4 British Sites

To see how the Internet can work to increase transparency in government and political awareness in the (interested) population, take a look at four British websites that take public involvement well ahead of what’s being done in this country:

The Government Says describes itself this way:

The Government Says” make news releases from Government departments easy to find and easy to scan through quickly. It does this in order to help you, a British citizen, keep your finger on the pulse of what the government’s up to. Without having to try to hard, and without having to rely on journalists telling you what matters.

Not only does TGS make use of government sources of RSS feeds, but it also scrapes other sources to create feeds where none existed before. And a good thing here is that you can create custom feeds for certain search terms. To give you a sense of what’s on the site, the top clip today is: “A pilot scheme designed to allow families of murder and manslaughter victims the chance to tell courts of the impact of the death is being tested at the Old Bailey, which handles a third of all such trials in England…” And further down the page we learn that: “A revised edition of the List of Ministerial Responsibilities (June 2006) has been published today and copies placed in the Library of the House and the Vote Office. A new electronic version can also be accessed …”

Downing Street Says, as the name suggests, is quite similar:

Twice daily a select coterie of political journalists (‘the lobby’) is ushered into either the premises of The Foreign Press Association or the Lobby Room in the House of Commons where they they partake in a question and answer session with a civil servant (the “Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman”). The civil servant’s job is to answer questions on behalf of the Prime Minister, and to alert them to governmental happenings that Number 10 feels they should know about.

The journalists then write their articles or broadcast their pieces, using what they have heard to give Downing Street’s line on the stories they are covering. This whole process is known as ‘the lobby briefing’.

This website aims to short-circuit this game of political Chinese whispers. Every day we will publish what the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman actually said in response to the lobby’s questioning, rather than what he was reported as saying.

What people seem to enjoy, apart from getting the straight, unmediated goods, is being able to comment on what the PM has said. This, too, is a volunteer-run organization.

mySociety is a bit different.

mySociety has two missions. The first is to be a charitable project which builds websites that give people simple, tangible benefits in the civic and community aspects of their lives. The second is to teach the public and voluntary sectors, through demonstration, how to most efficiently use the internet to improve lives.

TheyWorkForYou makes the workings of the MPs available to citizens by allowing people to search “Commons and Lords debates, written answers, and statements since 2001.” The debates are set out day by day, with room for citizen comment. As well, you can sign up to get an email whenever a particular parliamentarian or particular term appears in the debates.

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