Forgive me if the title of this post makes us sound like a price comparison site — it’s just that if you are, mySociety is interested to hear from you.
We’re hoping to hear from people who spend a lot of energy collating data on UK politicians — where you have to go through a process of collecting basic info like politicians’ names, parties, and the areas they represent, before you can even get to the real work of your project. Specifically, we are interested in learning more about the impact this additional effort has on your work; the staff time it is costing your organisation, or the issues it creates in connecting citizens to their representatives.
Recently, mySociety met with Democracy Club and Open Data Manchester to discuss the lack of open data on UK councillors, what could or should be done about it, and by whom. Sym from Democracy Club has brilliantly covered the who, what and how background to our meeting in a series of posts and I really recommend reading these.
But first things first. We all recognised that before we travel too far down the road of planning something, we need to understand why.
Why should there be open access to basic data on all of our elected representatives?
Collectively, we agreed that the basic data on our elected representatives should be available as structured, consistent and reusable public information; who represents you at each level of government should be a public good and we believe that there is an obligation on authorities to ensure this information is made freely available in a structured way. The arts and sciences already recognise this concept of ‘commoning’; the same beliefs underpin mySociety advocating for a Democratic Commons. Plus, like Sym, we agree that “access to good information is vital to a well-functioning democracy”.
However, tangible examples are better than abstract beliefs, which is why we are interested in finding cases that demonstrate the potential social impact from opening up this data.
We already know that:
- Open Data Manchester spent a lot of time collating data on English Councillors so that they could match who local representatives with the most localised level of deprivation profile, a Lower Super Output area. ODM hope that “the dataset will add to the understanding of the local political landscape in England” and will allow for further enquiry where patterns of representation exist.
Oh, here is Open Data Manchester’s beautiful visualisation of “The deprivation profile of each local authority (most deprived from the top left, down) and the party with the most power”
- We are aware of a number of charities that are independently gathering and maintaining basic data on politicians, a duplication of efforts and resource that could be better spent in other ways. And, that the cost of accessing Councillor Data is preventing some small charities running e-campaigns.
- Organisations like Global Witness are using EveryPolitician data to spot potential corruption — but this data currently exists only at the national level, both for the UK and internationally.
- And, we recognise that there are many commercial players in this space who provide complete and up to date data on politicians, which often includes more detailed biographical or political background. That’s not what we’re trying to replicate; instead, we all feel that there should be basic fundamental and up to date data on who our politicians are, freely available for anyone to use for any purpose.
We would love to have more examples to add to this! If you — or someone you know — has an idea for a piece of research or service that you could run if only this data existed, or spends time moaning about finding it, please get in touch with me, firstname.lastname@example.org.
P.S if you would like a copy of ODM data visualisation, it is available to buy/ download in A2