Changes to voluntarysectorcuts.org.uk

It’s nearly a year since this site was launched in January 2011, and we’ve had an amazing response, with over 500 cuts shared on the site. The cuts shared range from the very large to the very small, with respondents particularly keen to flag up the impact on their beneficiaries and their staff.

We hope the site has been useful, both in terms of mapping the cuts and helping to campaign against them where they have been disproportionate.

We’ve now made some improvements behind-the-scenes to the site. As well as upgrading to the latest version of WordPress, and tweaking the theme, we’ve also added data feeds for regions and funders. If you’re interested in a particular region, funder or theme you can now get a feed of all the cuts that apply to that area.

So if you were looking for cuts in the North East, you can now go to voluntarysectorcuts.org.uk/data/filter/region/north+east to view all cuts in that area. Or if you wanted to look at all cuts made by the NHS, you can go to voluntarysectorcuts.org.uk/data/filter/funders/national+health+service.

Not only can you view these cuts in your browser, if you use an RSS reader you can subscribe to any filtered list of cuts by adding “.rss” to the end of the address. Or if you want to analyse the cuts on your own computer you can download them all as .csv files by adding “.csv” to the end of the address.

We also hope to add more functionality to the site and relaunch it properly in the New Year. As the next financial year comes around we think it would be useful to again ask organisations to come forward and share cuts to public spending that they’ve experienced.   So watch this space!

You can find more about the technical details about the custom WordPress plugin we’ve used to add this functionality.

Introducing voluntarysectorcuts.org.uk

Welcome to Voluntary Sector Cuts. This site is part of a collaborative project between a group of voluntary sector infrastructure bodies. You can find out more about the project on the “about” page.

If you’ve got any feedback, suggestions or questions about the project then leave them in the comments below. We look forward to hearing from you.

The making of voluntarysectorcuts.org.uk

I thought it might be useful to give some background on how the site is constructed, for anyone who’s interested.

The site was inspired by the Ushahidi platform, which is used to crowdsource information on a crisis. I didn’t use Ushahidi itself as I needed a bit more flexibility in terms of how the data is presented, and to allow us to include all the partners logos. So instead the site is build using wordpress, with the platform theme.

The form itself is an html page inserted as an iframe into a page on the site, which feeds into a Google spreadsheet. Rather than use form created in Google documents, it’s possible to build a customised form that submits using HTTP POST to the same spreadsheet. An example of this (and where I got the idea) can been seen on Google’s blog.

The map on the form is made using Google Maps Javascript API (version 3). Clicking on the map fetches the latitude and longitude of the point clicked, which are used to plot the points on maps. The latitude and longitude are then sent to MySociety’s MapIt service,  which allows you to get the country, region and local authority for the point clicked.

The two “tag” based questions are built using the jQuery tagInput plugin, written by Roberto Bicchierai.  The list of possible tags are currently stored in the form html itself, ideally these would be fetched from existing entries.

When a user submits a form, a row is added to the spreadsheet. The spreadsheet provides one way to look at the data, but not a very user-friendly one. To make it easier, we’ve included two Exhibit-based pages on the site. Exhibit is a web framework written by the Simile project at MIT.

Data is provided to Exhibit in a particular format. It will accept Google spreadsheets, but they need to have columns in a particular order, with particular names. The Exhibits on this site therefore take another sheet in the same spreadsheet as their source. Manually copying the records from one sheet to another is what causes the delay between submitting a form and it appearing on the map.

[Update 18/02/2011] I’ve since created a direct feed from the spreadsheet in Exhibit’s native json format, which means the spreadsheet no longer needs to be manually updated. You can use this json feed yourself.

The Exhibit pages are also inserted as iframes into wordpress pages. One uses the Map view to place all the cuts onto a map of the UK. The other uses the table view to display selected information about the cuts. The “facets” alongside the map and table allow the cuts to be filtered according to the tags they use, the region, and any other information. With just a small amount of HTML, Exhibit makes it easy to create sophisticated displays of information.

The other two parts of the site are widgets on the sidebar. One is the summary widget, which displays a map of the cuts so far with a short sentence saying how many cuts have been submitted and how much money they represent. This is created using a php script which scrolls through every cut in the CSV output of the Google spreadsheet, and counts how many cuts there are and sums their amount. The map is plotted using Google’s static maps API.

The other widget is another php script that displays the logos of the partners involved. To be fair to all of us and in the spirit of partnership, it made sense to randomise the order of the logos. So with the help of the PHP shuffle function you should see the logos in a different order every time you load the page.

So this site has come together thanks to the following web services, APIs and software – all of which are available for free: