Thursday, October 27, 2005

Parliamentary statistics

For a while, I've felt that New Zealanders need better information on our elected representatives - both their positions on various issues and the way they actually vote in the House. But while we have a New Zealand Parliamentary Votes Database for the 2002 - 2005 term, the tools we have are rather primitive, and I can't help but feel envious of the participation tools the Brits have available. Take a look at They Work For You, The Public Whip and WriteToThem and just imagine what we could do with similar tools in New Zealand.

I'm particularly interested in the idea of tracking MP's performance - including the most basic question of whether they bother to turn up regularly. While this matters a lot less than it used to - MPs can vote by proxy, and most votes are party votes anyway - Parliament is supposed to be a deliberative body, and I expect our representatives to turn up and deliberate. Unfortunately, the demise of individual votes also means the demise of easy attendence statistics, but there are some other metrics we can use. Things like the number of questions and supplementaries asked at Question Time, for example - or the number of speeches given in debate, or the number of written questions lodged. These all give some indication that an MP is doing something to earn their salary. And most of the necessary raw data is marked up in XML, making it extremely easy to automatically parse and collect statistics from.

Unfortunately, I just don't have the time to do this. But if anybody out there is feeling keen...


Hansard for one. There's a couple of days lag on the "advances", but Question Time is supposed to be available by 17:30 every evening. I'm not sure how long it takes them to post questions for written answer, but again they're all marked up, and have the bonus of being able to be searched - so you can easily link to them.

I think a good place to start would be an "Email your MP" service - except that it is wildly open to abuse and may result in MPs simply ignoring their email (as many did during the civil unions debate). WriteToThem avoids this by restricting people to emailing only their local representatives (they use a postcode), but this would require extra programming and in any case the existence of list MPs with potentially nationwide constituencies counts against it.

There's also potential for a service called "what they think", to track MPs positions on controversial issues - kindof like a running version of the candidate survey. Several groups already do this for their own issues - NORML is a good example - and aggregating it would allow lobbying to focus on those who are undecided or undeclared, rather than simply spamming everyone. Link it to a service whereby you can ask an MP a question and report the answer, and it could be quite useful.

Something which encouraged people to initiate parliamentary petititons or CIRs could be useful as well; link it to pledgebank to reduce the collective action problem with signature collection (though actually pledgebank is a useful tool anyway - you could pledge to write to your local MP on an issue if ten or a hundred other people agreed to do likewise). Or at least something which led people through the process...

See, I can create work for people all day...

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 10/27/2005 01:49:00 PM

They're in HTML as well - click the date rather than the PDF icon. As for the format, I found out the hard way last night that it's a long way from XML; there are tags demarcating substantive questions, supplementaries, speeches and interjections, but these come from Word, and aren't used consistently with formatting information. Which makes it a real pain to parse...

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 10/31/2005 03:45:00 PM