Brazillian Alaveteli - Multiples contacts per authority

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Pedro Markun

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Nov 3, 2011, 3:26:47 PM11/3/11
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(moving from git issue)

Hey all,

we've just launched the brazillian alaveteli instalation:

www.queremossaber.org.br

In Brazil, the law of access of information has just been approved by the parliment, but still needs to be 'enabled' by the president and even then there is 180 days before it's actually working.

Because of this and a general lack of culture most of our govt bodies don't have a single email address/contact that handles all information request.

So we are starting to think about this and if it would be possible to have several mail address for different departments under the same authority. Does it make sense?

Just for an example, I've just asked some ministery for information on the cities contact and they've told me to contact a different department under the same body through telephone... any hints on that?

Richard Taylor

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Nov 3, 2011, 10:17:55 PM11/3/11
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Pedro,

Fantastic to see your site up and running.

Here in the UK a freedom of information request is deemed to have been
delivered by law once it's received by anyone in the public body. We
don't have to be concerned about it getting to the right place
internally, that's something the public body have to, by law, sort
out.

If that's how you think the system should work where you are - perhaps
just leave things as they are - your users could be advised to ask the
person responding from the public body to pass the request on to the
right person (and not refer it back to the requestor to do it).

Single email addresses dedicated to requests for information have
emerged over time in the UK, we still regularly update our site from
individual's email addresses which we have been using to foi@....
email addresses which are increasingly used.

>Just for an example, I've just asked some ministery for information on the
>cities contact and they've told me to contact a different department under
>the same body through telephone... any hints on that?

We advise users to keep their request thread up to date via
annotations saying what has been said on the phone, and to follow-up
with emails.

In the UK a FOI request has to be submitted in writing.

>So we are starting to think about this and if it would be possible to have
>several mail address for different departments under the same authority.
>Does it make sense?
Accepting a comma separated list of addresses in the request email
field might be an idea.


>several mail address for different departments under the same authority.

You might want to consider a policy of adding departments of an
authority separately.

At WhatDoTheyKnow we generally don't do this, but do in some cases
where we think it will help our users. One criteria for us adding
something separately is if it has its own freedom of information
contact address which goes somewhere other than the main request
address for the department.

At WhatDoTheyKnow we already mark one body as a subunit of another
using tags of the form unit:parent_body at the moment though a parent
body's page doesn't display its children; and there are no other
special related features eg. say the resend button on a request giving
the option to send/move the request to one of the sibling bodies! In
this case we'd create a new request, and link between them with
annotations.

Regards,

--

Richard - WhatDoTheyKnow.com volunteer

Seb Bacon

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Nov 4, 2011, 2:39:10 AM11/4/11
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Hi,

First, congratulations! That was quick work. How many people worked on it and for how long? I know others on this list would find it useful to know.

One of the guiding principles for Alaveteli is "design for how it should be, not how it is". By which we mean, it should be as simple as possible for citizens to ask questions. So if authorities ask users to use some unnecessarily complicated web form, we don't make any attempts to accommodate it. If the law has some complex protocol for referring requesters between authorities, we ignore it and ask the authorities to refer the requested to the relevant place on their behalf.

My sense in this case is that because every authority should have a single address, you should act like this... because it seems to me that the alternative is to list several alternatives for the user, which would be confusing. The software allows administrators to resend a message to a new address, so perhaps always by default send messages to a single central address which *sounds like* it should handle everything (you, or volunteers, could try contacting authorities directly to ask their advice?); and then you can always adjust this on a per request basis as necessary? The aim would be to lobby them to set up a single address, which won't be achieved by letting them off the hook and asking requesters to pick from multiple addresses. So even if the single address is wrong, if it's one that always initially gets requests, someone there should get the message. We could perhaps add some boilerplate text to emails going out from the system explaining this.

Regarding the telephone point, the standard Alaveteli way of dealing with it is to reply and insist on doing it by email. I understand that your FOI law provides for receiving all and any info in an electronic format, so you seem also to have the law on your side, something you can point out in the reply.

In the UK we had quite a long period of occasionally having to do this, but largely through our efforts authorities now routinely answer by email, don't password protect documents, etc. Again a good illustration of how Alaveteli is a campaigning tool for better FOI processes as much as anything.

Hope that makes some sense. Others may have different ideas about what to do regarding the lack of central address...

Seb


--
Sent from my phone, please excuse brevity

Boris brkan

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Nov 4, 2011, 5:57:08 AM11/4/11
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Hi,
this is something that can be useful for Bosnian case, because we expect to have the same problem with our government institutions.
we have been discussing about  the idea to make possible to send same FOI request to multiple e-mail addresses in the same institution – only if  some institution don’t have designated e-mail contact for the FOI requests.
What do you think about this as a potential solution for the mentioned problem – this way we don’t confuse application user, and we are sure that original request is sent towards all possible FOI contacts within the institution.  Only risk then is that we will maybe annoy the representatives inside the institution by sending them multiple copies of the same  requests.

Boris

Seb Bacon

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Nov 4, 2011, 7:09:02 AM11/4/11
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Hi,

Just thinking about this briefly, my initial thought is that I don't think this would work, because if one email went out to five addresses, there would be two kinds of resulting confusion: first, the recipients wouldn't necessarily know if one of the others was dealing with (potentially leading to a situation where they all use this as an excuse to ignore it!); second, if more than one person replied, it would be confusing for the requester.

Is there provision in Bosnian law like the UK that they should consider the request clock started when a request is received anywhere at the authority? If not, what constitutes the official start of a request? In other words, is there scope to ask them to forward it to the right person for you within the authority?

Seb


--
Sent from my phone, please excuse brevity

Pedro Markun

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Nov 4, 2011, 10:33:54 AM11/4/11
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Hi all,

thanks! So, the whole process took about 3 days - with a full day sprint on saturday (and it's still rought on some edges though). The actual deploy and configuration was done by me and Friedrich (from OKFN) - and we had to do it twice, because the first one was done in OKFN Amazons server wich was blacklisted in some spam-filtering companies.

Then we had about 4-5 people helping out with the translation (still missing ~20%) and some getting the initial public bodies contacts.

In the end we had about 10 people working on it.

About the 'to whom send the request' issue. I really like this approach of 'let design the system as things should be' and I think we will be keeping it like that for at least some time now, until we have more experience on how will this work internally.

We've already >5000 bodies in the system (and having some minor perfomance issues related to that). And it will probably go way higher because we should have different contacts for the executive and the legislative bodies in every city of Brazil - so it will be already very complicated for the end user. Creating different entities for internal autorithies divisions it's probably not a good idea.

[]'s
Pedro Markun

Seb Bacon

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Nov 4, 2011, 10:39:13 AM11/4/11
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Hi,

On 4 November 2011 14:33, Pedro Markun <pe...@markun.com.br> wrote:
> We've already >5000 bodies in the system (and having some minor perfomance
> issues related to that).

Let us know more when you have some data about the performance. We
have many more than that in the UK. Where there are performance
problems it tends to relate either to caching or to parsing of
incoming email attachments into HTML / indexable text (both of which I
intend to look at over the next months), not to do with numbers of
authorities.

seb

--
skype: seb.bacon
mobile: 07790 939224
land: 01531 671074

Francis Irving

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Nov 4, 2011, 11:23:04 AM11/4/11
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Ah!

My browser defaulted to the English version, which didn't have any
bodies listed.

Do you need it to be bilingual? I think it woudl have been clearer to
me (even though non-Portuguese speaker!) if it had only been in
Portuguese.

Looks fantastic!

Francis

> > <http://www.queremossaber.org.br/> <http://www.queremossaber.org.br>

Pedro Markun

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Nov 4, 2011, 11:49:32 AM11/4/11
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Hey Francis,


that's another issue we had. Some parts of Alaveteli actually break if you don't have the right translation in place. (Mainly when you don't add the right {{variable}} in the pot file)

So that's why we're keeping the english version enabled for now. But we will disable it in the near future.

I understand the decision to not-show untranslated bodies in other languages, as this makes things like AskEU much more usable and don't mix results from different places... but it would be good if we could override this setting and make the system inherit the default language when there's no translation present (the same way it handles other strings). 

[]'s
Pedro Markun

Seb Bacon

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Nov 4, 2011, 12:09:28 PM11/4/11
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On 4 Nov 2011, at 15:49, Pedro Markun <pe...@markun.com.br> wrote:

Hey Francis,


that's another issue we had. Some parts of Alaveteli actually break if you don't have the right translation in place. (Mainly when you don't add the right {{variable}} in the pot file)

So that's why we're keeping the english version enabled for now. But we will disable it in the near future.

I understand the decision to not-show untranslated bodies in other languages, as this makes things like AskEU much more usable and don't mix results from different places... but it would be good if we could override this setting and make the system inherit the default language when there's no translation present (the same way it handles other strings). 

Please add an issue to the tracker :)

Seb

Pedro Markun

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Nov 9, 2011, 8:10:12 AM11/9/11
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Hey folks,

the site is running! Just a few (<50) request so far, but things are starting to take shape.

Still having lot's of public authorities asking things like - call someone else, or email this specific email address.

I thought I saw an option somewhere to forward an request to an arbirtary email address. Is this already possible?
I think it could be an useful feature. So the first request would always be sent to the default email address, but the follow up conversation could be routed to different people in the body.

[]'s
Pedro Markun

Seb Bacon

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Nov 14, 2011, 7:07:51 AM11/14/11
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Hi,

Fantastic that it's all working :)

I'm just back from leave and will probably take a couple of weeks to
get properly up to speed, so apologies if I'm slow in responding for a
while.

To answer your question (below), we don't allow sending follow ups or
replies to arbitrary addresses; we only allow them to be sent to
addresses from which replies have been previously received.

Can you give a use case for this requirement? The use case that we
currently support goes like this:

1) Request to Ministry of Silly Walks goes to gu...@msw.gov.uk
2) The person who receives email addressed to gu...@msw.gov.uk
forwards it to the FOI officer at the parent ministry,
dins...@walks.gov.uk
3) dins...@walks.gov.uk replies to the original request. Because the
system doesn't know anything about the domain walks.gov.uk, the reply
gets put in the holding pen.
4) A system moderator reviews the holding pen, and approves the incoming message
The result is that replies from both gu...@msw.gov.uk and
dins...@walks.gov.uk are accepted as having valid From
addresses for the request.
5) When a user chooses to "follow up" or "reply" to a message, there
is an option for them to select to whom they want to address the
follow up -- in this case, they will be able to choose between
dins...@walks.gov.uk and gu...@msw.gov.uk.

Regards,

Seb

--

Richard Taylor

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Nov 14, 2011, 7:44:37 AM11/14/11
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On Nov 14, 12:07 pm, Seb Bacon <seb.ba...@gmail.com> wrote:
> 3) dinsd...@walks.gov.uk replies to the original request. Because the
> system doesn't know anything about the domain walks.gov.uk, the reply
> gets put in the holding pen.

By default on WhatDoTheyKnow requests are set to "Allow new responses
from: anybody".

Anyone who knows the request address (anyone who the request has been
forwarded to) can reply to it.

This setting is changed automatically when there has been no activity
on a request for a period of time as a spam protection measure; first
to "authority only" and then to "nobody". We re-open requests when
users / authorities ask us to do so.

Regards,

--

Richard - WhatDoTheyKnow.com volunteer



> Hi,
>
> Fantastic that it's all working :)
>
> I'm just back from leave and will probably take a couple of weeks to
> get properly up to speed, so apologies if I'm slow in responding for a
> while.
>
> To answer your question (below), we don't allow sending follow ups or
> replies to arbitrary addresses; we only allow them to be sent to
> addresses from which replies have been previously received.
>
> Can you give a use case for this requirement? The use case that we
> currently support goes like this:
>
> 1) Request to Ministry of Silly Walks goes to gu...@msw.gov.uk
> 2) The person who receives email addressed to gu...@msw.gov.uk
> forwards it to the FOI officer at the parent ministry,
> dinsd...@walks.gov.uk
> 3) dinsd...@walks.gov.uk replies to the original request.  Because the
> system doesn't know anything about the domain walks.gov.uk, the reply
> gets put in the holding pen.
> 4) A system moderator reviews the holding pen, and approves the incoming message
>     The result is that replies from both gu...@msw.gov.uk and
>     dinsd...@walks.gov.uk are accepted as having valid From
>     addresses for the request.
> 5) When a user chooses to "follow up" or "reply" to a message, there
> is an option for them to select to whom they want to address the
> follow up -- in this case, they will be able to choose between
> dinsd...@walks.gov.uk and gu...@msw.gov.uk.
>
> Regards,
>
> Seb
>
> On 9 November 2011 13:10, Pedro Markun <pe...@markun.com.br> wrote:
>
>
>
> > Hey folks,
> > the site is running! Just a few (<50) request so far, but things are
> > starting to take shape.
> > Still having lot's of public authorities asking things like - call someone
> > else, or email this specific email address.
> > I thought I saw an option somewhere to forward an request to an arbirtary
> > email address. Is this already possible?
> > I think it could be an useful feature. So the first request would always be
> > sent to the default email address, but the follow up conversation could be
> > routed to different people in the body.
> > []'s
> > Pedro Markun
>
> > On Fri, Nov 4, 2011 at 2:09 PM, Seb Bacon <seb.ba...@gmail.com> wrote:
>
> >> On 4 Nov 2011, at 15:49, Pedro Markun <pe...@markun.com.br> wrote:
>
> >> Hey Francis,
>
> >> that's another issue we had. Some parts of Alaveteli actually break if you
> >> don't have the right translation in place. (Mainly when you don't add the
> >> right {{variable}} in the pot file)
> >> So that's why we're keeping the english version enabled for now. But we
> >> will disable it in the near future.
> >> I understand the decision to not-show untranslated bodies in other
> >> languages, as this makes things like AskEU much more usable and don't mix
> >> results from different places... but it would be good if we could override
> >> this setting and make the system inherit the default language when there's
> >> no translation present (the same way it handles other strings).
>
> >> Please add an issue to the tracker :)
> >> Seb
>
> >> []'s
> >> Pedro Markun
>
> >> On Fri, Nov 4, 2011 at 1:23 PM, Francis Irving <fran...@mysociety.org>

Seb Bacon

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Nov 14, 2011, 7:46:49 AM11/14/11
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Thanks Richard. Shows what I know ;) I thought the default was
"authority only"...

Seb

Seb Bacon

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Nov 25, 2011, 7:29:43 AM11/25/11
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Hi (@pedro and @david specifically, and anyone else too),

On 4 November 2011 15:49, Pedro Markun <pe...@markun.com.br> wrote:
> I understand the decision to not-show untranslated bodies in other
> languages, as this makes things like AskEU much more usable and don't mix
> results from different places... but it would be good if we could override
> this setting and make the system inherit the default language when there's
> no translation present (the same way it handles other strings).

I am just looking at this now.

There are three things going on here.

(1) When you visit the Authorities page, e.g.
http://www.queremossaber.org.br/en/body, it is only showing
authorities which have translations registered for the current locale
(2) When you upload a spreadsheet of authorities, it creates a single
record for each specified locale. However, when you add an authority
through the admin interface, it creates a record for all available
locales -- putting in an empty string for the non-specified locales
(3) When you view a Public Body, empty strings don't fall back to
non-empty strings in the fallback translations

That's why when you view the PT version of the page above, you get
thousands of authorities, and when you view the EN version, you get 34
empty rows -- I assume that the latter are authorities that had been
added via the web interface.

I think that the fix for (1) is to show all authorities regardless of
the currently selected locales. I think this is also appropriate for
AskTheEU -- David? (Though note that the mechanism for browsing
bodies is different on AskTheEU).

The fix for (2) is to skip creating records for translations which are
made up only of empty string values

The fix for (3) is slightly less clear. Should any empty field
(including an empty string) on a Public Body fall back to a default
translation wherever possible? This would remove the possibility of
deliberating choosing to show an empty string to display on for a
Public Body in one language, but not in another. Can anyone think of
a reason why this might be desirable?

Thanks,

Seb

Pedro Markun

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Nov 25, 2011, 9:19:26 AM11/25/11
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Hey Seb,

weird, I didn't even noticed that now we had all those 'empty bodies'. But you're right they all come from bodies added throught the interface.

About the fallback mechanism... I think that if we had a single string on the translated version, it should assume that this is an intended translation and would not use the default language.

Because I do think that allowing empty strings are important. This allows us to have a 'partial' translation, like just the names and email. While not having some gibberish text in other languages in the interface (wich does confuse people).

Or maybe having an explicit 'blank' string you can use in the admin interface?

[]'s
Pedro Markun

Francis Irving

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Nov 25, 2011, 9:40:07 AM11/25/11
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As a user, of say AskTheEU.org, I would expect that whatever language
I was in I would *always* see all bodies in the system.

Sure, if the translation was incomplete their names might appear in
another language. But that is still better than them not appearing
for what would be unknown reasons!

Francis

David Cabo

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Nov 26, 2011, 8:56:23 AM11/26/11
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 Hi,
 
I think that the fix for (1) is to show all authorities regardless of
the currently selected locales. I think this is also appropriate for
AskTheEU -- David?  (Though note that the mechanism for browsing
bodies is different on AskTheEU).

 Browsing in AsktheEU works the same way, there's nothing that special about it.

 Regarding translations, we translate all the body names to all four languages, so this isn't an issue for us. We created a Google Doc containing all the public body info, with four columns for the names (name, name.es, name.de, name.fr), filled it with the English names, and asked the translators to go through them. In a couple of days we were at 100%.

 As Francis said, for AsktheEU it definitely makes sense to show all the bodies. We just don't rely on the default language fallback.

/david

Seb Bacon

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Nov 29, 2011, 2:51:13 AM11/29/11
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Thanks everyone for your feedback.

Any other thoughts about the fallback for empty strings in translated
fields on Public Bodies?

Here's another way of putting it: at the moment, in the i18n
framework, an empty (missing) value for the current translation falls
back to the next available locale.

However, when editing Public Body fields (title, etc) through the web
interface, it's not possible to distinguish between a missing value
and a deliberately empty string. Pedro said earlier in the thread
that he felt it was important to be able to have empty strings in
translations as a mixture of languages for one body might confuse
people, which makes sense to me.

However, are there any sensible ways of asserting the difference
between an null value and an empty string in the UI? Or does it not
really matter so much to mix languages? Or...?

Thanks,

Seb

--

Seb Bacon

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Nov 29, 2011, 7:12:45 AM11/29/11
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Thinking more about this, I reckon I'll leave it for now, unless
people disagree:

With the bug-fix so that completely empty translations don't get rows
in the Public Body table at all, and a fix so that all bodies appear
in all languages, I reckon we pretty much fix the issue as reported by
Pedro. If people also want empty strings sometimes to fall back to
other translations, or they want the ability to say "this particular
field should fall back to other translations", then I'll wait until
they ask :)

Seb

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