1. Calling all teachers: downloadable lesson plans

    If you’re a teacher, looking to spend the Easter holidays planning lessons, our latest news could save you a little time.

    mySociety has collaborated with the Citizenship Foundation on the creation of materials for use in schools.

    These activities, written and tested in consultation with teachers, introduce students to concepts of democracy, citizenship and community. A number of the materials also show students how they can use mySociety websites such as WriteToThem, WhatDoTheyKnow or FixMyStreet to bring about change.

    We hope that you will find these activities useful. They span years 1 to 13, will fit into a variety of curricula from Politics to Geography, and are completely free to download and use. Access them here – and please do pass the word on to your teacher colleagues.

    Image: Rachel (CC)

  2. AskTheEU and Informata Zyrtare at OKCon2011

    Last week I travelled to Berlin to meet with @dcabo, @helen_access and @KerstiRu of Access Info Europe and Valon Brestovci of Free Libre Open Source Software Kosova (FLOSSK) to discuss and plan collaboration on the first Alaveteli-driven websites: AskTheEu and Informata Zyrtare.


  3. What Do They Know – next steps


    Today I had a chat with Seb Bacon who is in charge of collaboration on clones of What Do They Know software. He is currently working with project from Kosovo we have mentioned earlier, but his work is more general. The main idea is  to understanding the laws in each country to build a consistent software package. In the UK, for instance, authorities should usually respond to freedom of information requests within 20 days.  In Kosovo, authorities have to issue a decision within 7 days, and will be fined if they don’t.

    “The reality of all local implementations of ideas like What Do They Know is the fact that usually thinking short teems is easier on a national level. It is in everyone’s interest however to think in long term solutions and build effective teams that work internationally. This is really not so much a software issue, but a question of successful collaboration.”

    Seb himself is a programmer, but at least half of his time is taken by talking to as many people as possible – now developers from Kosovo and What Do They Know team.

    When asked about the tools used for this collaboration, Seb pointed out a mailing list and regular conversations over Skype. It’s early days of this collaboration so we can expect that this is going to evolve. There is also GitHub project repository for the software, which has a dedicated wiki.

    In terms of promotion the collaboration has its own brand and website: http://alaveteli.org/ so we can expect all involved sites to link to it. The ultimate vision would be that the package can be used by any county. In which case all it would take for people who heard of it to navigate to the site, take the code and use it. One of the practical challenges to make it work locally is and will remain the fact that the software requires a lot of human input – at least 3-4 volunteers spending good amount of time on requests is crucial.

    We will stay in touch with Seb to learn more about this process and with the developers from Kosovo to hear their thoughts on the local implementation so keep an eye on our blog.

  4. InformataZyrtare.org – WhatDoTheyKnow clone project from Kosovo

    I think I might have mentioned earlier on this blog that we are awaiting information about Kosovo based WhatDoTheyKnow clone implementation. I have talked today to Valon Brestovci from FLOSS Kosova, the manager of InformataZyrtare.org, who shared more information about the team and their plans. When asked about the current stage of the project, Valon responded:

    “We are doing the phase 1 of the project which is installing (and fixing the installation procedures), analyzing and understanding the code and having the site up and running.”

    He also explained how the team is set to work on various aspects of implementation and promotion:

    • “Ben and Petrit are doing the programing part,
    • couple of guys from GAP Institute will help with getting the information about institutions, promoting the site and setting up meetings with civil society,
    • there will be a couple of guys doing work on the interface,
    • I will be managing the whole thing. Right now I’m helping Ben and Petrit with setting up the system, next week I’ll have meeting regarding interface requirements/design.”

    I know it’s early days, but was eager to find out more about the plans for promotion and communication too:

    “We have not started with promotion yet, we intend to do it at a later stages of project. I have identified target groups who might use/benefit the most from using the site.

    • Civil society
    • Press
    • Students
    • Research institutions (Institutes, Universities, Schools,…)
    • Public Institutions
    • Others

    We will use various tools to do the promotions like setting up meetings, adverts in newspapers and online, social networks, blogs, etc). Of course all of these are open for debate and any suggestion is appreciated.”

    I will do my best to update you on the local background, introduce the team in more detail and feed the information about the development of the project as we are awaiting its launch in the upcoming weeks.