Part of our tenth birthday celebrations

WhatDoTheyKnow has become part of the furniture in the UK: hear someone talking about FOI, and in the next breath you’ll often find a recommendation to use the site. Over the ten years since its launch, WhatDoTheyKnow has been making it simple for anyone to file a request, and played some part in making FOI a better-known concept for citizens.

Here’s how it all happened:

  1. 2005

    1. FOI comes to the UK

      It’s been added to multiple party manifestos, discussed many times in Parliament, proposed, defeated and proposed again since the mid-70s… now UK citizens finally gain the Right to Know. Promised since 1997, passed in 2000 and delayed since 2001, the FOI Act comes into force under Tony Blair’s Labour government.
      The UK is fairly late to the FOI party. Around 68 other countries around the world already have Access To Information laws in place.

  2. 2006

    1. mySociety invites proposals for its next project. Two people, Francis Irving and Phil Rodgers, suggest the winning idea: an ‘FOI Filer and Archive’. Funding is secured from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust.
  3. 2008

    1. Launch

      After about 18 months’ development time, WhatDoTheyKnow is born: “It doesn’t have a name yet, nor any slick design, nor half the features we want it to have, but it works and it gets things done,” says Tom Steinberg, mySociety’s then Director.

  4. 2010

    1. Tony Blair’s autobiography reveals what he later thought of his own contribution to bringing FOI to the UK:
      You idiot. You naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop. There is really no description of stupidity, no matter how vivid, that is adequate. I quake at the imbecility of it.
    2. Sharing the code

      WhatDoTheyKnow’s code is ‘cloned’ for Kosovo.

      It’s the first implementation of our open source software that allows anyone to run an FOI site anywhere in the world, soon to be called ‘Alaveteli’, and created with funding help from OSF.

      The name ‘Alaveteli’ comes from a Finnish town where Anders Chydenius, an early campaigner for Freedom of Information, worked as a curate.

  5. 2011

    1. The Alaveteli platform is pressed into use for a European-wide FOI site, AskTheEU. Alaveteli will go on to power 26 sites across the world, as of January 2018.
  6. 2012

    1. 100,000 requests have been sent through WhatDoTheyKnow.
    2. Sharing knowledge

      AlaveteliCon, the first gathering of people from around the world running FOI sites, is held in Oxford.

    3. Contributing to law

      Alex Skene, representing WhatDoTheyKnow, gives evidence at a parliamentary select committee as part of post-legislative scrutiny of the FOI Act.

  7. 2014

    1. The Information Commissioner’s Office includes a note in their official guidance to recognising an FOI request:

      “With respect to the address for correspondence, we consider the email address provided to authorities when requests are made through the site to be a valid contact address.”

  8. 2015

    1. The number of requests sent through the site reaches 250,000. We implement a new, sleeker design.
    2. A cross-party parliamentary coalition seek to introduce limitations to the Right to Information, including charges and the right to turn down requests. mySociety and WhatDoTheyKnow join the outcry against these changes.
    3. The second worldwide conference of people running FOI websites, AlaveteliCon, is held in Madrid.

  9. 2016

    1. A government commission reports back. Not only have the changes been rejected, but the report says that WhatDoTheyKnow’s policy of publishing all requests and responses ‘should be the norm’.
  10. 2017

    1. A toolkit for professionals

      mySociety develops Alaveteli Pro, software for journalists and professional users of FOI. Its first implementation is as WhatDoTheyKnow Pro in the UK.

  11. 2018

    1. Today

      WhatDoTheyKnow has processed over 450,000 FOI requests to date. The site is browsed by 850,000 people per month and grows at a rate of, on average, 89 new requests per day. Its data is used by researchers both within mySociety and around the world.

    2. WhatDoTheyKnow celebrates its tenth anniversary.

For more information

On Freedom of Information in the UK prior to 2005:

More on the 2016 governmental review of FOI:

See also

Image credit

Tony Blair: Center for American Progress (CC by-nd/2.0)