I wanted to give you the heads-up on some big changes I’m planning at Help Me Investigate.
In a nutshell: the site is going open source. This means that the code behind the site will be released so that anyone can install their own crowdsourcing investigation platform.
However, that also means that the current Help Me Investigate site will be taken down for a while as people play with the code.
Why open source?
Going open source addresses a number of legal weaknesses and geographical limitations that the project has encountered, as well as providing an opportunity to improve the technology that we simply don’t have in our current form. We’ve had dozens of requests to join the site from people in South America, Australia, the US, Middle East and South Africa that we couldn’t comply with for legal reasons. There have also been those who wanted private investigations, or completely public ones. Now there is a way that those people can use and change the technology accordingly.
It also allows us to focus our efforts on what I believe is the most important feature of the site: its community and resources.
What next for Help Me Investigate.com?
The plan is to refocus the HMI website on continuing to build a community of users who want to investigate questions in the public interest, across a number of platforms.
The site will also further build the bank of resources for investigators, focusing further on particular areas, e.g. education, health, social care, environment etc.
We are looking for volunteers to explore these areas, so if there is an area you wish you were more expert on, and you want to learn with others, let me know.
What about my investigation(s)?
The site will be taken down or redirected in two weeks, at which point investigations will no longer be accessible. If you want to get your investigation off the site let us know and we’ll try to make it as easy as possible.
This is a huge change for Help Me Investigate. The site long ago achieved what it set out to prove: that people could collaborate to investigate questions in the public interest. It works. But based on our experiences, I know it can work better. Open sourcing Help Me Investigate, and moving to a distributed network of communities based on a shared set of resources, is the right thing to do. If you want to be involved in making that happen (we will need open source project managers, community managers, bloggers and subject experts!), please let me know.
On 23rd August last year, it was widely reported that “a substance similar to diesel or vegetable oil was poured onto the carriageways” that made up the A720 and A8 roads of Edinburgh.
As a result, protests took place where “hundreds of campaigners spent a week occupying the Gogarburn grounds of RBS’ headquarters protesting against what they believed were environmentally damaging investments”.
Yet still, over four months later, Lothian & Borders Police have not released information relating to the costs of the protests, claiming Section 17 (information not found).
The first and second Freedom Of Information Requests were stalled, with Lothian & Borders Police originally claiming that “it will take some time before all costs (expenses etc) have been accounted for and I would therefore suggest that you re-apply for this information in about two month’s time”, and then, come October, announcing that “it is unlikely that this information will be fully collated until the end of October (at the very earliest) and I would therefore suggest that you re-apply after that time”.
The Guardian found similar roadblocks, and with this update last week, it seems that they are still no closer to finding any answers.
The Guardian tells us that “on three occasions since August we have used the Freedom of Information Act to ask the local police force to tell us the cost of policing the protests” but all have been refused.
The report also references the Help Me Investigate findings relating to traffic logs on the day of the alleged oil-spill.
The best quote to leave the story so far on is this:
“The Force Information Unit recommend you resubmit your FOI early in the New Year, as they hope to have a figure available in January.”