Civic Tech Monthly, September 2015

Welcome to the eighth 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. Come along and give a lightning talk about something interesting in civic tech you’ve seen or done.

If you know someone who’d like this newsletter, pass it on: http://eepurl.com/bcE0DX.

News and Notes

A massive week for They Vote For You

Australia got a new Prime Minister last week. As the media detailed the step by step drama, tens of thousands of people visited They Vote For You to see how the players had voted in Parliament.

Over 30,000 people have visited They Vote For You since the leadership challenge was announced. This is over three times as many people as on the project’s launch day when it featured prominently in the Guardian Australia. In a week of so many words, it was fantastic to see people looking for some real information about what MPs do in Parliament.

Web scraping workshop success—we’re doing it again in October

We ran our first Introduction to Web Scraping Workshop a few weeks ago and it was a big success.

You can read more about how it went on information graphics designer Kelly Tall’s blog. We also blogged about the things we learned in this first experiment. We’re looking forward to seeing what everyone does with their new scraping skills!

We were really pleased and impressed with how much everyone learned—so we’re doing it all again. We’re still locking down our date and venue, but it will almost certainly be on Sunday, 25th October, near Central in Sydney. There will be 10 places available.

If you want to learn how to scrape structured data for your projects then let us know you’re interested via email or twitter. Then we can contact you when registrations open shortly.

EveryPolitician – 200 countries and counting

For Global Legislative Openness Week 2015 EveryPolitician set the ambitious target to add 66 more nations to their project and pass the 200 mark—and they did it! People from all around the world contributed research and scrapers to hit the goal.

EveryPolitician is an open, free repository of information on politicians from (now) over 200 national parliaments that you can use in your projects.

FOI and eyes wide shut: even public servants want to know

Suelette Dreyfus made a clear case for a more open, reliable Freedom of Information system in Australia to a conference hall full of public servants in August. Read a transcript of the address in The Mandarin.

Dreyfus argues that a more open government isn’t only in the public interest, but can also protect the independence of public servants and foster public trust in government.

Freedominfo.org is creating a deliberative process exemption library

In Freedom of Information law deliberative process exemptions are rules designed to protect the open and frank flow of advice and discussion inside government by restricting it from public access.

Freedominfo.org is creating a library of model examples of these rules and summaries of national laws that you can compare. How do your government’s rules compare to others? What would you change?

If you’re government isn’t listed yet you can contribute it to the resource.

Economist Joseph Stiglitz discusses the justification for these kinds of public access exemptions and their impact in his 1999 lecture on the importance of transparency to good governance (PDF).

Leadership transition at Open North

Canadian civic tech organisation Open North have a new executive director Jean-Noé Landry as founder James McKinney moves on to new things.

We’re looking forward to seeing how Open North continue to grow with a new director and can’t wait to see what James does next.

In this post James shares his current thoughts about where he fit as an individual inside the organisation he founded and looks back on his approach as executive director.

FoxScan

Since foxes were introduced into Australia in 1871 they have caused huge damage to native species. Foxes are a designated pest throughout the country.

FoxScan gives information to people trying to fix this problem. You report sightings of foxes and the damage they cause and Foxscan—rather than just sucking all this data into a black hole—tries to make it available to everyone. It shares some similarities with GrowStuff in that it encourages people to share disparate information and helps practitioners working independently to contribute to a social good.

morph.io got a big new server and continues to grow

A couple of months ago we celebrated the 3000th scraper running on morph.io. In the last week we passed 3600 scrapers and there’s now 3000 people using the platform—yikes!

With all this new use morph.io’s server was beginning to struggle. Some scrapers were also requiring more memory than we could allocate them.

After a helpful discussion with some of the most active morph.io users we upgraded to a bigger, more powerful server. You can now scrape bigger documents and run more memory intensive processes, as we increased the memory allowance for your scraper runs from 100 MB to 512 MB.

If morph.io is useful to you, please become a supporter to keep it running and open to all.

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