Yesterday I have posted about the meeting in Belgrade, but I would like to add few words on the topic of communication.
KohoVolit.eu team has decided to host weekly Skype calls to ensure that the entire team is always up to speed with all developments, so I was fortunate that I could take part in the first one today. It looks like we will have another blog from them, this time on the project domain, so we will be able follow the more technical developments there. I find it really useful to be able to get in touch with all of them over Skype and hope to join them on a weekly basis.
Jaroslav is very happy with the meeting in Belgrade and starts discussions on how the team can join the idea of common platform for Write To Them. He finds the meeting really effective and looks forward to the next one.
I received the same feedback from Danko (Serbia). He found the chance to meet off-line and discuss various aspects of all projects really beneficial. In his words:
“Our projects are compatible with each other, so there is a common ground for cooperation.”
He pointed out that his background differs slightly from others, as he comes from a civil society organisation, but the key here is successful communication. Looks like the off-line meeting was exactly what they needed. Danko himself realised one more thing:
“It is really great that couple of us from different countries are creating something valuable that even citizens of other countries that are not involved in this project right now could use in the future.”
Last weekend Tony Bowden met up with Darius (WTT in Lithuania), Jaroslav (WTT in Slovakia) and Danko (upcoming WTT in Serbia) to discuss the processes and best practices around the international collaboration on cloning of the Write To Them website. Danko, the Serbian project’s representative, whom I hope to introduce soon in more detail, has agreed to use the common platform built by the Lithuanian team. As Darius stated:
“That of course means that Lithuanian WTT will have to be internationalised”
Jaroslav will meet with KohoVolit.eu team soon to discuss similar proces soon, so I hope to tell you more about it as well.
I have also learned that the meeting in Belgrade, at least in its form, will be repeated on a fairly regular basis to ensure the best possible channel for discussion and common developments. Once again quoting Darius:
“The meeting was great, very productive and I look forward for future meetings like this”.
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.”
I have posted about KohoVolit.eu this week already, but I think it is important to tell you a bit more about it. This time let me share an update from one of the project developers, Jaroslav Semancik on their current approach:
“We are designing the ER (entity-relation) model for the database now, which specifies entities needed to represent (MP, party, letter) and relations between them (MP may be a member of a party, letter is addressed to an MP, etc.). Attributes characterizing the entities in detail are also specified (eg. first name, last name, sex, etc. for MP and like). Those entities, relations and attributes then define database tables.
This model reflects only the facts, we really need for WTT application, not the full complexness of the reality. As such it depends on functionality and features of the application we are clarifying now as well. Currently we count with search of MPs based on geographical location and also on groups in parliaments (political groups, commitees, etc.). There are respective tables for MPs, their offices, groups, roles in groups, constituencies and places falling into them. There is also a table for letters sent to MPs that were marked public.
Some of the tables are going to be shared by other modules we are working on (MP profiles, votes tracking).
The model is sketched in a diagram depicting the tables and relations between them. Attributes (columns of the tables) are specified directly in SQL scripts for tables creation.”
Thank you, Jaroslav!
As I have promised in my first post about KohoVolit.eu, we will give you a little bit more insights into the current work of the project focussing on on-going monitoring of parliamentary work.
The project focussing on evaluation of MP’s is using the information available on parliamentary website:
“the information like attendance or activity (e.g. submitting laws proposals or questioning the government) is on the webpage of the Parliament (the webpage actually got some prize for being one of most informative and well-designed (meaning features and user experience)), but it seems nobody (no organization) really uses this opportunity except us…”
The team has developed applications using the data from this website and feeding it directly to their site, which provides the audience with comparisons and data analysis.
“What we then do is that we take data of individual MPs and we’re looking for interesting facts. Czech MPs are elected regionally. So we prepare kind of ‘set’ for each MP which contains easy-to-understand table with data AND most important hints stressed – we send those to regional media, always matching the regions and MPs elected in that region. We also do some comparisons cross-regionally.”
In terms of the work on Write To Them clone, the team is working on:
“- analyzing appropriate ways how to choose MP(s) one wants to contact (based on geographical proximity, parliamentary groups, etc.) reflecting the way MPs’ responsibility is perceived in Czech republic and in Slovak republic. The challenge is to provide the best user experience,
– designing the underlying database model – identifying the necessary data and the way how they are structured and organized into database tables,
– discussing the form of cooperation and sharing the work with teams in other countries working on their WTT application.”
Big thank you to Veronika for the update, but stay reading – we will learn more about the international cooperation 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!
Originally, in its first phase KohoVolit.eu was founded to provide Czech and Slovak citizens with voting advice application (You can find more information about this part of the project on Technology for Transparency website here). According to the project representative, Veronia Sumova, it was recently successfully used during the elections in Slovakia:
– “11 500 finished VAA tests by Slovak citizens (above-average, even though not excellent rate)
– succeeded to cotact local NGOs and active people in 8 cities/towns in Slovakia and develop the tool in cooperation with them. The guys from our team additionally developed two VAA [ed: voting advice application] that used real votes from the actual period and three interactive analysis of city/town MPs voting behaviour.
– succeeded in promoting the tool in the media – got space in both nation-wide and regional media.”
Now however the challenge is to extend the project functionality to the time between elections and provide citizens with on-going parliament monitoring services – which is exactly why MySociety stepped in by supporting this new phase of the project. Currently, as the first step the team is actively working on the local clone of Write To Them. You might have noticed, that the Lithuanian project I mentioned last week has a similar point on their agenda, which means that we will work towards very interesting and hopefully fruitful international collaboration. We will hear about it more soon, and continue sharing our learnings with you. In the meantime let me also mention another task for the Czech region – end year evaluation of MP’s. I am sure we will have more details on that too!
KąVeikiaValdžia.lt Policy Feed from Lithuania is the first project I was introduced to. It was born out of ManoValstybe previously supported by us, so we are very happy to see it growing! Emilis Dambauskas and his collegues kicked off a very impressive plan to aggregate the news from Lithuanian government and to do so they want to use the following approach:
- “visitors are presented with a list of new items (feed) gathered from the Parliament and Government news sources,
- visitors can review the list, expand its items in place, filter it, subscribe to receive notifications of new items in the list; it will be considered a success if at least 100 visitors become subscribers,
- each list item has got a separate page presenting visitors with a variety of possible actions:
- find related context information (internal and external links),
- express their opinion,
- get involved in the political process.
- information on the website is to be grouped and cross-linked according to these categories:
- politicians and officials,
- governmental organizations,
- all website data and some of its functionality will be available through a public API; it will be considered a success if at least one website will start using it in one year”
If you check out the entire proposal (available in English here), you will see that the ultimate goal of this particular project is to increase the civic engagement in the country by presenting the work of the government, establish connection with citizens and increase their involvement in the political process. It is a rather rich document with interesting points so I hope to write more about it in the next few weeks.
As for the project itself, the website is up and running and since their first English blog post in June, you can track how it develops. As you can see in his post, Emilis is really excited about the site, but also about the opportunity to collaborate with similar projects in the region. We will most definitely see it happening with their ParašykJiems.lt project (currently under construction here, but already mentioned on their project list) designed to replicate our WriteToThem.com website in collaboration with developers from Central and Eastern Europe.
As for most recent developments Emilis mentioned changes to KąVeikiaValdžia.lt/PolicyFeed/ front page: “I added a list of government institutions and politicians to help people find what’s interesting without having to experiment with search technology.” Those should be mentioned fairy soon on their blog and Facebook fan page.