Civic Tech Monthly, July 2015

Welcome to the sixth edition of Civic Tech Monthly. Below you’ll find news and notes about civic tech from Australia and around the world.

It’s been very cold here in Sydney. People were even snowboarding down the main street of Katoomba, where our co-founders live.

Maybe that means people have been hibernating because this month we started with slim pickings for the newsletter. Fortunately we’ve managed to pull together some interesting links to share with you nonetheless. Remember, if you’d like to submit your own links you can do so right on the GitHub repository where we prepare this newsletter.

Folks coming to the Sydney Pub Meet on Tuesday are in for a treat this month. Anyone can give a lightning talk to share something interesting in civic tech they’ve seen or done. This means we’ve also got a lovely new venue – the Trinity Bar in Surry Hills. We’ve also got more room so there’s still spots available for you to RSVP and come along.

Know someone who would like these newsletters? Pass on the sign up link http://eepurl.com/bcE0DX.

News and Notes

Citizens vs Customers: Democracy in the age of Google

Check out the video of the Google Tech Talk that Matthew Landauer gave prior to the Google Serve event we mentioned in last month’s edition. You can also read more about what we achieved with a little scraping and the help of some civic-minded Googlers in Luke Bacon’s blog post, “Another 2 million people can get PlanningAlerts“.

Become a supporter of morph.io

Speaking of scraping, this month we added a way for people to support our free and open scraping platform, morph.io. By becoming a supporter you can keep morph.io free for everyone and make it even more awesome. There’s also the option to get priority technical support if you need it. A huge thank you to the wonderful people who have already shown their support. Please give them a hug if you see them.

Unearthing interesting data

There are almost 3,000 scrapers on morph.io which means there’s all sorts of interesting data to play with. Here’s a few that caught our eye this month:

What interesting data have you seen? Tweet us: @morph_io

Hello to mySociety’s new CEO, Mark Cridge

Like so many people we were sad to hear that Tom Steinberg, mySociety’s founder, was stepping down. Now we’re excited to welcome Mark Cridge as their new CEO. We’re looking forward to working with Mark in the future and we hope to meet him soon.

Alaveteli 0.22

While we’re on the topic of mySociety, they’ve just released Alaveteli 0.22. This is the software that runs Right To Know, and so many other Freedom of Information request sites around the world. We wouldn’t normally include something so technical in the newsletter but this is a big release and also includes contributions from our very own Luke Bacon and Henare Degan. Some of these contributions are a direct result of AlaveteliCon 2015, which we’ve mentioned in previous editions.

Flagpost

This site was generating a bit of chatter on Twitter recently. We think it’s a really nice example of what can happen when governments engage in an open process and civic hackers see a way to dive in and make it even better. Flagpost collects and overlays additional useful data about submissions to New Zealand’s national flag redesign process. And of course the data to make this happen comes from a scraper, which itself is an extension of another scraper. That’s some fine civic hacking collaboration.

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Another 2 million people can get PlanningAlerts

Volunteers at the GoogleServe event

Volunteers at the GoogleServe event

Another 2 million people in Australia now have a simple way to impact development in their local area. Last month the OpenAustralia Foundation teamed up with a group of volunteer engineers from Google and have expanded the availability of our project PlanningAlerts to 21 more local council areas.

The event was part of the GoogleServe program, a week in June where Google staff work on projects with local not-for-profit organisations around the world. It was also the 7th birthday of OAF’s first project OpenAustralia.org.au.

Volunteers writing scrapers  together

The crew writing scrapers together

We spent the 16th and 17th of June at Google’s Sydney office. We mostly focused on expanding the coverage of PlanningAlerts but also collecting useful data and introducing our other projects. We looked at summarising divisions in They Vote For You, collected basic information on local councilors throughout Australia and added new capabilities to morph.io. Matthew Landauer, OAF founder and co-director, also kicked things off with a presentation on our projects and mission titled ‘Citizens vs Customers’.

Matthew Landauer talking with attendees after his presentation

Matthew Landauer talking with attendees after his presentation

We had a great time working with everyone and were really impressed by the volunteers practical approach. Here are some of the outcomes from the event:

  • A huge amount of useful data was made public through morph.io;
  • that data is immediately being used by citizens all over Australia through PlanningAlerts;
  • a bunch of open source developers got to know each other and are continuing to collaborate; and
  • we all got to learn and practice scraping, which increases our capacity to collect data.

As a small charity, these practical outcomes, for citizens, attendees and our organisation, are crucial.

2015-06 OAF Google - 24 of 25

Our scoreboard showing some of the councils we worked on and the population count.

A huge thanks to Tim Ansell from Google for organising the event and to everyone who came along. We were extremely impressed by the volunteers. They dived straight in, asked questions without fear, learned what they needed, and started making practical contributions right away. It was a great example of how these kind of hacking events can give existing open source projects a solid boost. What a birthday present to the OpenAustralia Foundation and what a win for local democracy!

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Civic Tech Monthly, June 2015

Welcome to the fifth edition of Civic Tech Monthly. Below you’ll find news and notes about civic tech from Australia and around the world.

It was our 7th birthday this month (yay!) so we hope you’ll indulge us a little while we share a little more news about ourselves than usual. That also gives us a great reason to remind you that the entire production of Civic Tech Monthly is done in the open on GitHub. We very much welcome your suggestions throughout the month for items to add to the newsletter.

If you’d like to share the sign up link it’s http://eepurl.com/bcE0DX. Sydneysiders, we hope to see you at the Pub Meet on Tuesday.

News and Notes

Scraping get-togethers galore

For the last couple of months Luke Bacon and Matthew Landauer have been working hard on polishing our scraping platform, morph.io. This has handily coincided with a number of Sydney events to do with scraping, organised by us and others.

If you’re in Sydney tonight, Thursday the 25th of June, head along to Australia Open Data’s event organised by Rosie Williams of InfoAus fame. About a fortnight ago Luke organised a low key event dedicated to scraping that was a great success. We also had a great time scraping with Googlers last week and we’ll share more exciting news about that with you very soon – keep your eyes peeled on the blog.

Helping people open governments around the world – AlaveteliCon 2015

Last month #Alaveteli15 had top billing in this newsletter. This month you can read all about Henare Degan’s experience at the conference in his blog post summing up the two huge days he had at the conference. From sharing war stories of peoples’ experiences using Freedom of Information with Right To Know in Australia, through to hatching international plans to develop a guide to what makes a good FOI law in today’s online world.

s115a.com

Australia’s Parliament recently voted to enact legislation which allows copyright holders (like movie, TV and music producers) to apply to the Federal Court to have piracy-related websites blocked. Will Ockenden created s115a.com (named after the section of the law that was added) in an attempt to introduce some transparency to those site-blocking laws by letting you know when an application is made, and (hopefully) the final result.

18F launches new US openFOIA site

18F is the US Government’s digital services delivery team, similar to the well known and regarded GDS in the UK (that the Australian Government is hoping to repeat with the DTO). They have just launched openFOIA, which guides citizens through the process of making a Freedom of Information request. It’s interesting to see a government-delivered take on this (and heartening that they at least acknowledge this has been done before). It’s being developed in the open on GitHub, like everything else 18F do.

A step forward for open government in NSW and the NT

Anyone can now easily make requests for information from New South Wales and the Northern Territory governments and local councils using Right To Know. We’ve added hundreds of new authorities to the site and made a host of changes to facilitate some of the quirks in the different access to information laws. We’re really pleased to see some authorities already helping citizens access information important to them. You can read more of the nitty-gritty in our blog post announcing the launch.

Civic tech job opportunities

It’s not often these come up so we’re excited to hear about two sets of job opportunities this month. Code for Australia is hiring fellows – they’re looking for developers, designers or community organisers to work at the NSW Department of Family and Community Services and the Victorian Neighbourhood Justice Centre. Applications are also open for the next cohort of Knight-Mozilla OpenNews fellows, they’re after developers, technologists, civic hackers, or data crunchers who want to help change the world of journalism.

The next 3 months are going to be really busy – here is our plan

Since the beginning of this year the core team at the OpenAustralia Foundation has been getting together for a day every quarter to make a plan for the upcoming 3 months. This time Matthew Landauer has written up our plans in a blog post. As you’ll see in the post we’ve got another very busy 3 months ahead!

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The next 3 months are going to be really busy – here is our plan

Planning Session Whiteboard

Since the beginning of this year the core team at the OpenAustralia Foundation has been getting together for a day every quarter to make a plan for the upcoming 3 months. As our team grows (we’re now 3 full time people) these kinds of occasional but regular planning sessions help to keep us working well together.

On Monday 22 June we got together in person in Sydney to plan out what we would do from the beginning of July to the end of September this year.

This is also a good opportunity for us all to take a step back and look at our big picture priorities.

This is roughly how we structured the planning session:

  • We looked back at our previous 3 months and wrote down every big thing we’d achieved or actively put on hold. Had each item been in our plan for the previous 3 months? What deviated from the plan and why? What was good about it? What was bad about it? – This wasn’t supposed to be a debrief or review. The purpose of looking at the last 3 months was purely about helping focus and seeing what affected our plan for the next 3 months.
  • Then, we created our big picture wish list for what we’d all like to work on next. This was a mixture of things that were in our plan for the year as well things that we individually or as a group feel passionate about. We’re firm believers in taking advantage of our passions and energy when the mood strikes. So, sometimes we juggle things to keep those passions alive. It’s important to us that working at the OpenAustralia Foundation doesn’t just become “a job”.
  • Then, we moved items from that wishlist to a 3 month calendar very roughly estimating the time for each thing, taking into account any holidays that we each had booked and who would likely work on what. This is the stage that generated the most discussion and the most difficult choices.

And now to the plan…

A plan for what to work on also includes what not to work on. We decided not to work on Right To Know over July – October to let the addition of NSW and NT to Right To Know “bed in”. Our administration and support for the site will continue as normal and we expect to learn a lot about the freedom of information laws in each state and specific issues that people run into as they make requests.

July

A Federal Election later in the year?

There’s a reasonable chance that we will have a Federal election later this year and so we took the opportunity to start thinking about what we might specifically do that’s focused on the election. In recent Federal elections we’ve run the electionleaflets.org.au site which has taken the majority of our time in the run up to the election. Most of that was on publicising the site through the mainstream media, partnering with news organisations, the National Library of Australia and using social media to get the message out, and targeting leaflet collectors through local libraries across the country.

As a result of the new unsustainable effort it requires at each election we decided earlier this year that we would be winding down our support for Election Leaflets. We do plan to write more about this soon.

So, at the next federal election we’re looking to be putting our support behind another project. Instead of starting something new we’d like to support an already existing and successful community-led project. We have a project in mind and we’ll be contacting them soon to see if they’d like to work with us.

Monthly meetups

For the last year we’ve been hosting a monthly meetup in Sydney with the aim of nurturing and supporting the burgeoning civic technology community in Australia. It’s been a very low-key event, with good people sharing ideas, company and support over a few beers.

Starting in July we aim to experiment a little with the format of these monthly meetups with the aim of increasing the number of people who build and start small civic technology projects. So, to start with, we’re going to add lightning talks to the pub meet to give people a platform to talk about the cool things they’ve made.

We would also love for there to be monthly meetups in every major city in Australia covering the kinds of work that we do as well as the broader civic tech area.

Specifically, in July we plan to do our bit to help get a meetup going in Brisbane.

Making morph.io even better

For a good chunk of July, the plan is that Henare and Matthew will focus on morph.io. There have been some big changes to the morph.io backend which runs scrapers and it’s important that Henare is up to speed with how that all works now so that he’s able to effectively provide support for our growing user base.

Also, we’re going to add a feature to give people the option to financially support morph.io through a monthly subscription with the higher scales offering priority technical support. Just for fun (and a little social motivation) we’re going to make this public by putting little badges on peoples’ public morph.io profiles.

We’re also going to do a big push on the morph.io documentation especially the “how to get started” kind of documentation. This will include highlighting particular libraries for each language that we recommend. We will also see if we can get other open source scraping libraries to mention us in their documentation to get the word out to more people about the open source morph.io platform.

Renegotiating commercial PlanningAlerts API contracts

As you are probably aware we charge for commercial access to the PlanningAlerts API. Most contracts are now up for renegotiation. We plan to start this process with our commercial clients in the middle of July. The purpose of course for us is to increase our fees (our coverage has increased, most clients’ usage has increased) so that we can continue to build and maintain services like PlanningAlerts for everyone.

Upgrading and migrating servers

We’ve had plans afoot since the beginning of the year to upgrade and change our server infrastructure. We need to do this because the version of Ubuntu we’re running on our main server is at the end of its life and we want to take the opportunity to move away from one monolithic server which runs the majority of our sites to a larger set of smaller virtual machine (VMs) which run individual sites.

We’ve hit a big delay along the way to do with our hosting provider building the capacity to provision multiple smaller VMs. So, instead we plan to take an alternative approach if its possible of separately upgrading our monolithic server first followed by the migration to smaller VMs later in the year. The upgrade needs to happen as soon as possible. Hopefully we can make it happen in July.

August

Charging commercial users of PlanningAlerts

There are a large number of real-estate agents and property developers who use the free PlanningAlerts service to help them do their job. We think this is a good thing. For those people who use PlanningAlerts to help get them an income we would like to find ways to get those people to financially support PlanningAlerts.

That’s why in August we plan to start charging people who have 3 or more email alerts setup in PlanningAlerts. For community groups or non-commercial individual users who have 3 or more alerts they will still be able to get that for free if they contact us.

Scraping course and workshop

At the beginning of September we plan to run a scraping course and workshop. We will start planning and organising this in the beginning of August.

September

The month will start by holding the scraping course and workshop.

PlanningAlerts – write to your local councillor

Then, Luke and Henare will start working on our next major project. The idea is simple. In PlanningAlerts allow people to write to their councillor about a development application on top of what it currently does which allows you to write a comment on a development application which directly feeds back into the official process.

The aim is to strengthen the connection between citizens and local councillors around one of the most important things that local government does which is planning.

This will actually be a surprisingly technically involved project which will involve quite a few different pieces. We will need to find out every councillor in the country, including their contact details (and hopefully their picture). We already starting collecting this data by writing scrapers. Then, information will need to get crowdsourced. We plan to store this information in PopIt (so it can be reused by others) and we will integrate PlanningAlerts with WriteIt to actually send the emails to the councillors.

Then, of course, there’s the vital bit of making this work beautifully and simply within the existing PlanningAlerts application. This is the most fun, satisfying and crucial bit.

Making PlanningAlerts commenting even better

While they’re working on that they will also explore improving some of the flow of the whole commenting process. What if people had a next step after adding a comment? Start a campaign? Share their comment on social media? There’s some really interesting possibilities here that could significantly improve peoples’ positive experience and increase the number of people who engage with their local government. A win win.

What can you do?

If you like what you see here and would like to help make all these things happen then support us by making a donation. After all, it’s almost the end of the financial year and any donation over $2 you make to us is tax deductible.

Thank you!

Posted in Morph, OpenAustralia Foundation, PlanningAlerts.org.au, RightToKnow.org.au | 1 Response

A little scraping goes a long way

Photo of us hacking on scrapers together.

Photo by Nick Evershed

Last night, about 10 of us got together in Sydney for a fun night of scraping and learning about morph.io. I organised the get together because I’m just really excited about writing scrapers and using data from morph.io at the moment. I’ve only been writing scrapers for the last few months as Matthew and I have been working on adding new features and evolving morph.io’s interfaces.

I think writing scrapers is a great candidate for a hack event activity. Scrapers don’t take long to write and a lot of the code and techniques are common between scrapers so people can share and teach each other. Once a scraper is written, it just keeps paying you back with useful data because morph.io takes care of all the grunt work. Each new scraper collects previously obscurely published, unstructured data and opens it up for new research, reporting and civic tech possibilities. Henare tells me that the PlanningAlerts scraper hackfest in 2011 was one of the OpenAustralia Foundation’s most productive events, adding PlanningAlerts coverage for over 1,823,124 Australians. A little scraping can go a long way.

So what did we do?

Matthew fixed up and reviewed PlanningAlerts scrapers. The fine people of Yarra Ranges Shire, Victoria can now be informed and have their say on changes to their local area.

Henare wanted to open up data from the NSW Environmental Protection Agency and remembered he’d written something for ScraperWiki Classic a few years back. His scraper to collect all prosecutions under the NSW Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO Act) is now running on morph with over 1000 new records.

Nick published one of his Australian Electoral Commission scrapers which collects political donation records. It ran for 17 hours overnight and collected 29k records. He says he’s got a few more like this to put up too. Nick took his Guardian colleague Todd Moore through morph.io for the first time. Maybe we’ll see some more scrapers emerging from there–Todd seems to have an interest collecting news about Cyclist Demons. Pat and Nick also explored Bureau of Meteorology data.

Chris worked on his scraper that tracks documents tabled in NSW Parliament.

Rosie and I started making a scraper to collect Australian government contract award notices. Matthew helpfully showed us how to create and write to files in Ruby to help with reading .xlsx spreadsheets.

Erietta sketched out a big pad full of observations and ideas about how non-programmer journalists approach scraping and the questions they have.

Jack explored the data in morph.io with a focus on records of domestic violence in Australia. He also found that Alex Sadlier’s site disclosurelo.gs, that tracks documents released by Australian Government agencies through Freedom of Information requests, was’t updating, prompting Alex to get that working again (thanks Alex!)

A huge thanks to Nick and the Guardian for providing us lovely space to hack in.

New useful data was added to the public domain and people discovered why morph.io is so awesome. I’d call that a success. Thanks for coming along everyone, I had a great time catching up and ranting on about morph.io—see you next time!

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A step forward for open government in NSW and the NT

Warragamba Dam spilling image by Sydney Catchment Authority, used under Creative Commons. See https://www.flickr.com/photos/77473963@N03/6960820775

Photo by Sydney Catchment Authority, used with thanks under Creative Commons

Millions of people in New South Wales and the Northern Territory can now easily make requests for information from their governments and local councils. We’ve added hundreds of new authorities to Right To Know that cover state, territory, and local government in NSW and the NT.

Right To Know makes it simple for you discover useful government information by helping you create a Freedom of Information (FOI) request (they have slightly different names in NSW and the NT and we’ll talk about the differences in laws soon). By automatically publishing the entire correspondence of the request online it makes it easy for other people to discover information released by our governments, and learn how to make effective requests themselves.

It’s been a long journey for us to add these new authorities. You’d probably be surprised at how much work is needed to gather information on all the authorities covered by FOI laws around Australia – there’s no comprehensive list available. It wasn’t just the data gathering exercise that took a lot of effort.

Every state and territory around Australia is covered by its own access to information law. That means there’s 9 different laws to consider including the Federal level, each with key differences. We work really hard on all OpenAustralia Foundation projects to insulate people from this kind of complexity. People just want the government to give them the information they need – they don’t want to have to become an FOI expert.

A critical problem with the FOI laws of every Australian state and the NT is that they require a fee, typically around $30, just to lodge a request for information. This entry fee is a clear impediment to the stated goals of these laws to make government information readily accessible to the people. We’ve deliberately not catered for this problematic part of the law in Right To Know.

All the Australian FOI laws have provisions for informal access or fee waivers. Our hope is that government agencies will do the right thing by requesters and exercise these helpful provisions in the laws. We’re pleased to share examples on Right To Know of agencies in NSW and the NT that are doing exactly this – helping people access the information they’ve requested with as little administrative cost as possible.

The Sydney Catchment Authority was extremely helpful in providing river water quality data in response to a request from Luke Bacon. The City of Darwin council also helpfully provided a set of documents in response to a request I made about changes to parking permits in the city. We would like to send out a big thank you to the authorities and FOI officers who for provided this information. You serve as great examples for other FOI officers wanting to help citizens access government information important to them.

So, people of NSW and the NT, what information are you interested in? Go ahead and make a request on RightToKnow.org.au to find out.

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Helping people open governments around the world – AlaveteliCon 2015

A fortnight ago I had the privilege of attending AlaveteliCon 2015 in Madrid. It’s the conference about online Freedom of Information (FOI) technologies named after Alaveteli, the open source software that runs Right To Know.

Looking back it was a huge two days packed with sessions on every important aspect of running FOI request sites. While it would be impossible for me to give a recap on the whole conference, I hope to share my personal perspective in this post. As well as giving you sense of the conference it should also give you an idea of the types of topics that I’m finding particularly relevant to our current situation in Australia with Right To Know.

It’s the people

AlaveteliCon 2015 brought together over 50 people from dozens of different countries and all corners of the globe. It’s the people are always what make a conference and we’re lucky that the Alaveteli community is full of great people. Everyone candidly shared the successes, failures, frustrations, and downright hilarious moments that make up running an FOI request site. People at the conference represented sites that have hundreds of thousands of requests through to hundreds of requests, in countries with no FOI law through to countries with supposedly excellent laws.

Thank you to everyone that shared their stories at the conference. It was a powerful reminder that no matter how hard we think the struggle for access to information is in our own country, someone somewhere else in the world is facing much tougher odds. And importantly – there’s always more than one way to approach a problem to deal with those odds.

Telling war stories

The panel I was asked to participate in was about telling war stories. The conference organisers were particularly interested in hearing the extraordinary lengths a certain authority in Australia went to to avoid responding to a set of FOI requests. It was the story of the Detention Logs project.

While I shared the honest truth of the so far unsuccessful battle they’ve fought, I also wanted to point out a powerfully positive aspect of that project. By using open platforms like Alaveteli everything the project has produced so far will be a record for future generations and governments to learn from. It also means that anyone, at any time can continue and build on the work they’ve already done. In other words, by using open platforms it means that this story is far from over.

Using Alaveteli to change FOI laws for the better

The unconference session that I proposed and moderated on the second day was very popular – using sites like Alaveteli to change FOI laws for the better. Since there’s almost certainly no country in the world with perfect FOI laws it should be no surprise that this would be interesting to anyone running an FOI request site. Earlier in the conference we’d already heard that Civio and Access Info launched their Spanish FOI site before a law even existed and they successfully used the presence of their site and all its requests to advocate for the creation of an access to information law.

During the session we talked of creating a simple summary of what makes a good access to information law. Such as prompt and enforceable response times, no application fees, and accessible reviews of decisions. As we expand Right To Know to cover Australia’s states and territories this is of particular interest to us. Sadly every state and territory in Australia, except the ACT, has application fees in place for FOI requests. This financial entry fee needs to be removed to make access to information accessible to all and freedom of information, frankly, free.

Talking tech

The lead developers of the Alaveteli software, Louise and Gareth, also ran a technical session where they asked deployers what they should be focussing on. It was great to hear broad support for something we’ve all been pushing for for a while – improving the core engineering of the software to allow us all to confidently make improvements in the future.

It was also during another technical session, unfortunately hampered by struggling internet, that we decided to set up a Slack real-time chat for the project. The hope with this is that it becomes a place where people can ask questions that they otherwise wouldn’t over email using the existing mailing lists. It remains to be seen if this plays out but it’s an important experiment.

See you at the next AlaveteliCon

At the first AlaveteliCon in 2012 many of us that attended hadn’t even set up their Alaveteli site (including us!). Getting together 3 years later it was great to hear so many people now experienced in the running of a request site. As I said to a number of people during the conference, our challenge from AlaveteliCon 2015 is to create a close-knit community. A community where we know if we have a problem, someone somewhere in the world has our back and to get help we can just pick up the phone – or maybe the Internet equivalent instead :)

Cheers,

Henare

P.S. A huge thank you to the fantastic teams at mySociety, Access Info and Open Society Foundations that made AlaveteliCon 2015 happen. An especially big thanks for providing me with a travel bursary, without which I could not have participated.

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You now have to use a key to access the PlanningAlerts API

Three months ago we announced that you would need to get an API key to use the PlanningAlerts API.

We gave you lots of time to transition. We made the use of an API key optional during this transition period.

Now, as the start of June has passed, we’ve made the use of the API key mandatory.

If by any chance you missed the earlier announcements and today you’ve discovered that your application that uses the PlanningAlerts API isn’t working anymore then you’ll need to get yourself an API key.

Don’t worry. It’s very simple.

As ever, if you have any questions, please get in touch.

Posted in Announcement, PlanningAlerts.org.au | Leave a comment

Civic Tech Monthly, May 2015

Welcome to the fourth edition of Civic Tech Monthly. Below you’ll find news and notes about civic tech from Australia and around the world.

As always we’d love to see you at the OpenAustralia Foundation Sydney Pub Meet next Tuesday if you’re in town.

If you’d like to help us out by passing this on, the sign up link is http://eepurl.com/bcE0DX. If you have any feedback or ideas please get in touch. We’re always keen to hear them.

News and Notes

#Alaveteli15

¡Hola! to everyone over in Madrid for AlaveteliCon 2015. For the rest of us, we can check out all the fun they’ve been having at the conference on Freedom of Information technologies with #alaveteli15 on twitter. There’s lots of interesting news and links—we just learnt that by Ukrainian law FOI requests must be answered in 5 days! We’re looking forward to hearing more about what went down in the coming weeks.

“I find politics inaccessible”: User testing voter advice apps

Francis Irving, hacker on many great civic tech projects, takes 17 voter advice applications through some quick usability testing with a friend, in the lead up to the UK election. This is a great one for people building civic tech to get us to think hard about making relevant and useful tools.

Nouabook helps citizens communicate with Moroccan MPs through video

Nouabook launched in 2014 to help citizens and Moroccan MPs communicate directly in an open forum. Andrew G. Mandelbaum, one of the project founders, explains that many Moroccans use purely spoken language and don’t read, and that MPs often favour video over text based media. Responding to this context, the site now enables citizens to ask questions in video format.

This is another project built on the WriteIt Poplus component. It’s interesting to see how the project can adapt to citizen needs in different contexts. Hopefully these experiences can be used to improve the project for everyone.

re:publica: Europe’s biggest conference on internet and society

There are loads of fascinating presentations to watch from the re:public conference held in Berlin earlier this month. Sessions include deep discussion on security and human rights issues as well as philosophical interludes and practical application.

A year after Poplus was launched, the first million-user site

YourNextMP.com, a project using the Popit and MapIt components, served over a million visitor in the lead up to the UK election. Because the code and data are open for reuse, it was also used as a data source in at least 20 other projects, including by Google. A huge congratulations to the Democracy Club team.

Join us at the CryptoParty in Sydney tomorrow evening

Giving citizens the means to protect their communications is an important part of empowering them to create the society they want. That’s why the OpenAustralia Foundation is a co-sponsor of the CryptoParty in Sydney tomorrow night hosted by Thoughtworks. Currently it looks like all seats are taken, but join up to the waiting list if you’re interested as space is sure to open up.

Sinar Project hosts online workshops in Openness, Freedom and civic tech development

Throughout May, Malaysia’s Sinar Project has hosted a series of online workshops on ‘Openness and Freedom’ to raise awareness in local communities. The final session on open government is on May 30th. You can watch the previous sessions on free culture and free and open source software and a supplementary session in two parts on the benefits of free software and collaborative software development. They’ve also hosted a live coding session to directly take a small group of developers through how Sinar Project uses MapIt and PopIt to connect people with their MPs.

Launch of Hong Kong’s first Freedom of Information portal

With the launch of Accessinfo.hk people in Hong Kong can now easily make government information requests in the open. It’s powered by Alaveteli of course, the same open source software running Australia’s Right To Know.

Mixed Message in Australia’s Budget for Open Government

On the one hand, the Digital Transformation Office (DTO) has been given $100 million startup funding to make the Australian government’s front end a more rewarding experience for citizens. Going in the opposite direction, the government has not reinstated full funding to the Office of Australian Information Commissioner, effectively reducing the public’s ability to hold Government Agencies to account. Freedom of Information expert Peter Timmins describes the situation as “a step backward in the long journey towards transparent accountable government”.

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Civic Tech Monthly, April 2015

Welcome to the third edition of Civic Tech Monthly. Below you’ll find news and notes about civic tech from Australia and around the world.

Now that we’re three ports into this voyage we’d love to know what you think. If you’ve got ideas or feedback please leave a comment. You can also contribute and comment on GitHub like you can with all our projects.

If you’re the kind of person that finds this interesting then you’re sure to have friends who would too. Post the subscribe link on social media http://eepurl.com/bcE0DX and share this post.

As always a special reminder for readers in Sydney: don’t forget to sign up for the OpenAustralia Foundation Sydney Pub Meet next Tuesday. We’d love to see you there.

News and Notes

The Impacts of Civic Technology Conference 2015

mySociety hosted the first international conference on research and civic tech in March. The event focused on how we can measure the impact of civic tech, what the current research is telling us and how civic hackers can improve their projects with research. Check out the videos, slides and other resources.

Luke from the OpenAustralia Foundation team went over and gave a workshop on some of the questions that small developer teams have approaching research. Luke wrote up a blog post with some of his take-aways.

1000 entries to the Knight News Challenge

The Knight News Challenge offers journalism, media and civic engagement projects a share in $3 million to realise their proposals. The latest challenge asks “How might we better inform voters and increase civic participation before, during and after elections?” Entries have closed but there are loads of interesting ideas to inspire a project of your own.

Members of the Poplus Federation proposed a 6 country partnership to extend YouNextMP to Guatemala, Chile, Argentina, Peru, Scotland, and Minnesota. There’s also an entry in the top 45 to create ElectionLeaflets.org International, which mentions our very own ElectionLeaflets.org.au.

Right To Know is now in the ACT and on your phone

This month we’ve been making big improvements to our Freedom of Information project, Right To Know. So far you’ve only been able to request information from the Federal Government but now you’re also able to request information from the ACT Government using Right to Know. We’ve also made big changes to the design of the project so that it’s much more usable from mobiles. It should be much easier to read request exchanges and even make requests no matter what device you use.

Al Jazeera doco on civic tech and DIY open science

A 15 minute documentary about citizens in Louisiana, US getting together to collect the evidence of their environment’s health using open source tools. It’s a great example of using tech to support civic action and how simple tools can be shared and reused in different situations. In the piece you see community workshops where people make tools, collect data and discuss what they plan to do with it.

NSW Pecuniary Interest Register now transcribed and searchable

It’s popped up in every edition so far, but the efforts to improve access to NSW MP’s register of interests just keep on coming. The Guardian’s call for their readers to help transcribe the register has been answered! Nick Evershed and Todd Moore have now published the results for download and access online. Well done and thanks to everyone who got involved in the project, particularly at our #nswvotes Pub Meet where the idea emerged.

Not Just For Folks Who Code

Kate Garklavs shares reasons and ideas to get people who don’t code involved in civic hacking events. One of the highlights of our 2014 They Vote For You Hackfest was the advice of Parliamentary staff who attended and explained the path of bills through parliament.

If you’re someone who would like to be involved in civic tech projects but doesn’t code and you’re in Sydney, we’d love to see you at our monthly pub meet.

Does the data make a difference?

Working on civic tech projects often involves working with government datasets of varying quality—if you can even find them. In this post Rosie Williams details the usefulness of different datasets she’s been working with around the distribution of funding to community groups.

Free lesson plans for civic tech and citizenship in schools

The UK’s Citizenship Foundation and mySociety have twelve lesson plans for you, including interactive activities, worksheets and background materials. The lessons aim to explain why and how students should take an active role in democracy, and how they can use civic tech tools as one way to get involved.

Americans’ Views on Open Government Data

Pew Research Center have published the “first national survey that seeks to benchmark public sentiment about the government initiatives that use data to cultivate the public square.” The report covers a range of questions on how citizens think about government data including whether they think it will improve services or accountability. Peter Timmins asked if research like this is being done in Australia? Is it being done anywhere else in the world?

Fantasy Frontbench

A different perspective on exploring the positions and backgrounds of MPs developed in the lead up to the UK election. Fantasy Frontbench uses data from They Work For You and Public Whip. We’d love to see someone adapt their site to work with OpenAustralia.org.au and They Vote For You in Australia.

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