If you need data on the people who make up your parliament, another country’s parliament, or indeed all parliaments, you may be in luck.
Every Politician, the latest Poplus project, aims to collect, store and share information about every parliament in the world, past and present—and it already contains 100 of them.
What’s more, it’s all provided as Open Data to anyone who would like to use it to power a civic tech project. We’re thinking parliamentary monitoring organisations, journalists, groups who run access-to-democracy sites like our own WriteToThem, and especially researchers who want to do analysis across multiple countries.
But isn’t that data already available?
Yes and no. There’s no doubt that you can find details of most parliaments online, either on official government websites, on Wikipedia, or on a variety of other places online.
But, as you might expect from data that’s coming from hundreds of different sources, it’s in a multitude of different formats. That makes it very hard to work with in any kind of consistent fashion.
Every Politician standardises all of its data into the Popolo standard and then provides it in two simple downloadable formats:
- csv, which contains basic data that’s easy to work with on spreadsheets
- JSON which contains richer data on each person, and is ideal for developers
This standardisation means that it should now be a lot easier to work on projects across multiple countries, or to compare one country’s data with another. It also means that data works well with other Poplus Components.
What can I do with it?
Need a specific example? Yesterday, we introduced Gender Balance, the game that gathers data about women in politics.
As you’ll know if you’ve already given it a try, Gender Balance works by displaying politicians that make up one of the world’s legislatures, one by one.
That data all comes from Every Politician, and it’s meant that the developers have been able to concentrate on making a smooth and functional interface, knowing that the data side of things has already been taken care of.
That’s just one way to use Every Politician data, though. If you’d like to use it in your own site or app, you can find out more here.
We still need more data
As you may have noticed, there are more than 100 parliaments in the world. In fact, despite having reached what feels like a fairly substantial milestone, we’re still barely half way to getting some data for every parliament.
So we could use your help in finding data for the parliaments we don’t yet cover, and historic information for the ones we do. Read more about how you can help out.
Thank you very much. That is a terrific contribution.
A great move – but why not store this data in Wikidata (it will end up being copied there, anyway)?
First, I want to say I’ve been a huge fan of Wikidata for a long time — I was even a contributor to its prior incarnation as Semantic MediaWiki. However, there are a few key reasons why I don’t think that it’s a perfect fit for what we’re trying to do.
Firstly, it’s not entirely clear whether all the data we’re hoping to include will actually meet the Notability threshold. Only needing to be notable enough for a single language’s Wikipedia is certainly helpful, but it’s not entirely clear that someone is automatically sufficiently notable just because they once held public office.
Further, even if the person themselves is suitably notable, it’s unclear what level of information about them Wikidata will want to include. Simple biographical information will usually be OK — but as we start to move up the various levels of information we want to store, the modelling needs become increasingly complex, and the likelihood of Wikidata even wanting to store it becomes lower and lower. It’s already quite painful in Wikidata to record legislative memberships, especially to the level required to be useful in Parliamentary Monitoring (Fred Bloggs joined the 19th Assembly as a representative for Greater Eastland on 2011-04-03, to replace Alice Smith when she became the Minister of Justice. He originally held this seat as a member of the S.I.P. Faction, but on 2012-03-04 he was removed from the faction for voting against Bill #148-b. He remained independent until 2012-05-15, when he joined the I.P.S Faction. After the 2014 elections he was readmitted to the S.I.P faction for the 20th Assembly.)
And that’s even before we get to storing things like voting records, parliamentary speeches, expense claims and asset declarations, etc etc etc.
If lots of this information does end up getting copied to Wikidata, I’ll certainly be happy with that (I’ve already been looking into ways to push a lot of it myself.) But I think there’s still also room in the world for single purpose databases with different criteria for what gets admitted, and the ability to express things in formats that more usefully model the domain.