Civic Tech Monthly, August 2015

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

It seems like August has been a busy month for civic hackers everywhere because this month we’ve got a bunch of new projects from around the world for you.

As always we’d love to see you at the OpenAustralia Foundation Sydney Pub Meet next Tuesday if you’re in town. Last month’s lightning talks and new venue in Surry Hills were a big success. We’re doing it all again this month so come along and tell us something interesting in civic tech you’ve seen or done.

If you know someone who’d like this newsletter, pass it on:

News and Notes

Introduction to Web Scraping Workshop in Sydney

Join us in Sydney in two weeks time to learn how to write a web scraper. You can use a scraper to quickly grab all kinds of information for analysis and processing. Scrapers are the backbone of OpenAustralia Foundation projects such as They Vote For You and PlanningAlerts—we’re always finding new ways that scrapers can help, and we’re keen to share this skill. You can find out more and register via our blog post.

This is a hands-on, half-day workshop and by the afternoon you will have written a web scraper. Tickets are $295 and the workshop is in Redfern, Sydney on Friday the 4th of September. You will need a laptop and some programming experience to attend but you don’t have to be an expert. If you know what a variable, loop and array are, then this is for you.

This is a new experiment for the OpenAustralia Foundation. We’re trying out a new approach to help people who want to make their own projects. If you can’t make the workshop, but know someone who might be interested, we’d really appreciate if you could pass this along.

Thank you Tom

It was Tom Steinberg’s last day at mySociety earlier this month. He’s made a huge contribution to civic tech everywhere. It’s been our absolute pleasure to work with him over the years and we’d like to especially thank him for being generous with his advice whenever we asked. We can’t wait to see what he gets up to after his chillax and we wish him very well.

We also love this delightfully mad post from the excellent Francis Irving celebrating Tom and all the other amazing people that have contributed to mySociety over the years – “Those brief moments when winning seems possible”.

Soft launch of Freedom of Information Portal for Malaysia

You can now use Malaysia’s first Freedom of Information portal to ask their governments for information. Of course it’s built on Alaveteli!

By law, we have Freedom of Information Enactments (FOIE) in the following two states: Selangor & Penang. However, we have also added the avenue to request for information from Public Authorities not covered by FOI in order to gauge what citizens want to know at the Federal level.

This is a nice example of one of the Civic Patterns we like to follow at OAF: “When designing a service, make your process reflect the legal rules that you wish existed, instead of those that do. Reality will catch up.”

Yo Quiero Saber 2015

This month Argentines got to compare the basic positions of candidates using a simple game. First you have to state your position on an issue, then the you see the positions of the candidates. This dynamic leads you through to see where you stand on a range of issues compared to to all the candidates.

The feedback so far is that people felt informed and used it to pick candidates that better represented their views. Martín Szyszlican, one of the creators, says they’ll keep running and developing the project, and that the big challenge is to reach more people. This time they had over 1% of voters, doubling their audience in 2013, but not enough to impact election results.

Help work out the gender balance of 100 parliaments

Which country has the highest proportion of women in parliament? Do women vote differently on issues like defence, the environment, or maternity benefits? Exactly when did women come into power in different countries, and did their presence change the way the country was run? Frustratingly, these are questions for which it’s difficult to provide an answer, because the objective data just isn’t there … So we created Gender Balance, an easy game that crowd-sources gender data across every parliament in the world.

Believe it or not, but you can have fun, learn about your parliament, and generate useful open data all at the same time. Get to it!

OpenPlanning Launches in Hampshire, UK

Hampshire Hub have teamed up with mySociety to prototype a tool to demystify the local planning process. This is a new take on making local planning records more useful. You can read more in Ben Nickolls blog post on the project.

In excellent open source fashion, this prototype is forked from the OpenAustralia Foundation’s PlanningAlerts, which in turn is based the UK’s original As says “Don’t Reinvent The Wheel”

It looks like the team is considering how to merge some of their upgrades back into, which would be truly fantastic.

Dare to talk about your civic tech mistakes — submit your failure story

In a small room full of friends, talking about failure should be easy. But for some reason — maybe because of the relative novelty of using more expensive technologies for social innovation — people working around civic technology are not used to admitting when their projects don’t work. And while this sort of dishonesty might help with short-term opportunities (especially when it comes to funding), it has a serious effect on long-term sustainability: We cannot learn from our mistakes.

Tell the Sunlight Foundation about your unsuccessful projects so they can work out the patterns and help us all improve our work.

CKAN meetup and Hacks/Hackers in Sydney

In more Sydney event news, after the scraping workshop we can walk down to the CKAN meetup. There’ll be lots of people with experience working with and publishing open data.

Hacks/Hackers is also back on in Sydney. The next meetup, Data Journalism and Investigations in Political Reporting, is on Wednesday evening, September 16. You should give a lightning talk if you’re in town.

How far does your MP tread the party line?

You can greatly improve or reduce the usability of a resource just by changing its text. This is an interesting post about the impact of wording in a civic tech site and how the TheyWorkForYou team approached improving it.

101 web scraping and research tasks for the data journo (or civic hacker)

If you want to learn scraping or polish your skills (and can’t make it to our workshop ;-) ) then here’s 101 tasks to keep you busy.

Help develop the Influence Mapping Toolbox

You can help the development of new tools to map the role of personal ties and economic interests in politics. If you have an influence mapping project, or are interested in getting one started, you can help the team with their initial research and shape development of their new tools. You’ll also find lots of interesting discussion on the topic of influence mapping at the Influence Mapping Google Group.

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