Dostup do Pravdy: the secret of FOI success

6 April 2016

This article was originally posted April 1 on the website of mySociety, the UK NGO that developed the FOI software Alaveteli.

Last week, Ukrainian Freedom of Information site Dostup do Pravdy processed its 10,000th FOI request.

That’s pretty impressive, given that they launched just a couple of years ago, in 2014.

We offer hearty congratulations to the Dostup do Pravdy team. We’re also looking very closely at how they achieved this level of usage, because the site runs on our Alaveteli platform — and we’re keen to share the secrets of their success with the rest of the Alaveteli community.

So we called Yaroslav, one of the team, and asked him to outline the various factors that have helped boost the site’s popularity. We’ll be writing this up in more detail as part of a guide to marketing Alaveteli sites, but for now, here are the headline points.

Link with a news outlet

Dostup do Pravdy was set up in collaboration with Ukraine’s biggest online news outlet, and from the beginning they have employed a journalist to work solely on stories generated through Freedom of Information.

This has given them several great advantages: a ready-made audience for their most interesting requests; a channel through which to ensure that the general population knows about their rights in FOI; and professional expertise in pulling out which information was the most newsworthy.

Troubled times

Of course, no-one would choose to live through political upheaval, but there’s no doubt that Ukraine’s recent history made the populace all the more keen to access facts.

FOI proved a crucial tool in uncovering and publicising stories of corruption, such as the diversion of funds meant for the army, when high-up officials were coincidentally seen driving top-of-the-range BMWs.

Stories that grab the public’s imagination

Right now, Dostup do Pravdy are working on a campaign to find the owners of historic buildings which are falling into disrepair, a story which has captured the attention of the wider community.

Similarly, they’ve probed into figures on domestic violence cases, a story which got picked up by all the national media.

On the road

Ukraine is a relatively big country, with some regions where internet access is poor. The Dostup do Pravdy team are partway through a series of 15 grant-funded ‘roadshows’ in which they invite local activists to come and learn more about Freedom of Information, and train them in how to make requests.

These activists also help to spread the word amongst the wider community and local media. Where there is no access to the internet, they revert to the lower-tech FOI channels of phone and written letter.

The visits are also an opportunity to meet with officers from public authorities — the people on the receiving end of the FOI requests.

Employ an intern

There’s always more work than there is time to do it, when you’re a small team trying to make a big difference. Dostup do Pravdy were only able to find all the details they needed for their historic buildings project by employing an intern who could go through all the various registers to find crucial information.

Use social media

Dostup do Pravdy have seen great increases in visits to their site, both in terms of people browsing information, and those who go on to make an FOI request.

Alaveteli does allow for a certain amount of discussion of requests, via its annotations functionality, but Dostup do Pravdy also have almost 10,000 followers on Facebook, and it’s here that they’ve seen discussion flourish. It’s also a great platform for sharing their investigative stories, and publicising their events.

Users also come to Facebook to ask for assistance in making their requests, or following up those that have gone unanswered. Administrators encourage users to keep pushing for the information they require, and can point out where authorities are in breach of law, or point them in the right direction to get further help from the Institute of Media law, who can offer legal aid and advice.

So there you are: that’s the combination of factors that have led to success for Dostup do Pravdy. We wish them all the best as they charge towards their next milestone. Будьмо!

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