mySociety Publishes Evaluation Reports

A UK-based non-profit, mySociety released publicly last week evaluation reports for two of their major open government initiatives: TheyWorkForYou (report here) and WriteToThem (report here). TheyWorkForYou attempts to “make it easier to find out what your MP [Member of Parliament] has been doing in Parliament,” and WriteToThem tries to “make it easier to find out what’s going on inside other public bodies.” These were both promising efforts to boost openness and participation in government, and the reports illuminated not only encouraging successes but also some thoughtful areas in need of improvement.

Here are some findings from TheyWorkForYou:

  • Three out of five TheyWorkForYou users (60%) had never looked up information before they came across TheyWorkForYou
  • 60% of users have used TheyWorkForYou more than once within the last twelve months
  • Since 2007 average visitor numbers have remained fairly stable between 200,000 and 300,000 visits a month
    • more than 230,000 visits during General Election week alone
  • Users think that the site is very navigable and well structured, and the only slight issues with the site seems to be design
  • Despite the goal to have a wide user base, users are “disproportionately male, white, and over 35″

As for WriteToThem:

  • In recent years at least 100,000 people every year (based on unique email addresses) used the site to send messages to representatives
  • WriteToThem succeeds in reaching people who would otherwise not be politically engaged, as two in five users have never before contacted on of their political representatives
  • Compared to the profile of British Internet users, WriteToThem users are:
    • twice as likely to have a higher degree
    • twice as often on a higher income (more than £37,500)
    • more likely male users and those 45 years and older
    • still represented well by low-income groups, including the unemployed
    • less likely to be 35 years and younger (in particular, teenagers less than 18 years account for only one in a hundred users)

We appreciated the learnings for open government as well as the precedent for open companies. In terms of transparency, mySociety practiced what they preached:

We think transparency is a good thing for many reasons… Transparency can be useful because it means people outside an organisation can make critical, constructive suggestions about how you can improve, and it lowers the odds that people in one part of your own organisation will be ignorant of the activities of people in other parts.

– mySociety

mySociety looks to publish two similar evaluation reports at the start of the new year from now on, with next year’s analysis on FixMyStreet and WhatDoTheyKnow.

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