We’ve learned to live with a lot of things in 2021. Against a backdrop of a never-ending pandemic, hard won rights are under threat; protest is being criminalised; and action to combat the climate crises benefits from lots of fine words but little real change in behaviour.
At mySociety we see our work as being more important than ever: helping people be active as citizens, holding power to account, and understanding how decisions are made on our behalf by our elected representatives. In this annual review for 2021 we’ll celebrate the really powerful and exciting work we’ve been able to put together over the year, the amazing staff and volunteer team that allows us to do this, and the millions of people who benefit from using our services.
Given the scale of the challenges we are all facing together, we’ve realised that we need to make some significant changes to how we operate in the future.
We recently set out some thinking about the shifts we need to make in how we work, and why we think that, as a society, we need to repower democracy.
Repowering democracy means finding better ways to collectively tackle societal level problems; creating supportive spaces for our leaders to make the difficult decisions that will be needed in years to come. It means improving the legitimacy and effectiveness of representative democracy so that it’s better able to embrace participatory democracy — creating the conditions for citizen and community power to thrive and flourish. There is a lot to be done.
So, enjoy hearing about what we’ve been up to in 2021, and we look forward to seeing how we can repower democracy with you in 2022.
We welcomed a bevy of new people to mySociety:
Alona, informing the WhatDoTheyKnow team with updates on the ICO.
Angela, keeping a firm hand on the organisation’s purse strings.
Bekki, baking user-centricity into all our commercial services.
Emily, delivering our Climate programme, mainly through the medium of spreadsheets.
Jacqueline, our newest team member, joining SocietyWorks as a project manager in December.
Joanna, helping keep WhatDoTheyKnow’s support service ticking over.
Lizetta, spinning multiple plates, aka project managing the SocietyWorks team.
Lucas, making everything we do look good, as part of the Design team.
Ludo, creating our SocietyWorks services with plenty of Perl and a dash of inspiration.
Moray, also coding for SocietyWorks, also forging the code that makes it all tick.
Sally, building bridges and finessing services, by overseeing relationships with WhatDoTheyKnow’s users.
Siôn, chatting to multiple people every day, to create a community for our Climate programme.
William, ensuring good use of WhatDoTheyKnow through his volunteer support work.
Designers Martin and Clive are off to ‘make it pop’ somewhere else. Missing you guys already.
Nyasha has diligently helped us keep the WhatDoTheyKnow user support inbox to manageable proportions. Thanks for all your help!
Abi has been overseeing mySociety’s HR and office management with hard stares and common sense since 2010. We wish her a future where timesheets are taken more seriously.
Bec moves on after seven years as our Head of Research. Her commitment to assessing both the state of democracy and the quality of the wine in countries around the world have been equally admirable.
Goodbye to three trustees. Goodbye to Manar Hussain who stepped down at the end of last year after an amazing 17 years involvement with mySociety! Kate Jones stepped down from our mySociety board, along with Anno Mitchell who stepped down after 5 years as a Non-Executive Director of SocietyWorks. We also say goodbye and thank you to our indomitable Chair of SocietyWorks and Trustee of mySociety, Jonathan Flowers, who has ended his term of office after six amazing years of support, guidance and advice. Thank you Manar, Kate, Anno and Jonathan for your service.
What a year — for the world and for mySociety.
It has been a busy year for mySociety and the first thing I want to say is a huge “thank you” to the team. As you can see from the contents of this review, they have done an amazing job – continuing to support and develop the services that so many people rely on, while also forging a new strategy to make sure we can make an even bigger impact in the future.
I can’t choose just one favourite highlight for the year – there are just too many great things going on. The work to help people follow through on WhatDoTheyKnow queries, and stop organisations using the exemptions wrongly to brush off Freedom of Information requests, is certainly one favourite. And the work with our partner Climate Emergency UK to make local authorities’ Climate Action Plans accessible to citizens and enable councils to learn from each other is another. And then there are the 7.8 million visits to TheyWorkForYou – helping thousands of people every week understand and use the levers to influence politicians…
One of the themes of our new strategy is collaboration – the problems facing our democracy and the world are much too big and complex for any organisation to tackle on its own. Over the next year we will be working hard to combine our knowledge and skills with those of others to make a bigger difference. Our resources are stretched very thinly and it will be a priority to address that and make sure that we look after our people and focus our work where, working with others, we can make the biggest difference.
Thanks for reading our Review. If you can see ways we could work together to help reboot democracy and save the planet, please get in touch.
The team answers…
We’re working on the climate, and that is good for helping with the everyday existential panic and feeling like we’re doing something practical.
Working on projects with a great and positive impact on society with a supportive, caring, professional team.
It’s been so rewarding to see our Climate Action Plan Explorer quickly become a central hub for data on climate action in the UK.
Working with Bromley & Peterborough councils to co-create and launch a brand new domestic waste service.
Being able to develop our work at the intersection of democracy and climate response – the biggest challenge we’re facing.
Being part of a forward-thinking responsible organisation… that also likes pets.
As it has become a priority for the world, climate has also become an important priority for mySociety. We’re using all of our deep experience and understanding of Transparency, Community and Democracy and considering what climate opportunities exist within each of those programmes.
This year, in collaboration with Climate Emergency UK, we published CAPE: our database of council climate action plans.
We’re continuing to add new useful features to it, that’ll help you engage with your local authority over their plans for Net Zero.
A recipe for powering
with the Climate Action Plan Explorer
Next up: We’ll be integrating our research on identifying councils with similar emissions profiles, to make it easier for CAPE users to understand their council’s progress in context.
Sign up to our newsletter to hear as soon as this—and other upcoming features—are released.
We were one of several organisations who told the COP26 delegates The World Is Looking To You on billboards across Glasgow.
We signed the Conscious Advertising Network’s open letter urging COP26 to tackle the threat of climate misinformation.
I don’t work for them, but look at the work @mySociety is doing
with the data.climateemergency.uk
I think it’s properly inspiring – enabling and supporting civic engagement around the climate crisis.>
This good. See your local (UK) climate plan. Then use the data to persuade your local politicians to do more.
Tracking the UK’s journey towards carbon zero – Climate Action Plan Explorer
Climate Emergency UK helped collect the data, reached out to councils, ran workshops, trained a new cohort of Climate Action Plan experts… and meanwhile we ran the research and built online interfaces, features and tools to support their boundless stream of activity.
Friends of the Earth used the data in CAPE to underpin a mass action asking citizens to make contact with their councils.
It feels great to work on an area that is so crucial. Being part of a solution that can help people take better actions feels amazing – professionally and personally.
Our collaboration with Climate Emergency UK is working really well – they’ve got the contacts and knowledge, while we’ve got the tech skills and experience.
2021 has been a fantastic opportunity to bring new skills into the Climate team, and so into the wider mySociety team as a whole.
It’s a welcome opportunity to try out some new ways of working and conducting research.
We’ve continued to develop online tools that make it easier for people in the UK and internationally to access information from public authorities, and our research has identified where this country’s FOI practices needs improvement.
Remove, redact, retain? Find out:
Transparency watch We’ve kept an eye on the UK’s performance when it comes to openness, noting problems with the new research agency ARIA, calling out when the UK was added to the OGP’s watchlist, adding our name to the concerns surfaced by Lucas Amin’s Art of Darkness report, and arguing for a split in the role of the Information Comissioner.
100,000+ Overall number of requests made on WhatDoTheyKnow in 2021
35,482 were successful
10,063 were partially successful
1,991 went on to request an internal review
7,563 “information not held” responses
Now MaDada’s established in France and beginning to make waves, we had a chat about their progress.
We marked International Right to Know Day with a special TICTeC Show & Tell highlighting triumphs and problems with FOI across Europe.
Give Them Time successfully campaigned for toddlers in Scotland to have an extra year at pre-school nursery, if needed.
A Million Moments for Democracy used FOI to uncover corruption in the Czech Republic.
Heavy Metal Handcyclist challenged councils over cycle paths that block disabled people’s use.
Lost in Europe co-ordinated a continent-wide investigation into young migrants who go missing at the border.
The team answers…
I loved puzzling through something as complex as the refusals advice. For a short time there, I knew so much about every exemption to the FOI Act. Of course, I’ve forgotten it all again now.
Being able to assist the transparency team means a lot. The work they do have such a great impact on helping information being available to the public. Information that should affect how people take action and make decisions in politics, community, climate and many other subjects.
Getting to grips with some big picture issues about how FOI should work
Seeing the network of FOI sites improve and get stronger, and the impact that we’re able to support in the UK
Developing citizen-centred services for local authorities, mySociety’s commercial subsidiary has gone from strength to strength this year.
The team has been so busy that we can’t fit everything into one small section – so head over to the SocietyWorks Year in Review if you’d like to read more about the highlights of their year.
Keep the noise down Our new NoiseWorks service, developed in collaboration with Hackney council, is a better way for councils to manage antisocial noise reports.
We’ve bin busy WasteWorks is a citizen-centred service to help councils manage all elements of domestic, bulky and green garden waste online.
Online events are still happening as well, of course, and we made virtual appearances at Service Design in Government and the LGA Annual Conference.
With face to face events a possibility again, we took SocietyWorks on the road, checking in at Highways UK, District Councils’ Network Annual Conference, and RWM.
While you’re waiting Two friends showed us all how we can make crossings safer for blind pedestrians.
Verging on genius The charity Plantlife got everyone thinking about the ecological benefits of not mowing road verges.
Fixing streets abroad Now Croatians can pop a report onto their own FixMyStreet site, Popravi.to.
Last week I downloaded a free app called Fix my street. @FixMyStreet . Reported a graffitied information sign. Just received an email saying it’s now been fixed. 😊 very impressed.
I’ve reported broken slabs, street lighting issues, dog fouling and even once a dodgy pedestrian crossing using @fixmystreet – it’s quite easy to do and it’s a nice feeling to have a bit of a civic duty done
570,729+ reports made via FixMyStreet in 2021
£32,000+ Savings made per year by FixMyStreet Pro for Buckinghamshire Council
94% report-makers now switched to digital for reporting local problems to Bromley Council
The team answers…
Getting to know our clients and the opportunities for improvement that exist for them in the rapidly changing digital landscape.
Seeing how our services help to fix real life problems for citizens and council staff.
Working with Bromley & Peterborough councils to co-create and launch a brand new domestic waste service.
Watching the team grow, and becoming capable of handling much more complex projects.
Community begins with empowering people and neighbourhoods to make change in their own areas – and we believe digital tools can complement on-the-ground action.
Thistle help In 2021 we continued our collaboration with Tower Blocks UK, expanding the guidance site FixMyBlock to include a wealth of new information for Scottish tenants.
We handed off the Assets of Community Value site, KeepItInTheCommunity, to its natural home at the Plunkett Foundation, who’ve been involved in its development from the start.
Some great resources here for housing campaigners.
FixMyBlock latest news! @TowerBlocksUK alongside @mySociety launched @FixMyBlock in summer 2020. Since then, we have been working on expanding the website, adding more information & advice covering new topics. #FIXMYBLOCK
The team answers…
It was just amazing to read testimonies from people who said that the site had helped them solve longstanding problems with their accommodation. You can’t wish for much more than that.
Our FixMyBlock partners Tower Blocks UK added a whole host of superb case studies and multimedia content to the site, to help tower block residents demand better from their landlords.
With so much going on in the world, it still remains true that engaging with the democratic process is a direct route to making change – so we’re still providing the tools to help everyone do just that.
Rebel rebel We made some much-needed changes to the way we calculate how faithful an MP is to the party line.
They scrubbed up well We gave a bit of a facelift to photos of MPs, also updating the design of the TheyWorkForYou API and switching email alerts to a swankier HTML.
Use case And before making any changes to the alerts, we spent some time looking into how people use them.
Switched on With the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, the Connected Parliaments report looked at how legislative bodies around the world are handling the transition to a digital world.
People power Innovations that aim to open up local government decision-making are all the rage — but how welcome are they, and do they have a lasting effect? Our research on councillor attitudes towards citizen engagement examined these questions, and more.
Rurality and deprivation Devolved parliaments have made for devolved data in some places, which is fine until you need to compare the UK as a whole. Alex went some way to fixing that.
Protest is vital We joined the outcry about the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, signing Liberty’s open letter. The Bill threatens to quash the right to protest, a vital component of citizen engagement in democracy.
Some of the campaigns that sent the most people towards WriteToThem this year:
Our UK parliament monitoring site TheyWorkForYou saw almost 8 million visits in 2021.
Peaks in traffic reflected the biggest news of the year: the murder of David Amess MP on 15th October, the debate and vote on MP Standards (including Owen Paterson MP’s conduct) on 4th November, and debates and votes on both the Domestic Abuse Bill and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill on 16th March.
WriteToThem saw over 2,737,684 visits, and sent over 188,000 emails.
The team answers…
Finally being able to make some key improvements to TheyWorkForYou, like the long awaited HTML emails!
Deciding not to reply to a critical tweet about TheyWorkForYou… only to find that loads of people had responded to support us, unprompted.
Once again we couldn’t convene The Impacts of Civic Technology conference in person this year. Sad though that is, it did give us the opportunity to try out some new online formats – and they’re working pretty well!
Six quickfire presentations, all wrapped up within an hour – the TICTeC Show and Tells were the ideal way to get up to speed on a crucial topic, without wasting any time.
Scrutiny, oversight & the data that makes it possible
From civic tech shutting down illicit pharmacies in Pakistan, to procurement within a pandemic.
Hearing every voice: lessons learned from online deliberation projects
Citizen input to government decision-making is all the rage; what can we learn from those who’ve been testing out new methods on the ground?
Empowering communities using geospatial technology
Digital mapping data is being used in extraordinary ways around the world: we heard from Kathmandu, Tanzania, Taiwan and Ukraine as well as the UK.
Since 2015, the Civic Tech community has come together at TICTeC to share the challenges of our field. Now it’s time we started building some solutions!
The TICTeC Labs programme aims to do just that, by convening the global civic tech sector to identify problems and discuss potential steps forward, and then forming working groups to commission solutions. Grants will be available for those who build the identified solutions.
Dr Rebecca Rumbul founded our Research department and went on to shape much of what it would become, including helping to nurture the TICTeC programme from its very beginnings. During her tenure, Bec conducted incisive and wide-ranging global research, especially within the areas of Democracy and Transparency.
512 attendees From 81 countries
32 speakers From 15 countries
436 new members on the TICTeC email list
The team answers…
All our speakers were so interesting. It’s amazing what can be conveyed in a virtual meetup, even within just a few minutes.
Bringing people together (albeit still virtually) to discuss how to improve digital projects that enhance public participation, transparency and accountability.
I’m really excited about how the programme so far is connecting people and raising voices that we previously haven’t heard at TICTeC events, as well as working on tangible actions to improve the sector.
We always end our annual report with a big old ‘thank you’ – and in case you didn’t realise, we’re talking to you.
Thank you for reading this report.
For using our websites, APIs, and data.
For answering our surveys.
For subscribing to our newsletters.
For liking our posts and retweeting our tweets.
For volunteering your time.
For reporting our bugs.
For installing our software.
For attending our events.
For donating to our fundraisers.
And for telling your friends, family, neighbours and colleagues about everything we do.
Thank you for believing in our plans, and for providing the grants that make them possible.
Get in touch to find out how your organisation could support mySociety’s innovative work.
Thank you for all the time, energy and experience you put into running WhatDoTheyKnow.
Thank you for giving up your time to help us steer mySociety’s direction.
We’re deeply grateful for every contribution, and we promise we’ve put it to good use in the name of Democracy, Transparency, the Climate, and Community.
(Not a donor? You can change that right now!)
2022 will all be about exploring how we repower democracy. We recently set out three shifts we think we need to make as an organisation; designing for the needs of society, putting more power in more people’s hands, and prising open institutions to better support meaningful participation — you can read more about these shifts in this blog post.
We’ll continue to expand our work to help local councils and communities better tackle the climate emergency, actively seek to campaign for the protection and expansion of FOI rights, and welcome lots of new collaborators and participants to our series of TICTeC Labs through the year.
Expect to see lots of new partnership activity, a lot of effort to create new meaningful opportunities to volunteer and get involved with our wider work, and we’ve got a lot to learn about how we might create community everywhere.
I’m excited about the challenges ahead, and scared for what might happen if we can’t better come together as a society to face them together. I hope you’ll get involved wherever you can.
Seeing our projects keep growing and be used for more and more partners around the world. Getting more people involved with their communities, having a greater impact on our society.
Improving the use of FOI and helping more people get access to it.
Helping the team power ahead – with the knowns and unknowns. The team is so passionate and knowledgeable it’s hard not to be inspired by them.
Seeing where we take the climate work next: it’s a very responsive programme and while we have some idea where we’re going with it, it will also depend on how things unfold in the world.
TICTeC Labs, our new programme bringing together the global civic tech community to discuss how to tackle some of the sector’s biggest challenges.
Meaningfully building more input from marginalised groups into our work, with additional services for local communities who wouldn’t normally engage in ‘climate activism’.
Helping build our policy capacity based on our experience of service development.
Anything, because I want to keep on working here. :)
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