Once you’ve followed this link, you’ll see a list of your alerts on the right of the page:

    Checking alerts on TheyWorkForYou

    How to switch off or pause alerts

    Beside each of your alerts, you will see buttons marked “Suspend”, “Delete”, or “Resume”.

    Suspend allows you to stop the alert emails temporarily – they will remain switched off until you click ‘Resume’. This function is helpful if you only want to follow topics during a set time, for example the run-up to elections – or perhaps you want to cut down the number of emails you get while you are away on holiday.

    Delete stops your email alerts for good, and removes them from your list.

    Resume restarts suspended alerts.

    How to check your alerts are correct for your needs

    Checking alerts on TheyWorkForYou

    In the example above, the user has subscribed to the following alerts:

    Spoken by Simon Kirby – the user will receive alert emails when Simon Kirby MP speaks in Parliament.

    Spoken by Caroline Lucas – the user will not receive emails for this alert, because it has been suspended.

    mysociety – the user will receive emails whenever the word “mysociety” is mentioned.

    “badger culling” – because of the quotation marks, the user will receive emails whenever the phrase badger culling is mentioned. The user will not receive alerts if the two words ‘badger’ and ‘culling’ are mentioned separately, or if, for example, a phrase like “cull badgers” is used – so this alert may not be the best for their needs.

    “Caroline Lucas” – the user will receive an alert every time Caroline Lucas’ name is mentioned by someone in Parliament. This is probably not the intention; it’s a common error to subscribe to mentions of someone’s name rather than their speeches.

    small businesses – this is a poor alert. The user will receive emails every time the word ‘small’ is used in the same speech as the word ‘businesses’ (or business), even if the two words are not together. So, if someone happened to say ‘It’s a terrible business’, and then, a bit later, ‘small wonder’, an alert would go out.

    This alert would be better if the words were enclosed in quotation marks: “small businesses”; in that case, it’s probably also best to add one for “small business”.

    How to correct your alerts

    If you have spotted mistakes in your alerts, simply delete the erroneous ones and follow the instructions below to create improved ones.

    How to add new alerts

    On the left of that same page (or http://www.theyworkforyou.com/alert/ if you have not come via a link in your alert email), you can set up new alerts for people or for keywords.

    Adding email alerts on TheyWorkForYouIf you have come to the page via a link in your alert email, you will not need to input your email address again – the system knows who you are.

    Otherwise, provide your email address, and click on the link in our confirmation email.

    If you type in an MP or Lord’s name:

    David Cameron alerts options

    – you’ll be asked to decide whether you want to receive alerts when they speak (“Things by…”) or when they are mentioned (“Mentions of…”).

    Advanced alert set-up

    If required, you can use Boolean searches in your alert set-ups.

    For example, if you would like to receive alerts when badgers are mentioned, but not owls, input badger -owl.

    If you would like to receive alerts when either owls or badgers are mentioned, you can either set up an alert for each term, or you can enter owl OR badger. “Or” must be in capital letters so that the system knows it’s not part of the search term.

    If you would like to receive an alert only when badgers and owls are mentioned in the same speech, input both words: badger,owl.

    How to register for an account

    If you anticipate setting up many alerts, or wanting to manage them closely in the future, you may wish to set up a TheyWorkForYou account.

    This also allows you to add annotations to the site, contribute to the glossary, and change your email address if you need to.

    Simply visit this sign-up page.

    Registering will not change any of the alerts you already have set up – you’ll be able to view and manage them as before.

    How to change your email address

    Here’s how to change the email address that alerts get sent to.

    Visit your profile page, and edit the email address field.

    If you don’t have a TheyWorkForYou account yet, you’ll need to register first. Use your old email address, so that the account you create will contain your existing alerts. We’ll send you a registration email to that address, and once you’ve clicked the confirmation link in that, you’ll be able to visit your profile page and edit the email address field as described above to add your new address.

    If you no longer have access to your old email address and wouldn’t be able to complete the account confirmation step, get in touch and we can change it for you.


    Image: Whisper Bells by Patsy Wooters (CC)


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  9. We’ll send you an email every time your chosen word is mentioned in Parliament

    Little Bells by LorenzoclickParliament is back in session – that means that TheyWorkForYou.com will be filling up with lots of new content as our representatives come back to work and start on the rounds of debates, committees, and written answers.

    How do you keep up with the stuff that’s relevant to you? Well, you could read it all, every day – or you could be smart, and set up a topic alert.

    Receive an alert every time your chosen word or phrase is mentioned

    If you’re interested in a specific topic, and you’d like to receive an email every time someone mentions it in Parliament, follow these steps.

    1. Search for your chosen topic

    Let’s say you’re particularly interested in badger culling, and you’d like to receive an alert every time the word ‘badger’ is mentioned in Parliament.

    i) Enter your search term on the homepage:


    Tip: If your chosen search term has more than one word, you may find it useful to put it inside quotation marks – otherwise you will receive alerts every time both words are mentioned, even if they are not mentioned adjacently.

    ii) Click ‘search’, and you will be taken to a page of search results for your term:

    Search results on TheyWorkForYou

    TheyWorkForYou uses ‘stemming’ – so these results contain mentions of words such as ‘badgers’ and ‘badgering’: again, if I want to only receive mentions of the word badger, and none of its derivatives, I should put the word in quotation marks.

    iii) Click on the large blue link to the right of the page: “Subscribe to an email alert for [your search term]”.

    iv) If you are logged in to the site, that’s it – you’ve subscribed, and you don’t need to do anything more.

    If you are not logged in, don’t worry. You don’t need an account in order to sign up for alerts.

    Input your email address, and click on the ‘subscribe’ button (NB not the ‘search’ button, but the higher up button marked ‘subscribe’):


    We’ll send you a confirmation email.

    Confirm alert by email on TheyWorkForYou

    Click on the link in the email, and there you go – you’re subscribed.

    You can sign up for as many alerts as you like: if you are interested in many topics, it is probably worth registering, as you then do not have to go to the bother of inputting your email address and clicking the confirmation link for each one.

    In our next post, we will look at how to manage your alerts, and common mistakes that can be made setting them up.

    Prefer to receive alerts every time a specified MP speaks? See our previous post.

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    Image: Lorenzoclick (CC)

  10. Using TheyWorkForYou as a history resource

    More Money, More Fun, from the National ArchivesFifty years ago, in 1964, the causal link between smoking and lung cancer was confirmed by the Surgeon General in the US.

    That year saw many debates in Parliament on topics that have since become very familiar: the question of whether the tax on cigarettes should be raised; whether cigarettes should be advertised on television, whether smoking should be allowed in public places, and whether warnings should be printed on packets.

    Rich and fascinating stuff for any social historian – and it’s all on TheyWorkForYou.com.

    Hansard is an archive

    Hansard, the official record of Parliament, is a huge historic archive, and whatever your sphere of interest, it is bound to have been debated at some point.

    Browsing through past debates is a fascinating way of learning what the nation was feeling: worries, celebrations, causes for sorrow – all are recorded here.

    How to use TheyWorkForYou to browse historic debates

    TheyWorkForYou contains masses of historic information: House of Commons debates back to 1935, for example, and details of MPs going back to around 1806. You can see exactly what the site covers here.

    There are various ways to search or browse the content. Start with the search box on the homepage – it looks like this:

    Search box on TheyWorkForYou

    You can do a simple search right from this page, or choose ‘more options’ below the search box to refine your search.

    We’ll look at those advanced options later, but let’s see what happens when you input a simple search term like ‘smoking’.

    search results on TheyWorkForYou

    Here (above) are my search results, with my keyword helpfully highlighted.

    By default, search results are presented in reverse chronological order, with the most recent results first. If you are particularly interested in historical mentions, you may wish to see the older mentions first.

    That’s easy – just click on the word ‘oldest’ after ‘sorted by date’:

    Sort TheyWorkForYou search results by date

    You’ll notice a few other options here:

    • Sort by relevance orders your results with the most relevant ones first, as discerned by our search engine. This will give you those speeches with the most mentions of your keyword ahead of those where it is only mentioned once or twice.
    • Show use by person displays a list of people who have mentioned your keyword, with the most frequent users at the top. This can be fascinating for games such as “who has apologised the most?” or “who has mentioned kittens most often?”
    keyword by person on TheyWorkForYou

    Click through any of the names, and you’ll see all the speeches where that person mentioned your keyword.

    Advanced search

    That’s a good start – but what if there are too many search results, and you need some way to refine them? You’ll notice from my screenshots above that there are (at the time of writing) over 10,000 mentions of smoking.

    That’s where Advanced Search comes in. You can access it from a few places:

    • The ‘more options’ link right next to the search box on search results pages (see image below)
    more options for search on TheyWorkForYou search results pages
    • The ‘more options’ link below the search box on the homepage (see image below)
    Advanced search options on TheyWorkForYou TheyWorkForYou advanced search page

    Whichever way you arrive at it, the Advanced Search page helps you really get to the content you’re interested in.

    The pink box on the right gives you some tips for effective searching.

    For example, just as with Google, you can search for exact phrases by putting your search term within quotation marks. Otherwise, your results will contain every speech where all your words are mentioned, even if they’re not together. For phrases like “high street”, this could make a real difference.

    Even if you are only searching for a single word, you can put it in quotation marks to restrict the use of ‘stemming’ – so, for example, a search for the word house will also return results containing houses, housing and housed, unless you put it in quotation marks.

    You can exclude words too: this can be useful for minimising the number of irrelevant results. So, for example, you might want to find information about the town of Barking, but find that many of your results are debates about dogs. Simply enter the search term “barking” -dogs. The minus sign excludes the word from your search.

    In the main body of the page, you’ll also see options to restrict your search to within certain dates, or a specific speaker, or a department, section (eg Scottish Parliament or Northern Ireland Assembly) and even political party.

    Get stuck in

    The best way to see what you can find is to dig in and give it a go. If your search doesn’t work for you the first time, you can always refine it until it does.

    Let us know if you find anything interesting!

    Image: National Archives (No Known Restrictions)