David Cameron, Tom Steinberg and Information Scraping

Has David Cameron been talking to Tom Steinberg at MySociety?  His announcement yesterday suggests he has because he wants to make ‘scraping’ easier.  Scraping is the process of harvesting information from government websites and reusing it – hopefully for public good.

The Conservative leader quoted a really good example with the mysociety website theyworkforyou which provides collated information about politicians and what they do and allows you to contact your MP. Last month I met Tom Steinberg at the UK Gov barcamp.  What stuck out in my mind is how extending theyworkforyou to include councillors can’t be done at the moment because councils don’t make details of councillors available in a consistent format.   That in turn makes automated collection of this  information a nightmare.  Freeing up data is a key part of Tom’s Power of Information review  and he  also talks about it here:

So I think it is quite remarkable to see something as apparently prosaic as consistency of data making it into a policy statement from the leader of the Conservative Party.   In his speech he explains how freedom of data will make it easier for social enterprises, charities, community groups to identify and understand local need and solve problems. He’s right.

Local MP Tom Watson is looking for what to do with his new ministerial interest in web strategy.  I’m sure you’ve already had this conversation Tom, but in the spirit of the social web please say that you agree with Mr Cameron and do what you can to get those standards  in place and used.
By the way – yesterday MySociety launched  GroupsNearYou.  I did a tiny bit of testing (adding data and telling them what I thought) in the development stage.  Please go on there and add details of groups near you, the sooner we do that the sooner we can stop more public money being wasted on more online databases of well – groups near you.


  1. I’ve never met or spoken to Mr Cameron, but one of their staffers does occasionally call to sense check things, especially when they explicitly mention things that mySociety runs like TheyWorkForYou. That happened before this speech.

    mySociety is completely non-partisan, otherwise people would trust our sites much less when it comes to sensitive issues like writing to your politician. However, I/we will happily answer questions from anyone, and I try to talk about or publish any ideas that I/we come up with in private in a public context too, so that they’re there for anyone to talk about. In this case I’ve told about six million people over the last thre years that councils need to produce standardised information for things like their debates and votes if we’re ever to see them in nice sites like TheyWorkForYou. I’d be delighted if all the parties would pick up on this!

  2. Nick Booth says:

    Hello Tom. Thanks for the comment. I hope what I wrote didn’t imply any political partiality on the part of you or mySociety. I’m confident the work is completely non-partisan.
    I was just enjoying seeing mainstream politicians starting to talk in public about the case you have been making.
    There is a huge culture shift required in most public services and if it is to happen then politicians need to understand what that means and why.

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