Release Notes: Improved scanned document uploads and handling scofflaw agencies

Release Notes: Improved scanned document uploads and handling scofflaw agencies

Looking for volunteers in Boston area to help test new features

Edited by JPat Brown

Last week, we rolled out a new scanning process that should improve the speed and quality of uploads. We also implemented a new warning and blocking system for the few agencies that currently refuse to process our requests.

For previous site improvements, check out all of MuckRock’s release notes, and if you’d like to get a list of site improvements every Tuesday - along with ways to help contribute to the site’s development yourself - subscribe to our developer newsletter here.

Site Updates

New “Scofflaw” setting for agencies that refuse to process requests

Unfortunately, despite what the law says, on some rare occasions agencies outright refuse to process public records requests. We typically work to appeal these denials where practical and ultimately litigate. However, we also don’t want to charge users for a service we don’t believe will work for them.

If an agency is completely unresponsive to our requests, we begin the process of researching legal remedies. During that process, we will now be blocking further requests to that agencies pending successful resolution. When you attempt to file with one of these agencies, they’ll now have a red “Scofflaw” marker next to the agency name, along with a brief explanation of their current status.

We are working hard to get full agency compliance with applicable public records laws; the good news is there are less than a dozen agencies in our 12,000 agency database that outright refuse all requests.

Improved mailed document upload process

Last week, we revamped our document scanning and upload process to streamline it and reduce the time from receiving mail to when it gets uploaded and properly tagged on the appropriate request page. We also implemented new safeguards to reduce the times when an agency uses a wrong tracking number and documents get uploaded to the wrong page.

The short overview is that we broke the scanning and tagging of uploads into two steps: First, our staff scans the document along with the postmark date and address on it. These scans are then uploaded to our servers, where a second staff member reviews the address information for accuracy and marks the request with the appropriate status.

Expanded FAQ page

We regularly make small tweaks to our FAQ page, but we recently completely overhauled it, tripling the number of questions addressed and making it easier to browse. Going forward, we plan to better integrate the FAQ by linking to subsections of it from more places on the site to make it quicker and more obvious to find the answers you need.

MuckRock is open source, and you can help us make it better

We currently have a few rounds of improvements and experimental study areas that we’re looking for user testing feedback on. People who are available to meetup in Boston or Cambridge are the most helpful, but remote testers are also appreciated. If you’re interested in giving up a little time in order to provide candid feedback that will help make a more transparent future, get in touch.

Come hack with us

There are a number of other ways to help us continue to improve the core MuckRock site experience. We have a project and a weekly newsletter, “Release Notes,” that highlights everything we’re working on. Register to get a summary of site updates each week and details on open issues you can help with.

Check out some of our issues labeled “help wanted” for ideas on where’s good to start, or just pop into our Slack’s #Developers channel.

Subscribers to the weekly newsletter get exclusive data sets, FOIA-related scripts, and other transparency hacker tidbits exclusively for subscribers. You can subscribe to the newsletter at the top or bottom of this page.

If you spot a bug or have a feature request, you can also help by opening an issue on GitHub.

If you do, please search open issues first to make sure it hasn’t already been reported. If it has been reported previously, please leave an additional comment letting us know it’s an issue for you, particularly if you can provide more details about when it crops up or what you think is causing the problem.

In addition to the new newsletter, we have a developer channel on the MuckRock Slack.

Image via Wikimedia Commons