What do they know?: A crowd-sourcing platform

21. January, 2013

WhatDoTheyKnow is one of the most useful crowdsourcing websites that I’m aware of! It is run and maintained as part of mySociety project.

Its main idea, according to their statement:

You choose the public authority that you would like information from, then write a brief note describing what you want to know. We then send your request to the public authority. Any response received is automatically published on the website for you and anyone else to find and read.

What is so wonderful about this website?

See the underlined parts in the screenshot below! It gives citizens the possibilities they would never have without such a website.


Its basic advantage: a large number of freedom of information requests are collected there.

Why is it important?

Well, I could think about several reasons! For example, you might not need to write a freedom of information request yourself and then wait for response … rather you could check whether such information has not already been sent to someone else! Maybe somebody already has this information and it is available on that website. Maybe that information has been shared by such an authority you didn’t even know existed – whatdotheyknow allows to conduct a search of all FoI requests relating to an issue that you are interested in. See, for example, some of the things that are now public thanks to the website.

What else? Imagine that you are a journalist (or a researcher) and you would like to know what people are interested about when they contact some public authority! This is a wonderful library very much suited for such a purpose. According to the website, around 15% to 20% of requests to UK Central Government are made through the site.

This is a very high number indeed!

In addition to that, you may opt to follow all the new requests to a specific authority, thus in this way the crowdsourced information might help you to learn something useful in a timely manner (for instance, somebody has read somewhere about some specific information that an authority has and then makes a FoI request – if not for this request, you might have never known that such an information even existed!)

What’s more – not just the freedom of information requests themselves appear on this website, but the responses from public authorities as well! Sometimes there are reasons why a request has been unsuccessful – you could do an analysis on this (whether the institutions apply the law in a correct manner, whether there are institutions that are more willing to withhold information as compared to others).

Such a collection of requests also allows public institutions to learn about the patterns of information people are requesting and, maybe, share the often requested information on their website on their own initiative.

So, to sum up, this is a wonderful, unique website that helps to endure citizen oversight over public authorities. It is done by crowdsourcing FoI requests and responses, and giving citizens plenty of options to work with this information.

[Iveta] raksts

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