Civic Tech Monthly, October 2015

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

It seems like October has been a busy month for everyone. All around the world people are flat-out launching new projects, presenting at conferences, and sharing plans and ideas. This edition is full of opportunities and ideas you can draw on.

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

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

News and Notes

Thank you Matthew

There must be something in the water because this has been a big year for changing leadership in civic tech organisations with Tom Steinberg moving on from mySociety and James McKinney from OpenNorth. This time it’s our very own co-founder Matthew Landauer.

So now it’s our turn to say thank you to Matthew. Since creating over 7 years ago Matthew has worked tirelessly to better connect people with their communities, governments and politicians through his work at the OpenAustralia Foundation. While many people talk about this, Matthew just gets on and makes it happen. He’s done this by programming, designing and writing websites that have been used by millions of people, and by teaching and inspiring others to do the same as a leader in civic tech.

From Henare and Luke, thank you Matthew for everything you taught us. With Kat keeping our feet on the ground, we’ll continue to put what you taught us to work. We’re full steam ahead.

Apply for support and development help from mySociety

There are dozens of civic tech projects, running all over the world, built on mySociety’s open source work. They’re using platforms like Alaveteli, FixMyStreet, WriteInPublic or YourNextRepresentative.

You can get mySociety’s help to set up something like this in your area. For projects that suit their program, they’re offering technical and development help, as well as advice on a range of issues and even hosting.

Applications close October 30, so get in quick.

Democracy Club plans for 2016 UK elections

For the UK’s 2015 elections Democracy Club helped thousands of people in the UK vote and find out more about candidates. Now they’re laying down plans for their next round:

May 2016 will see a much wider range of elections in the UK – from local councils to city mayors, from police commissioners to the devolved assemblies and parliaments…

For May 2016, we’ve set ourselves the ambitious target of knowing about every candidate in every election in the UK…

And that’s not all. On 7 May, we noticed that one of the most popular internet searches was: “Where do I vote?” For that reason, among others, we think there’s real value to be gained in open data for polling stations – their locations and the areas they serve.

If you’ve got elections coming up in your area check out their plans and how they approach these projects. Maybe these ideas will inspire a project of your own, of course all their projects are open source for you to use.

Update to an Open Data Masters Thesis

In 2011 Zarino Zappia completed his Masters thesis on the state of “open data” use in the UK and USA: ‘Participation, Power, Provenance: Mapping Information Flows in Open Data Development’ [4MB PDF]. Early this month he posted some thoughts about what has and hasn’t changed since then touching on what government, hackers, non-profits, and the private sector are up to. It’s a wonderful and refreshingly honest appraisal of the state of open data.

New York Senate relaunches with a website designed for citizens

It’s great to see a legislature launch a website that has been designed to help citizens. There’s still lots of work to do, but it’s a big step ahead of what most people around the world get. How does compare to your local senate or parliament’s website?

Civicist have collect perspectives on the new system with particular focus on the interesting “listening” features.

Legislative openness conference in Georgia brings together delegates from over 30 countries

You can now watch the sessions from the Government Partnership’s Legislative Openness Working Group meeting hosted by the Parliament of Georgia last month. There were over 75 parliamentary and civil society delegates from more than 30 countries present for the meeting.

You can find out more about what went down in’s helpful review of the event.

Freedom of Information sketch diary

Myfanwy Tristram has posted her amazing sketches from AlaveteliCon 2015, the international conference on Freedom of Information technologies.

The sketches are a great introduction to the characters behind FOI projects around the world (including ours!). Myf gives you a real sense of the different flavour that each team brings to their common mission. The sketches are published over 5 posts on Myf’s blog.

An epic web scraping tutorial

After our first scraping workshop last month we wrote up some of the things we learned. One of them was that a reference guide would have been useful. So Luke wrote an epic step-by-step tutorial on how to write a web scraper in Ruby using!

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve featured these in a blog post series in which you actually create, publish and run your own working scraper. Give it a try and let us know how you go. We’re keen to help more people get the skills to build the projects they want to see. Any feedback on the tutorial would be greatly appreciated.

If you’re in Sydney this weekend and keen to learn scraping, we’ve still got three spots available in our next Introduction to Web Scraping Workshop on Sunday. We’d love to you join us.

Videos from Code for America Summit

Code for America Summit was earlier this month and you can now watch it all online, including this much tweeted presentation from Tom Loosemore.

Who comments in PlanningAlerts and how could it work better?

About a month ago we started some design research to learn from the people who use PlanningAlerts how we can make the experience of commenting on local planning better. This post talks about how we’re approaching design research and our observations in this project so far.

We’ve currently working on a new project to help people write to their elected local councillors about planning applications. The aim is to strengthen the connection between citizens and local councillors around one of the most important things that local government does: planning. We’re also trying to improve the whole commenting flow in PlanningAlerts.

The Impacts of Civic Technology Conference 2016, call for papers

Speaking of research, the Impacts of Civic Technology Conference (TICTEC) is on again in 2016. TICTEC was a great success in 2015. It collected people from all over the world to talk and learn about research in civic tech and the impact that these projects make.

TICTEC 2016 will be 27th-28th April 2016 in Barcelona. The call for papers and workshop ideas is now open. mySociety also offer grants for travel and registration that you can also apply for now.

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