mySociety in 2019

Mark Cridge, Chief Executive

Welcome to our annual report. As always, it’s a chance to catch up with everything we’ve been doing in the last twelve months — and to take stock.

We’ve been thinking deeply about what part mySociety has to play in the wider picture of global and national events. It’s been a heck of a year, with the shattering of democratic norms; the increasing grip of deep fakes, misdirection and misinformation; the growing recognition of climate tipping points, and failed promises from those in power.

What gives us hope is that the tides have turned: the recognition that it is possible for ordinary people to hold power to account, to organise effectively for change, and to confront the challenges that lie ahead. Now, more than ever, it’s vital that every citizen feels empowered to act.

And whether you're delighted or dismayed by the UK General Election result, one thing’s for sure: mySociety will go on providing the resolutely non-partisan services that we’re known for, through 2020 and beyond. We’ll help you hold your representatives to account, demand transparency and make change in your own neighbourhood.

In short, we’ll be here to help you in every aspect of your life as an active citizen.

So what’s new?

New
trustees

With the world in the state it is, it’s a good thing we’ve taken on some kickass new board members to help us out. We celebrated five new appointments who bring a wealth of experience working with business, parliaments, governments big and small.

Hi Ade, Kate, Julia, Cam, and Steve!

We also said goodbye to the wonderful Owen Blacker who has served on our boards for over 15 years, since mySociety’s very earliest days – his insights will be missed, but he’ll always remain a friend of mySociety.

New team members

We welcomed Nyasha as a vital staff support to the WhatDoTheyKnow volunteer team. She’s helping keep that user support inbox down to manageable proportions, and aiding the team with daily maintenance tasks.

WhatDoTheyKnow also benefited from the arrival of five new volunteers. Welcome to Alison Benson, Matt Knight, Ryan Jarvis, Matt Lewin and Andrew Ying.

New experiences

Sam For our work on the Climate Assembly, we’ve started looking at video streaming tech, which is all new to us.

Gemma I visited Accra in Ghana to interview legal professionals, government officials and citizens — not something I do every year for sure!

Martin This year our work has become more outwardly collaborative, and it has been eye-opening — in a good way.

Zarino Ok, super geeky, but I switched from a vertical mouse (already a bit niche) to a trackball mouse (super niche). But wow, what a difference. Look after your wrists, people!

Struan I visited my first karaoke booth (not a success).

Yes, yes, yes

that’s all very well – but what have we actually been doing?

TICTeC

The world’s only conference exploring the impacts of Civic Technology


First, at the OECD in Paris

TICTeC 2019 · Château de la Muette, Paris · 19th–20th March

The Civic Tech community came together in Paris… in the springtime. Someone should write a song about that.

2 days

200 attendees

29 countries

76 speakers

200 people from 29 countries congregated in the OECD’s gilded chateau, to hear 76 speakers present, debate, and grapple with experiences from the coalfaces of Civic Tech around the world.

Alessandra Orofino inspired everyone as she recounted experiences of tackling ‘platform politicians’ of the far right. Takeaway quote?

“The next generation will save democracy if we let them”

James Anderson from Bloomberg Philanthropies gave examples of local governments making innovative, imaginative decisions against a “crisis of legitimacy that is unprecedented within our generation”.

We heard the French perspective from Deputy Mayor of Paris Pauline Véron, MP Paula Forteza and Tatiana de Feraudy from Decider ensemble, demonstrating how Civic Tech in the shape of the Grand Débat National offered a response to the big social challenge raised by the gilets jaunes.

Matt Stempeck @mstem

This year's #TICTeC is the first with more women speakers than men, 39-37. Props. cc @GenderAvenger

mySociety @mySociety

You know a keynote has been good when the cameraman says “I cover a lot of these events and they’re not always very interesting, but I had to go and thank that speaker for being so inspiring” - that’s the power of Alessandra Orofino at #TICTeC

Derek du Preez 🏳️‍🌈 @Derek_duPreez

At the @mySociety TICTeC event at the OECD in Paris and I’m in civic tech content heaven. Agenda looks amazing and it’s rare that I look forward to a day of conference sessions!

Adriana Groh @avwgo

I feel like I met some of the best people in #TICTeC at #CivicTech. Inspiring talks and discussions and great new connections - I’m already looking forward to seeing everyone again! Thanks for this @mySociety 🙌

Hazel Sheffield @hazelsheffield

After a day discussing how tech can help democracy, Mounir Mahjoubi, France’s Secretary of State for digital affairs, tells a room full of activists and tech people: “We are at a new moment. People expect to be listened to. And maybe there are new ways to listen to them.” #TICTeC

James Cronin @jamescronin

Really excellent keynote from @JimOnCities of @BloombergDotOrg at day 2 of @mySociety #TICTeC encouraging the leaders and citizens of the world's cities to think bigger, work together globally, and partner with #CivicTech to accelerate values led change for good. 🌇🌎💥♥️


And then, at City Hall in London

TICTeC Local 2019 · City Hall, London · 1st November

TICTeC Local occupied the top floor of the state-of-the-art, snail-shaped City Hall on London’s South Bank.

We talked communities and local government, with the climate crisis top of everyone’s minds. Are Citizens’ Assemblies an adequate response? What can they achieve… and what are the potential pitfalls?

There were uplifting stories of the power of civic tech to empower residents, make food banks more effective, turn impoverished communities around, and help the homeless.

Paul Maltby @maltbyps

#TICTeCLocal has been excellent today - civic tech at its best: local gov, civic society, gov, suppliers, folks from NYC. More attitude than just better (local) gov services. Top speakers. Properly energising. Thanks @mySociety

Eva O'Brien @evaobrien_

The rest of #TicTecLocal was fantastic — learned so much from fellow speakers and attendees. I’m heading home inspired about the change we can make with and through local government. Especially inspired by the climate emergency panel closer & my @FutureGov pal @emilytulloh!

London Ventures @LdnVentures

Our team attended #TicTec2019 hosted by @mySociety, which explored civic technology and its variety of applications. It was great to be with so many creative minds, learning about the benefits that digital solutions can bring to citizens’ lives. #CivicTechnology #Innovation

What was your memorable TICTeC moment?

Gemma It was amazing to be hosted by Paula Forteza MP and Mounir Mahjoubi (Secretary of State for Digital Affairs) at the French National Assembly building — and to hear and feel their support for the civic tech movement.

Myf Seeing a young woman holding the whole room captivated by her message. Brava, Alessandra Orofino.

Asha Alessandra Orofino brought into sharp focus the powerful potential of combining online tools with offline organising to mobilise citizens and communities to challenge oppressive structures and create new centres of power.

Bec Trying to get 200 of the loveliest, most talented and compelling people in the world to stand still for one minute to get a group photo #facepalm

Because mySociety believes in

Transparency

we’re supporting journalists, campaigners, and citizens to uncover facts using their right to information — and we’re helping authorities to process those requests more smoothly.

What we did

We put out several new releases for all those running FOI sites on the Alaveteli platform, bringing a number of improvements that make it easier for new users to send effective requests to the right authorities.

Thanks to funding from Adessium Foundation, we’re working with partners across Europe to install Alaveteli Pro on their Alaveteli sites, allowing for more investigative journalism projects using FOI as a tool.

We traveled to Tunis to run a session on Alaveteli Pro at RightsCon, and meet other people who care passionately about Transparency, from around the world.

We looked into ways to make responding to FOI and Subject Access requests into a smoother, simpler experience for the authorities dealing with them.

We worked with four local authorities, to understand the workflows of council staff who manage and respond to FOI and Subject Access requests, and published our research findings.

How many FOI requests are received each year in local government? This piece of research delved into just that.

And meanwhile, how many of the FOI requests going to central government come out of our site WhatDoTheyKnow? We looked into the figures here.

We travelled to sub-Saharan Africa to look into Legal Information Institutes and what they do to help everyone gain access to the law.

Sarah Palmer-Edwards @spalmeredwards

Hackney have just been awarded Innovation of the Year at the @IRMSociety awards for our work (in partnership with @mySociety) on our FOI service that helps requesters find information before submitting a request. So pleased! 👏🏻 #irms19

What did you do with our stuff?

In the UK…

Over 15,000 people used WhatDoTheyKnow to make 88,000 FOI requests this year, while more than 6.5 million visited the site to browse the information released in responses.

Meanwhile, since its launch in 2017, WhatDoTheyKnow Pro users have made almost 50,000 requests. It’s gaining appreciation amongst journalists, campaigners and other professional users of FOI.

…and around the world

2019 brought a wave of new sites running on our Alaveteli platform, including Ma Dada in France, TuNa Bakonzi in the Republic of Congo, VreauInfo in Moldova, and—hot off the press—Wob Knop in the Netherlands.

This brings the total number of active FOI sites being run around the world on our Alaveteli software to … 27!

Full-on fact-seeking

Some exceptional stories were uncovered by diligent people making FOI requests on WhatDoTheyKnow:

FragDenStaat.de @fragdenstaat

Heute ist internationaler Tag der #Informationsfreiheit! Neben FragDenStaat gibt es international viele Plattformen für Informationsfreiheit, die für Transparenz kämpfen. (Und die auch schöne T-Shirts haben.) Ein paar Beispiele im Thread:

Gareth Davies @Gareth_Davies09

I’ve been working on these FOIs since July last year and I’ve no doubt the dataset I built would be nowhere near as comprehensive without the @WhatDoTheyKnow Pro dashboard. Also means I know exactly which councils have still yet to respond, 180+ days later

Matthew Hughes @matthewhughes

I just sent an FOIA request with @mySociety's @WhatDoTheyKnow and I'm amazed at how painless it was.

No doubt this will remain an item in my journalistic utility belt going forward.


FOI with friends

AlaveteliCon 2019 · Oslo, Norway · 23rd–24th September

AlaveteliCon in Oslo brought together around 50 journalists, researchers, technologists and activists from 18 different countries, all with an interest in the use of FOI to investigate stories and run campaigns.

We heard about suing Parliament; cat and mouse games with bureaucracy; the alarming tech increasingly deployed by the police; how AI can have unintended effects on everything from school bus routes to bail conditions; the clandestine graves of Mexico and many many more innovative ways in which FOI has been used to uncover vital stories.

It was lovely to spend time with our US counterparts Muckrock as well! ❤️


What’s been the most fun about Transparency this year?

Myf I loved hearing everyone's tales of how they've used FOI for good at AlaveteliCon, and especially enjoyed writing them up for the mySociety blog.

Bec Seeing first-hand how access to legal information online is acting as a catalyst for social and economic empowerment, and breaking down barriers to learning and employment for previously disadvantaged groups.

Louise I really enjoyed contributing to our Local Digital work, supporting councils to collaborate on tools for handling FOI requests. This involved models of tool adoption, and costs and benefits of open source approaches - the kind of thing that help councils, and mySociety, make an informed decision about technology development.

Because mySociety values

Democracy

we’re still making it easy to follow Parliament and talk to your representatives, plus we’re working with national and local government on citizen engagement.

How you’re helping

The TheyWorkForYou crowdfunder has only a few hours left to run. There’s still time to donate and help us keep the site going as we work to get everything in order post-election — and, we hope, add some new features to help people understand Parliament even more clearly.

Want to be a part of that? Of course you do!

Donate now

What we did

We built the website for Parliament’s forthcoming Climate Assembly, supporting the work of Involve and Sortition Foundation.

Through Public Square we and the Democratic Society supported the work of three councils – Frome, Glasgow and Calderdale – to explore participatory methods of Democracy.

We added graphics to TheyWorkForYou to make votes easier to understand at a glance.

And now, as well as the UK, Scottish and Northern Ireland parliaments, you can also follow the London Assembly on TheyWorkForYou!

We delved deep into what authorities should consider when creating a website for a Citizens’ Assembly.

…and also whether digital tools should be used when running a Citizens’ Assembly, and if so, which ones, and how?

And we published a series of posts looking at usage patterns and demographics on WriteToThem.


What did you do with our stuff?

More than 3.8 million people used TheyWorkForYou to check out who their MP was, see how they voted and browse parliamentary debates.

And over half a million folk used WritetoThem to send an email to their councillors, MPs, Assembly Members or MEPs.

Rich Holman @dogwonder

Important lesson around APIs and data this week, I have been using the TheyWorkForYou API for a postcode based MP lookup service, didn’t have to change anything as suddenly 21 MPs marked correctly as Independent.

Angela Lamont @AngelaLamont

Thank you to @TheyWorkForYou for clarifying "constituent" as defined by parliament.uk: "A 'constituent' is the name given to every person who lives within or is eligible to vote in a constituency." THAT INCLUDES 11-YR OLDS! :) Daughter will be delighted.

Oliver Bates @bates_oliver

@TheyWorkForYou provide a great resource if you want to check on your MPs voting record. Don’t know who they are? All you need is a postcode. Welfare, NHS, marriage, EU, workers rights, the environment, ... it’s all there. #Election2019

merisesher @merisesher

I love this website. Speeches, Twitter are all very well and good but how have MPs voted on things we care about? #TheyWorkForYou tells you. All MPs - TheyWorkForYou

TheyWorkForYou and MapIt’s data helps others to create visualisations and conduct research, like this:

How frequently are certain words or phrases used in UK Parliament debates? Parli-N-Grams finds out, using our archive of Commons debates back to 1919.

Tactical voting advice was potentially useful — but what if every service advocates a different approach? Charles Owen tried to work it all out.

Voters could see and share electoral facts and margins at a glance thanks to Alisdair Rae’s constituency cards.

Countless news providers used TheyWorkForYou to underpin stories like these:

The New York Times used our debate pages in their story about Boris Johnson’s friendship with an entrepreneur who benefited from mayoral sponsorship.

The Independent used TheyWorkForYou to check Penny Mordaunt’s voting record, when she became Theresa May’s new defence secretary.

News Letter, the Belfast paper, pointed to Lord Trimble’s voting record on equal gay rights in a story on his daughter’s same sex marriage.

In August, The Week compared Boris Johnson’s voting record to the pledges he made in his first week as PM.

Pink News checked Jo Swinson’s voting records on gay rights when she became leader of the Liberal Democrats.

RightsInfo looked at the Tory leadership contenders in terms of their human rights stances.

CarbonBrief used our data when analysing which MPs talk the most about climate change.

ForcesNetwork published a piece on the new defence minister’s voting record.

Country Life examined the new environment minister’s record.

And a whole host of organisations used WriteToThem to help with campaigns

…including Extinction Rebellion, End Deportations, League Against Cruel Sports, Humanity and Inclusion, Where’s Your Head At, and both pro- and anti-Brexit campaigns.

Happy Birthday to (TheyWorkFor)You!

TheyWorkForYou turned 15 (that said, it displays the Hansard archive as far back as 1919).

Who we worked with…

We joined Westminster Foundation for Democracy in a visit to Uzbekistan’s Parliament in Tashkent, helping to analyse their current digital work, and making recommendations on how to open up their parliamentary processes digitally to increase citizen awareness and engagement.

We successfully handed parliamentary monitoring sites the People's Assembly (South Africa) over to full local control and are ready to do the same with Mzalendo (Kenya), a great testament to the advanced capability of the civic tech sector in sub-Saharan Africa.

…and where we said goodbye

Our active work on EveryPolitician comes to an end, as our ability to continue the project without sufficient dedicated funding has diminished – we’ve lots to learn and share for other organisations about what we might do differently in the future.


What’s been the most fun about Democracy this year?

Cloudwater Brew Co in Manchester namechecked TheyWorkForYou on its new IPA — that was a surprise!

By some strange alignment of the stars, we were to be in Manchester for our team meeting, so we made a visit to take a sample… and now can confirm, democracy beer is delicious!

Because mySociety supports

Community

we made FixMyStreet a whole lot easier for both citizens and councils to use, and we worked around planning, community assets, and tower blocks.

What we did

We rolled out FixMyStreet Pro in six new locations, bringing smoother issue reporting to over 6.5 million UK residents.

We worked with councils to add asset-based reporting, duplicate reduction, heatmap dashboard and more to FixMyStreet Pro.

Keep It In The Community, our site that maps community assets in England gained more data and some gorgeous new features.

We worked with Tower Blocks UK to prototype digital solutions that could help to empower high rise residents.

We made recommendations around planning applications — specifically towards sharing open data.

Our Research department looked more deeply into the effect of gender on FixMyStreet reports

And they also did a lot of work around FixMyStreet and the different demographics that use it.

What people did with it

You made more than 387,000 FixMyStreet reports this year, either on FixMyStreet.com, via the app, or on one of the 22 council sites that use FixMyStreet Pro as their main reporting interface.

Buckinghamshire County Council reported an impressive 98.69% cut in costs with FixMyStreet Pro.

Friends of the Earth recommended FixMyStreet as a way to protect local trees.

A new site based on the FixMyStreet platform, for Grenada; the “Island of Spice”.

Who we worked with

London just got more joined up

Thanks to our new partnership with TfL, there’s a whole new layer of connectivity on FixMyStreet for Greater London.

Reports on bus stops and traffic lights across London, as well as flytipping and road issues on the city’s red routes, are now routed direct to TfL to get them fixed.

Building our FixMyStreet Pro business

Running commercial services for local government means we can bring better, more efficient workflows to council staff and officers.

The revenue also supports our charitable work, providing a significant and appropriate source of income.

Over 6.5 million residents across several counties are enjoying easy street reporting direct from their councils’ websites, thanks to beautiful new FixMyStreet instances in…

Making our data more accessible

Working with folk from the University of Sheffield and University of Stirling, we decided how best to share FixMyStreet open data with researchers.

What’s been the most fun about Community this year?

Struan We had a code-off to decide which library to use for building forms in the FixMyStreet admin.

Zarino It’s exciting to speak to a wide range of people, understand what works and doesn’t work about their current services, and come up with new solutions that hopefully make the world a better place.

Martin Returning to the Highways UK exhibition this year was brilliant. Our stand was bustling and everyone was so friendly. It's a great way to catch up with our FixMyStreet Pro clients and partners, and to get a flavour of the wider industry.

Chris After nearly six years working on mySociety’s democracy projects it was refreshing to (re)join the FixMyStreet team and get to work helping councils get set up with FixMyStreet Pro!

We’ve just sped you through everything we did this year — and it was a lot. But it’s only possible because of the contributions from funders, volunteers and donors.

We want to take this opportunity to say a massive

Thank you

To our funders

Grants from these far-sighted organisations make all our development possible, fund our research and allow us to employ people who really know what they’re doing. Without this support, we quite literally couldn’t continue.

Funding opportunities

Would you like to sponsor the next TICTeC? Let us know!

To our volunteers

Alison Benson

Martyn Dewar

Ryan Jarvis

Matt Knight

Matt Lewin

Doug Paulley

Ganesh Sittampalam

Alistair Sloan

Richard Taylor

Andrew Ying

To our former team members

Thank you so much to our outgoing board members, James and Owen, for your years of service.

Thanks to volunteers Gavin, Kieran and Michael, for your work on WhatDoTheyKnow.

And thank you to our former colleagues Alex, Emily, Liz, Nick, Owen, Tony, and Will, who all left us this year.

To our donors

Individual donations, both large and small, show that you understand the difference we’re making, and support us in all that we do.

We’re deeply grateful for every contribution.

You can be a donor too! Donate here.

To our users

You help, simply by being enthusiastic users of our sites. You contact your representatives, check and share voting records, tell your council about that pothole that needs filling or that streetlight that needs fixing, or make a request for information that puts the response in the public domain. It’s all good!

Most of all, you help by telling your friends, family, colleagues and social networks about our services. Thank you.

The money stuff

Since we advocate for transparency, it’s only right that we practice it ourselves. So here’s where you can find, for 2018-19:

  • Our Charity Commission accounts, including income and spending.
  • Our accounts on Companies House for UK Citizens Online Democracy, the charity and limited company through which we run mySociety.
  • Our mySociety Ltd accounts on Companies House. mySociety Ltd is the private limited company, wholly-owned by UKCOD, through which we carry out our commercial work.
  • In 2019 we employed on average 25 staff, each of whom were paid in excess of the living wage.
  • Salary costs are split across our Charity and Commercial companies, based on what projects staff spend their time on.
  • Our Trustees and Non-Executive Directors all give their very valuable time for free and receive no other compensation — for which we’re very grateful.

What’s on the horizon?

We’re actively and enthusiastically working towards cutting our carbon emissions, looking at how we can cut down or mitigate our travel, use the most responsible suppliers, and help those who attend our events to keep their impact on the environment low low low. More on all of that soon.

2020 will be the year of the climate crisis and like all organisations and individuals in our position we’ll be turning our focus towards what we can do to help mitigate the worst. Expect to see us adapt our existing transparency and democracy work towards this goal, with the creation of a new initiative or two directly targeting the main contributors to the crisis.

What are you looking forward to in 2020?

Gemma I’m really looking forward to TICTeC 2020 – it’s the most exciting time of the year for me as we are lucky enough to bring together 200 people from around the world who, like us, work on civic tech and care about its development.

Louise Hopes are to have a new FMS app, and to have released a new version of FixMyStreet Pro with the features we identified from the research.

Bec More research into how digital is shaping our institutions and democracies, and how good design can empower citizens. There's so much we still don’t know, and tech is so fast moving, that demonstrating beneficial impact is more important than ever.

Myf I can’t wait to see us play a meaningful part in democratic decision-making around climate change efforts.

Mark 2020! If that isn’t the future then I don’t know what is. So I’m looking forward to ensuring we do our bit to ensure that society has a viable and flourishing future ahead of it.

And that’s a wrap!

If you value everything that we’ve worked on this year, then please consider sending a few pounds our way. It really does help!

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