Here’s David Cabo from Tuderechoasaber.es. In another minute-long chat, he explains the environment in Spain, into which the Alaveteli-powered site launched.
“No-one has done it before, so no-one knows how to start.”
David in his own words:
I’m vice-president of Pro Bono Publico – a Spanish association organizing the biggest Open Data hackathon in the country, AbreDatos – and creator of dondevanmisimpuestos.es, a web site for visualizing the annual budgets from Spanish public administrations, developed in collaboration with the Open Knowledge Foundation (OKFN). I worked with mySociety and Access Info Europe in the development of the EU access to information site, AsktheEU.org. I launched the transparency initiative #adoptaundiputado (Adopt an MP) to crowdsource the parsing of Spanish parliamentarians’ financial disclosure reports, and have collaborated with investigative journalists in the extraction and analysis of public records (Looting the Seas, ICIJ). I’m currently working on tuderechoasaber.es, an access to information site for Spain based on the Alaveteli software and funded by more than 150 small donors using the crowdfunding platform Goteo.
A Right-to-Know site for Spain
Tuderechoasaber.es is Spain’s brand new Right-to-Know site, built on Alaveteli. The project is managed by David Cabo and Victoria Anderica, and it launches against a fascinating political background.
When the project was started, Spain was one of four EU countries with no Freedom of Information law. The subject was, however, on the political agenda – FOI had been promised, but not delivered, by the previous government in both 2004 and 2008. On election in December 2011, the new conservative ruling party again pledged to introduce Freedom of Information, within their first 100 days in office.
Anderica works at the organisation Access Info Europe, which had been campaigning, with the support of NGOs including Amnesty International and Greenpeace, for a Freedom of Information law. Cabo is one of the founders of Civio, a new organisation hoping to emulate the work of mySociety or the Sunlight Foundation, in Spain. The combination of Access Info and Civio’s knowledge – legal and technical – meant that Tuderechoasaber.es could become a reality.
There was such public thirst for these withheld rights that Cabo and Anderica were able to fund their website through crowdsourced donations. They raised €6,000 and the site was built.
Tuderechoasaber (“Your Right to Know”) launched on the 22nd of March 2012, just a day before the Government opened a public consultation on Freedom of Information (just inside that 100-day deadline). Their promise has now been fulfilled and Spain finally has its Right-to-Know law.
Meanwhile, Tuderechoasaber welcomed more than 11,000 visitors during the first two days it was live. 180 requests were sent – never mind that they slightly preceded the Freedom of Information law actually coming into existence.
Practicalities of launching a Right to Know site
Launching a site like Tuderechoasaber might seem an impressive task, and undoubtedly, much work has gone into it – and will continue to do so.
But it may be more achievable than you think. We asked David a few questions, and here are his thoughts on the matter:
How long did the Alaveteli installation/site build take?
It didn’t take long at all. I was familiar with Alaveteli, as I had developed AsktheEU.org already, so the whole technical work was done over a couple of weeks by myself, while campaigning and coordinating other stuff.
Setting up the server took a couple of days max, and I spent a few more days redesigning the front page and a few other things: we want/need to give the site a more dynamic look, including regular news and encouraging people to support other users’ requests. Most people in Spain don’t know what FOI is or how it’s used, and that includes the public servants, so we need to be more aggressive to get responses.
How simple or otherwise did you find it? What were the major hurdles (from a development point of view) that you had to overcome?
Easy. Development-wise there were no big issues; we’ve uncovered a few caching bugs, but that’s about it.
Adding the blog posts and pictures on the frontpage is a bit of a hack right now, but no big deal. 90% of our time has been talking to media and public bodies, before and after the crowdfunding. Oh, and coordinating the translations and volunteers.
How much time is the day-to-day running of the site taking at the moment, and how much time do you anticipate spending, after the initial publicity dies down?
Too early to know how it will look once it’s settled. It’s a week now since launch, and although the media focus has moved a bit away from FOI (there was a general strike today about job market reform) we’re now getting 2K users a day. So far we have 270 requests, which is way more than we expected.
There’re 8000 city councils in Spain, plus the regional and national bodies, so the day-to-day work now – which is taking two people a few hours a day – is finding more contact details. We expect to have a couple of part-time volunteers handling support, and two part-time journalists writing about what happens on the site.
Could anyone take the plunge and run a site like this, or are there certain qualities you think it’s necessary to have?
Legal understanding of the FOI situation in their country seems essential to me. We couldn’t have built this without Access Info. Apart from that, I don’t think the technical or operations requirements are too complex. Of course, being active in civil society and/or having a community of interested users definitely helps to get the site moving.
Would you mind being contacted by others considering building an Alaveteli site?
Sure, that’s fine, happy to talk about it by email or Twitter. [If you’d like to take David up on this generous offer, find him in the first instance on Twitter at @dcabo.]
What is Alaveteli?
Alaveteli websites work like this:
- Users can contact public authorities with requests for information.
- The sites publish those requests, and the resulting responses.
- Or if there is no response, they make that fact known.
No right to Freedom of Information? Launch anyway
The right to Freedom of Information varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction: in many countries it is enshrined by law. In others, there is no such law.
In both scenarios, we encourage people to set up Alaveteli sites.
Why? Because one of the core tenets of running an Alaveteli site is that we believe it should reflect how the law should work, not how it does.
As an example, our site WhatDoTheyKnow.com allows users to contact several bodies which are not actually subject to the UK’s Freedom of Information Act – and many of them do reply to requests made through the site.
Additionally, when we launched the site, there was no prior example of putting responses to Freedom of Information requests into the public domain. Because we believe in the benefits of transparency, we went ahead and did so anyway.
WhatDoTheyKnow was launched in the context of the UK having a Freedom of Information law, but there is nothing to stop you from launching a site even where such a law does not exist.
Find out more about Tuderechoasaber
- Visit the site itself
- El Pais article in the original Spanish or translated into English
- El Mundo article in the original Spanish or translated into English