When the Duke of Edinburgh died aged 99 it triggered a series of plans to communicate the news and to mark a remarkable life. British Army Chief Communications Officer Gemma Regniez looks back at an eventful few days where a team worked to communicate effectively when the eyes of the world were on them.

At lunchtime on the 9th April, something we had been bracing ourselves for came to pass. Forth Bridge came down. 

Forth Bridge is the name of the Operation assigned to the death of HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and the basis for the plan for the nation to be able to pay their respects to the Queen’s husband of over seven decades.

As luck would have it, the Army are known for their ability to plan. In fact plans have been in place for years and have evolved over time based on various different scenarios, most recently COVID. Our element of this plan covered communications based on several elements depending on where the death occurred. We had plans for Scotland, London, Windsor. You name it, a plan had been developed for it and drilled on regular occasions.

So when the news came in that the Duke of Edinburgh had passed, my team knew what needed to happen.

All proactive unrelated communications ceased.

Our web pages and social media channels were updated within 30 minutes of the announcement, with pre-agreed content (signed off in advance by Whitehall and The Palace) and we had our first core team meeting to agree staffing for the weekend and for the days leading up to the funeral.

Direction was sent out internally to the whole organisation, putting a hold on any over-excited Military personnel wanting to do their own thing on social media and we released a tribute message from the boss, Chief of the General Staff (CGS), General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith onto all of our channels.

It wasn’t all plain sailing, but all in all it felt like that planning had paid off.

Explaining the gun salute

Our next challenge was managing comms for the gun salutes at midday on the 10th April and making them accessible and interesting to a public who were all still stuck at home. The team developed content explaining some of the background to the gun salutes and got pre-interviews with some of the staff taking part so we could provide a build-up to midday.

On YouTube

The salutes were supported by our news team facilitating media access in Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and London. Woolwich was touch and go as an issue with one of the gun carriages saw them arriving with only 60 seconds to go.

Communicating the gun salute

On Instagram

On Facebook

Next steps

Since Saturday we’ve had a chance to regroup and review the plan for the rest of the week. With The Palace’s decision to hold the funeral at Windsor, much of the grand communications plans have had to be revised. The team, made up of a perfect combination of military personnel and specialist communications managers, are now cracking on with the best ways in which to get the most interesting elements out there, so the public can share as much of the moment as possible.

Initial results show that our tribute video has achieved the most impressions (thanks to a retweet from Piers Morgan) at 1,720,140 on the last count. Our Gun Salute video has also gone down well, with more to come as the week wears on. Stay tuned on @BritishArmy and keep everything crossed we continue to do justice to a man that dedicated 70 years of his life to serving our country.

Kudos to the Army communications team: news, media ops, digital and content creation and the Army CCT and Phots.

Gemma Regniez is Chief Communications Officer with the British Army.

Original source – The Dan Slee Blog » LOCAL SOCIAL: Is it time for a Local localgovcamp?

WhatDoTheyKnow is kept up and running by a dedicated team of volunteers. Do you have the time or skills required to help? If you think you might like to lend a hand, read on to see what they do on a daily basis, as well as some examples of desired site improvements. 

Ginormous database

One of the volunteers’ many tasks is to maintain what we believe to be the largest existing database of public bodies in the UK (38,362 of them…and counting).

This requires quite a bit of time and effort to keep up to date: email addresses change; bodies merge, get new names or just cease to exist.

The turnover of the financial year always brings an extra slew of required changes; presumably many bodies like to use this date for a nice neat cut-off in their records. So, to give a snapshot of the sort of admin work the volunteers undertake, let’s take a look at every task April 1 brought the team this year.

New authorities

Thirteen new authorities were added. Some of them are so new that they haven’t yet had any FOI requests made through the site. Perhaps you’ll be the first?

When we add a new body that replaces an existing one, we also make sure that no-one can make requests to the now-defunct authority — while at the same time, requests made to it in the past, along with any responses, are still available to view, and requests in progress can still be followed up.

We also set up page redirects to the new body, and replicate all of the metadata that helps WhatDoTheyKnow’s system work behind the scenes. It might be a bit of a faff but it’s worth the effort to keep things running smoothly.

Many thanks to volunteer Martyn for completing the lion’s share of the work listed above.

How you can help

If you know of any other changes that haven’t been reflected on the site, please do let us know.

If this post has reminded you how much you enjoy admin, consider joining the team! We always need more volunteers to help us run the site, keep the database up to date, deal with requests to remove material, and support our users. Find out more here.

There are some specific tasks that are top of our wish-list, too:

  • We’d love to do some intensive work on our list of parish level councils to make it comprehensive — this could mean a few people working systematically through a list, or several checking how well their local area is represented on WhatDoTheyKnow. Local democracy matters, more so than ever, and transparency is important for bringing happenings to light (as events in Handforth have recently reminded us!).
  • We have ambitions to organise our bodies geographically, showing bodies which operate in particular areas, or showing maps of the areas covered by bodies. See this ticket for a discussion of some of the possibilities which we haven’t had the resource to completely finesse.
    mySociety has experience in mapping UK governmental areas, but we’re yet to integrate that expertise into WhatDoTheyKnow — do you have the required coding skills to make it happen?
  • We’d like to do more organising of the bodies by their function too, helping guide users to the appropriate body fo their request.

If you have skills in web-scraping, spreadsheet wrangling, database maintenance or other relevant areas and think you can help us — please let us know!

Image: Anastasia Zhenina

Original source – mySociety

In the Spring of 2019, with my fortieth birthday looming and no hint of pandemic clouds on the horizon, I started to think about what I might do after Helpful. I had some fascinating conversations with people who had made that kind of transition, to learn from them.

I think leaving your own company is a wrench for any founder, but it certainly is for me given the way I’ve lived in and as Helpful over the last decade. The company grew organically around me in interesting and creative ways, but I’m not a smooth entrepreneur and the business was never designed for a smooth exit.

Around this time last year, we said goodbye to several of our colleagues and lots of long-time clients when we sold our website development and support business to dxw. Over the last few months – after a bit of a delay weathering the COVID storm – we’ve been working on the slightly delayed part two of the plan: my own exit from the firm I set up eleven years ago.

Finding a buyer interested in crisis preparedness, digital strategy and engagement skills, who gets the vision and ethos of Helpful, felt like an impossible task. But alternatively, walking away from the day to day and just being an absentee owner isn’t really my style. I came to the conclusion it’s probably not the best way to grow a thriving business either, or to fairly reward those working in it.

It turns out, there was a buyer with the right passion and experience, and we could find a way to make it happen which left the business stronger.

The New Helpful

From this month, my colleague of seven years, Tim Lloyd has stepped up to be Managing Director of Helpful, and majority owner of the business, working with Chris Malpass as co-owner. I’m staying on for a couple more months to hand things over smoothly, but it’s comforting to know I’m really not needed much longer than that.

Here’s Tim’s post about the changes.

I’m thrilled to be leaving Helpful in the hands of the people who have built it over the years with me and the rest of the team. While I’ve run out of steam a bit, I know Tim and Chris have the exciting ideas and creative energy that Helpful needs to grow into an altogether more interesting digital communication consultancy with global ambitions.

I don’t think Helpful will change radically in direction or focus in the short or medium term. I’ll be pleased if it does change a bit though. It will be a sign of a maturing, growing business and reassurance that Helpful wasn’t just an overgrown blog of mine, but a team doing motivating, inspiring and commercially successful work.

What next?

What I don’t have right now is a plan for what I will do next myself.

I’m not going to roll straight into another start-up, or rush into finding a job. In a happy, tired way, there’s a lot for me to reflect on and learn from. This probably isn’t the last blog post I’ll write here about what I learned from the Helpful experience of running a small client service business with big ambitions.

I’m taking from my Helpful years a headful of happy memories and enough cash to keep my family going for a while. Inspired by people like Stephen, I’m hoping to take a proper break, reboot, and resurface maybe next year. Without a professional need to be hardwired to Twitter, I’m planning to dial back – maybe even retire – the trusty @lesteph dogcow and reset my relationship with social media a bit too.

I’m always happy to help friends and interesting organisations with bits and pieces, so do drop me a line or keep in touch. When we can have a beer or coffee together, I’d love to catch up with you.

Lastly, a big thank you from me to everyone – clients, advisors, Helpful crew past and present – who has put their trust in me and Helpful over the last eleven years. You put your reputations or money or careers in our hands, and I hope most of you emerged unscathed.

It’s been such a fun journey. Best of luck to Tim, Chris and the team on the next leg.

Original source – Helpful Technology

be bold be birmingham case study.png

83 words. How hard can that be?

by Claire Boden

Our host city vision finally came in at 83 words. You can read it here.

There’s no right or wrong way to write a narrative. Simples…or not!

Believe me it was one of the hardest tasks of my career to date to write Birmingham City Council’s Proud Host City narrative for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.

In layman’s terms the narrative required is to help communicate the aspirations and benefits associated with the city hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2022.

My aim was to articulate Birmingham’s ambition for the operation and legacy of the Games, coupled with the creation of energy and inspiration to make change happen.

The narrative was broken down into three sections: vision, mission statement and strapline.

The vision is about guiding an image of success, long-term goals and aspirations. An ambitious and memorable statement of words was needed. This was the most difficult section to write. The mission statement is best described as road map in which how we will meet the goals outlined in the vision. The strapline, the most exciting part, is a powerful, short and easily remembered phase deriving out of the vision and mission.

However, one ‘minor’ thing that we had to consider was that the country is in the middle of a pandemic, so sensitivity was paramount.

Our narrative journey began in October 2020. A three-week pulse survey was conducted to help build a narrative for the city. Three surveys targeted the city council’s 12,000+ employees, Birmingham residents and elected members on their thoughts and feelings on the Games.

The data garnered was analysed and key themes, words and phrases were pulled out to help form the base line of the narrative. Pride, friendly, history, culture and diversity were some of the main talking points. Alongside the surveys, background reading and research on key council delivery plans, Games mission pillars and the original bid for Birmingham to host the Games took place to make sure the Proud Host City narrative complimented existing plans.

Then the hard part – writing the narrative. Many hours, days and conversations with key council officers with differing opinions proved to be galvanising and frustrating at the same time. We went back to the drawing board time and time again until we had what we thought was the perfect narrative.

The acid test came when we presented to a staff focus group. This was enriching as the feedback was fantastic. A few tweaks here and there and bingo we were in a good place to share with the Leader and Deputy Leader of the council.

At this point things started to move quickly with approvals from across the council and the birth of Be Bold, Be Birmingham began!

Be Bold, Be Birmingham is about promoting and propelling Birmingham as a city and its people to the forefront. Birmingham is not the second city, it is a pioneering city of firsts. We are proud, creative, young, vibrant, diverse – we are Birmingham, look at us!

The launch of Be Bold, Be Birmingham coincided with the 500 days to go until Birmingham hosts the Commonwealth Games milestone on 15 March. A digital only soft launch approach with a social media 24-hour takeover on city council digital platforms was the preferred route, with a range of user generated content served up, animated and councillor videos, GIFS and a podcast.

The takeover reached over 2.7 million people and 229,000 impressions, with the podcast being the most clicked post on Twitter and LinkedIn.

The branding for Be Bold, Be Birmingham is yes, you’ve guessed it – bold! A simple, typographical style with a strong colour pallet worked a treat. Due to the lockdown restrictions, we took over 97 digital advertising roadside screens.

The soft launch of Be Bold, Be Birmingham was a resounding success and we are now developing plans for phase two in mid-May. We have an exciting and bold collaboration with a local street artist so keep your eyes peeled for that – believe me it is BOLD!

Be Bold, Be Birmingham has certainly grabbed people’s attention so far and this is only the beginning of Birmingham’s bold journey to the Commonwealth Games and beyond.

Claire Boden is promotions & engagement officer – Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games


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Original source – comms2point0 free online resource for creative comms people – comms2point0

A group of people sitting down at tables in a room looking at laptops.

Hello! I have recently joined GOV.UK as Head of Technology, and what an exciting time to be joining! We’re moving into a new chapter for GOV.UK and looking at making big changes over the next few years. You may have read about some of what’s coming up already, but it all means a lot of intricate technology work is about to kick off.

We want you to join GOV.UK

We have close to 50 great technologists across our teams: developers, technical architects, site reliability engineers. They do an amazing job of building, improving and running one of the most high profile in-house platforms anywhere in the public or private sector.

But now we need to grow that community to help us transform GOV.UK to deliver dynamic and personalised content.

We need more developers to work in our multidisciplinary teams, alongside designers, user researchers and other roles. We need technical architects who can understand and adapt to emerging architecture needs. And we need reliability engineers who can evolve our infrastructure and tooling to support all of this while maintaining resilience and making it easy to diagnose problems.

We have a culture of learning by doing and learning from our mistakes. We don’t assign blame, we review together when things go wrong and improve collectively from it. We work in the open and publish incident reports where we can.

We’re open and inclusive, want you to bring your authentic self to work and support ways of working that allow you to create the right work/life balance for you. We have hubs in Bristol, Manchester and London, and we particularly welcome applicants from the south west and north west and are excited to grow our presence in these regions.

In the coming months we’ll be writing in more detail about how we do development, architecture and reliability engineering, and you’ll get to hear directly from the talented team.

So why are we growing?

Personalisation and dynamic content

Our vision is for GOV.UK to offer users joined-up, trusted and personalised interactions. Read our public roadmap to see how we’re implementing our strategy.

Offering personalised interactions on GOV.UK will let us give users content and services that are most relevant to them, allow easier return journeys and also let users find what they’re looking for easily. We will have opportunities to join up GOV.UK for the user, based on behaviours and preferences, with a strong emphasis on privacy and user consent. This will provide a more seamless and tailored experience through desktop, tablet and mobile and other device types. We aim to be channel-agnostic.

Personalisation means we have to transform the existing applications, architecture and infrastructure to support dynamic content. Right now GOV.UK publishes and serves “static” content – pages which are published and served up and then kept in a cache to be served up again very quickly. We make heavy use of this to support big spikes in traffic, like we had recently when we had more than 3 million users at the same time! We can do this because the pages don’t change that often.

But personalised content is dynamic and doesn’t work like that. Large parts of a page may be different depending on the snippets of content that relate to a user’s preferences or other information. The “page” is stitched together live and sent out.

Publishing platform

We have our own publisher (several in fact). This is used by our in-house content teams as well as all the content creators at other departments and agencies across government. Currently this supports a streamlined workflow of creating, editing, reviewing and publishing pages.

Now we need to rethink this from the ground up, from workflow to publishing. Dynamic content means tagging, categorising and making sure content is structured and “context-aware.” Rather than pages we need to think in ‘atomic design’ terms. This means thinking in varying sizes of content with “atoms” being the smallest building blocks forming larger “templates” and full “pages”: all customisable, reusable and served “on the fly” depending on the context. Templates which support multiple alternative pieces – and the logic and data to determine which piece should be used when and how.

Supporting changes

To support all this, applications and components need to be rewritten, and new ones created. Architecture has to be reviewed, overhauled and evolved incrementally. The underlying infrastructure needs to be more nimble to support the experimentation needed to get this right. We also need to allow for the increase in load on our applications, as we won’t be able to cache pages as heavily or easily in future.

These are big changes but we can do this. We have the technology, the skills and the people. But we need more!

Come join us

We’re hiring at all levels in Bristol, Manchester and London. More roles will go live soon! Read our GDS career page to find out more about working here, and there are lots of blog posts about different aspects of working life. Here’s just a few to get you started:

If you have any more questions, please just email or DM me. Please subscribe to the blog to keep up to date with all our work.

Original source – Inside GOV.UK

People making FOI requests are sometimes accused of embarking on a ‘fishing expedition’  — looking for news stories without a clear idea of what they will dredge up — but a recent request on WhatDoTheyKnow asked for something very specific.

“Could you state”, it asked, “the number of passports issued to British fish since Brexit proper began on 1st Jan 2021?”.

This request was not as fishy as it might at first appear: it was based on a statement in Parliament. On 14 January, commenting on Brexit and its impact on the fishing industry, Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg said:

“The key is that we have our fish back: they are now British fish, and they are better and happier fish for it.”

Ordinarily, we discourage what might be seen as frivolous use of FOI via our site, but as it happens this request was processed by the authority without complaint. They replied in a straightfaced manner:

“Her Majesty’s Passport Office does not hold the information which you have requested. Animal classification is not captured as part of the passport application process.”

While this might not have been exemplary use of our service, citizens have the right to make requests that clarify puzzling statements from our elected representatives, or to simply highlight that they are incomprehensible.

One of the team says, “It’s understandable that the public might ponder, ‘what did he really mean?’ It could be something of a floccinaucinihilipilification, but it might also relate to a ‘catch certificate’, or one of the many other new items of bureaucracy that have appeared in recent months.”

Another WhatDoTheyKnow team member added, “My reading of that response is that the Government aren’t sure that everyone with a British passport is actually human… and some proportion might well in fact be fish.”

We, however, think that’s something of a red herring, and we’d advise that anyone seriously wanting to surface information about piscine issues might have more luck sending a request to DEFRA, CEFAS, or the Animal and Plant Health Agency.


Image: Fredrik Öhlander

Original source – mySociety

Data is always good to take a look at as it shows an ever changing landscape.

Here, the Global Web Index report gives some useful social media data that’s relevant for 2021. You can download your own copy of the report here.

The impact of the pandemic

When the pandemic started, social media bucked a trend and became more social. People turned from passive consumers back to creating content and talking to each other.

Keeping in touch with loved ones has become the most important reason for using social media.

In the UK, we spend one hour 46 minutes a day on social media.

We don’t always trust them but we rely on them

Social media, the report says, doesn’t have large amounts of trust but we have come to rely on it for news. connecting and entertainment.

But social media causes anxiety

In the UK

Facebook remains the UK’s favourite with 22 per cent naming it as their most favoured platform.

Globally, Instagram is tops with under 24s, Messenger with Millennials (24 to 37-year-olds), WhatsApp with 38 to 56-year-olds who are also known as Generation X with those older favouring Facebook.

Augmented Realirty in social media has become a trend

No doubt becaise of the pandemic, but Augmented Reality – AR – has emerged as a comnsistent trend. AR gives people the flavouir of beinbg somewhere else. With people confined to the house for long stretches in 2020 no wonder this has emergeed.

Public sector chums may be looking enviously at Pepsi’s AR marketing where QR codes on bottles unlocked video. But as with all trends they will become affordable and achievable.

Livestreaming has come of age

Interestingly, live feeds have become increasingly important globally with more than 90 per cent of TikTok users live streaming and almost 50 per cent of Facebook users watching a live feed.

Stories are sticking

Many people I’ve spoken to have scratched their heads with stories. They are the shortlived upright streams tacked onto the main social channels. But the GWI report does show people are engaging with them.

On Snapchat more than 90 per cent use them while on Instagram the figure is above 70 per cent which is marginally ahead of Facebook.

If brands want their audience to know something, they should wrap exciting, memorable content around that something and repeat, repeat, repeat.

GWI Social Media report, 2021


As with all global studies that have a UK element, the data is there to be used not for sharp corrections of direction but like a fishing boat captain an eye on the horizon for sunshine and black clouds.

Original source – The Dan Slee Blog » LOCAL SOCIAL: Is it time for a Local localgovcamp?

One of the great joys of working on Alaveteli is that we also get to meet and collaborate with all kinds of organisations around the world who care about transparency, helping them set up their own Freedom of Information websites on our open source codebase.

MaDada logoOne such project is MaDada, the French FOI site which launched in the autumn of 2019, helping citizens navigate the bureaucracy around submitting a request for information. The name is a pun: ‘dada’ being a kids’ word for horse — hence their equine logo.

Thanks to ongoing support from the Adessium fund, we’ve recently equipped MaDada with the ‘Pro’ add-on that allows journalists and other professional users of FOI to access specialised tools.

We took the opportunity to speak with Laurent Savaete and Eda Nano from the Ma Dada team, to learn more about how the site has been received by the French populace and what the hopes are for this new Pro functionality (or ‘Plus Plus‘ as they’re calling it over there).

FOI in France

But first, we wanted to know more about the background of FOI in France. The Alaveteli community consists of so many organisations pursuing the same types of aims, but always against different cultural backgrounds, and there’s always an opportunity to learn from one another’s experiences. Eda and Laurent filled us in:

“The French FOI law is one of the oldest around — it dates back as far as 1978. It’s often referred to as the CADA law, based on the ‘Commission d’Accès aux Documents Administratifs’ which is the official institution in charge of overseeing how administrations comply with it. One good thing is that in both 2016 and 2018 the law was reinforced to require all documents to be released as open data, in open standards and easy-to-use formats.

“But unfortunately the right to information is not so strong here in France. For example, CADA doesn’t have a power of mandate. When an administration fails to respond to a request, CADA’s decisions are no more than advisory opinions, though they can be crucial if you want to take the administration to court for lack of response.

“Not everyone’s able or ready to take administrations to court, though. I mean, it’s not that the process is difficult, but it’s far more complex than filing an FOI request via MaDada.

“Also, while anyone can ask for documents, and the service is always free, we can only request documents that already exist and ‘do not require too much work from the authority’. There is of course no clear definition of ‘too much work’, but it’s often used as a reason to reject a request, along with the exemptions around matters of defence and official secrets which are too easily brandished in response to requests.”

Wait, ‘of course’ there’s no definition — did we hear that correctly? Apparently so:

“The exact wording of the French law is that a request must only be fulfilled if it ‘does not require so much work that it could impede the officer or the administration from doing their main work’.”

We were astonished to hear this — here in the UK, we have the same exemption, but it comes complete with an upper cost, which can also be expressed as hours of work, which must be undertaken before the authority can refuse the request due to ‘exceeding the appropriate limit’. We’ve also got a bunch of other exemptions! But at least they are all clearly defined.

Plan for an Open Government

When it comes to other problems with FOI, there’s a story that’s familiar to many in the Alaveteli network:

“The key problem in France is the gap between the law, and how the law is actually applied or enforced. Incentives for public officers tend to push against transparency: nobody will get in trouble for ignoring a request for documents, but they could if they disclose documents which shouldn’t have been published. So erring on the side of safety means less transparency.

“More and more, journalists and activists have been pointing out the complete lack of FOI responses or the overrun in delays from administrations in providing a legally required response.”

“Transparency and open data are clearly becoming cool!”

On the other hand, something’s in the air: “What we’ve seen in recent years and especially months, is that after the mid 2020 elections, municipalities started appointing deputies on transparency matters. For example in Marseilles, we now have a Representative for Transparency and Open Data for the town.

“France signed up for the Open Government Partnership initiative in 2014, but its first action plan in 2018-20? Frankly the results were not spectacular at all: it was more words than action.

“Last month, the Government launched a second two-year ‘Plan for an Open Government’: this one’s set to run until 2023. They said it will be better, with more money to serve it, more concrete actions, more collaborations with citizens. And they’ve asked MaDada to give feedback and tell them what we’d like to see realised in the next few years.

“So transparency and open data are clearly becoming cool. But at the moment it’s too young to be judged. The words are there and we need to see concrete actions. Let’s hope that things really will change drastically towards openness and transparency and that that we do not only have words to rely on.”

Enter MaDada

That’s all very interesting and helps us understand the background details. Now, into this mix a new FOI site for the general public appeared 18 months ago. So how has MaDada been received?

“When we launched in October 2019, the French FOI law was quite an unknown topic for the public at large, and the need for transparency and open data were still, somehow, something only discussed internally.

“In our first year of existence we had something like 200 requests (see MaDada’s blog posts about their first year online – in French).

“We are now at 800 public requests. So numbers picked up pace: something’s happened recently.

“It’s not just that the platform recently improved — with better user support and the addition of the Pro feature: we can also see that the topics of open data and transparency are becoming more and more popular. Several activists and organisations have been campaigning around these matters, sometimes via MaDada. The public is more and more aware of our existence and of their ability as citizens to actively participate.

“We list 50,509 public authorities (I think France has the world record here). A lot of our support time is used up trying to keep the email addresses for these authorities up to date. And that’s tricky: there’s not much proactive updating from the authorities themselves, we’re constantly having to ask them for new addresses. We hope that the Project for an Open Government will make this easier for us.

“As of today we’ve reached 955 requests, of which 794 are public — the rest are still embargoed. Out of those, just 126 have been successful so far. That’s very low: many authorities in France just ignore the law, and sit on incoming requests until the one month time limit to reply is over. We’re at around a 15% success rate, which is probably not too bad in the average French context. We’re obviously hoping to work to improve this!

“We’ve just seen an incredible growth in the number of users and requests in the past five months: more or less an exponential growth, which is pretty exciting! We hope this trend continues.”

Plusplus good

And as for the addition of Pro, allowing for the MaDada++ service? We were interested to hear the organisation’s experiences and hopes around this add-on.

“The public is more and more aware of our existence and of their ability as citizens to actively participate.”

“The Madada++ feature is working so well: it’s been attracting journalists mostly, as well as data scientists and activists. The biggest appeal is the batch requests, and also the temporarily embargoed requests, allowing them to keep their news stories exclusive, or giving them time to analyse data before publishing.

“We’re happy to see that despite this ability, they still follow our advice to publish data as soon as they can.

“Since the MaDada++ feature went live, we’ve clearly seen more in-depth analysis and journals publishing reports on data obtained through it. We hope to see more coming in the next months.”

What’s France asking for?

Finally, we were curious about the type of information that’s been released on MaDada. Anything of interest here?

“Well, recently, as you might expect, there have been a lot of requests related to COVID-19: data around the analysis of COVID in sewage water; about the circulation of COVID variants in France; metrics showing the usage of our national COVID app.

“Let us also mention the publication of a report on poverty and conditions in accessing minimum social aid in France by the Secours Catholique and Aequitaz organisations: this report used responses to batch requests made via MaDada++.

“And another journalist, who uses MaDada extensively, just published a report on the fees of deputies, pointing out the lack of and need for transparency  —  that the French law already requires!

“Also, we’re very proud to begin our collaboration with La Quadrature Du Net, the French organisation defending digital fundamental liberties, who are intensively using MaDada for their legal analysis and for their Technopolice campaign that reveals the encroaching police surveillance powers.”

And on that last note, there’s the proof of the assertion we made at the top of this post: that the international community of Alaveteli users have so much in common. Privacy International have been looking into exactly this same issue, as we covered in a blog post.

We want to thank MaDada so much for sharing their experiences in deploying and running the Alaveteli codebase and offering the people of France an easier route to accessing information. While we’re all unable to travel, we can still have these useful and interesting discussions. May their project go from strength to strength.

Image: Amy Barr (CC by-nc-nd/2.0)

Original source – mySociety


It’s a few days after lockdown restrictions have been eased in England and people have taken to the parks in numbers.

They’ve met-up with friends and family and they’ve drunk a few cans and eaten a few barbeques.

The aftermath has been piles of rubbish.

On the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on Monday morning a guest from a national charity spoke how this scene was ‘unacceptable’ and it got me thinking – yet again – about how we settle for euphemisms.

They are ‘concerned.’

They are ‘worried.’

The action is ‘regrettable.’

Football managers are ‘delighted’.

Strikers are ‘gutted’ to miss the penalty.

In a committee, these words are code that soften the blow of fierce criticism. In public they are dreadful words that pull punches.

When I was a reporter I used to be asked by a news editor what I meant when I wrote a particularly wordy paragraph. When I translated it into plain English I was then asked to write that instead.

It’s long since time we worked out what we actually mean and then write that instead.

Original source – The Dan Slee Blog » LOCAL SOCIAL: Is it time for a Local localgovcamp?

dxw provides development, hosting, and support services for over 100 public and third sector websites. The kind of support or hosting we provide varies depending on the size and profile of the sites and the capability of the internal tech teams we work with.

Most websites come under pressure at some point, and it’s important that they’re able to keep running and providing services to people when that happens. In this post, I’ve shared some of the approaches we take to make sure sites are able to cope with spikes in traffic.

Keeping national infrastructure up and running

Among the websites we support are a number of major government sites that provide essential information and services to the public. They include sites like NHS England and the Judiciary. As you’d expect, at times, they come under extreme pressure.

Traffic spikes can be caused by external factors outside of an organisation’s control that drive people to a site for news and guidance, or something that we know is coming like a big announcement.

All the websites we host are built to be resilient to peaks. NHS England, for example, is supported by 6 machines in multiple locations so it’s able to deal with its normal load, plus a bit more. For newer sites, we can put auto-scaling in place which automatically adjusts capacity to maintain a website’s performance in response to changes in demand.

Advance warning means we can be better prepared

Our new hosting platform offers greater scalability, but we know that in some circumstances auto-scaling just won’t be fast enough due to the lag in indicators if there’s a sudden rush of traffic. It helps to have advance warning wherever possible so we can prepare for a spike that we know is coming. Something like a message that’s going to be sent out asking people to do a thing that means logging onto the site. Even 1 hour’s notice means we can increase our capacity to cope.

Sometimes doing something quite simple can make all the difference. Often when an announcement is due to be made, for example, lots of searching on a given topic before something is published can be hard for a site to cope with. One way we can manage the impact of that is to work with organisations to change the way they publish things. Creating a holding page will stop so many people searching repeatedly and help to mitigate peaks.

There’s a difference between scaling for transactional sites and content based sites. The latter are much easier to scale. A content based site can easily be cached by a Content Delivery Network (CDN) or a local in memory cache, so the database isn’t used as frequently and the web server resources for rendering aren’t used as much.

On the other hand, transactional sites are likely to write to the database or render the pages differently for every user. So you’re likely to have to scale your web servers and database to deal with the extra load of a spike in visitors if you want to maintain your service and stop it from crashing.

Our experience this year

Over the past 12 months, we’ve had several instances where we’ve had to manage big peaks of traffic to different websites. Sometimes this has been in relation to the pandemic, sometimes it’s been the result of other high profile announcements or events.

Having the right foundations in place, and being prepared wherever possible, has allowed us to respond quickly and keep services available to the public when they need them.

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Original source – dxw