Digital democracy tools empower citizens. But many fall at the first hurdle.
Most run on ever-changing political data. That’s not simple to gather, or keep up to date.
From our many years running TheyWorkForYou and helping other groups around the world with their own parliamentary monitoring websites, one thing’s very clear. In helping citizens to understand who their representatives are, the biggest challenge can be in keeping on top of an ever-changing set of information about politicians.
By their very nature, parliaments change, and not always predictably. For developers and researchers, tending to data can be a time-consuming business that gets in the way of their primary aim.
The solution: Democratic Commons
Enter the Democratic Commons, bringing together a growing community of individuals and organisations working to make information on every politician in the world freely available to all, through Wikidata.
Together, we’re sourcing and sharing data that is:
- Open: the data can be accessed and used by anybody
- Consistent: the data for each country, region and city is modeled in a similar way
- Structured: the data is generally easier to query and analyse than in its original form
- Comprehensive: with a little instruction, almost anyone can add to the data in the Democratic Commons, meaning it can grow in breadth and depth
- Sustainable: the data can be used without having to collect and maintain it all yourself, because the upkeep is shared by everybody involved
- Historic: whilst the initial focus is on covering current politicians, over time the Democratic Commons will expand into a repository that can be used to analyse patterns and trends
Data is easily accessible via Wikidata, and in the future our own EveryPolitician website will also give easy access to much of it.
A Commons of data and tools
But there’s more. The vision is not just of sharing the data itself, but also of making the tools built on top of it available to all, so the civic and democratic engagement benefits can be extended to citizens all over the world.
Help gather the data, use it for your own projects — or give us feedback Get in touch
By its nature, the Democratic Commons belongs to all, as is reflected by its home on the collaborative Wikidata platform. We’re not its gatekeeper nor its owner, but we’re currently leading one part of the charge to get it up and running as a permanent, viable resource.
We’re happy to help those who want to get involved, and those who would like to use the data. Here’s how you can get started:
Become a data volunteer We’re working with organisations and individuals in many different countries who are helping to ensure that the data for their own legislatures is correct and as complete as possible.
If you’d like to learn how to do the same for your country, drop us an email.
Help us understand what’s needed We’re working to this data model which evolves as our understanding grows. Your ideas and feedback are really valuable.
Use the data There’s already enough data on Wikidata to be of great use for researchers and coders working on political projects. Compare legislatures across different nations, or populate your web tools with your own current representatives.
Who’s using the data?
Facebook’s Civic Engagement team have been using the data to inform people who their representatives are and how to connect with them, in the few days after a major election.
Then there’s a tool enabling South African citizens to write in public to their representatives. That uses the WriteInPublic software, too.
… and because of the open nature of Wikidata, which is free to use by anyone, there are likely to be many more projects we don’t know about.
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