We were frustrated at not being able to follow debates as they were going on live in parliament, including the Junior Doctors Bill in 2016, the snap election debates last year, and every single Wednesday Prime Minister's questions, so we sought an easy-access way to follow politics and the goings-of parliament on the day-to-day basis. We also sought to develop a research resource, having had a job as a parliamentary researcher over the summer, access to live quotations from politicians, especially concerning the statements given in debates was extremely limited. This poses a problem to journalists seeking to follow, quote, and access the statements of politicians and leads to hasty, poor, and inaccurate journalism as quotes as rushed down and mistaken. The status quo, to follow action in parliament is to live stream parliamentlive.tv. This is incredibly inconvenient, requiring a strong WiFi connection, a quiet place, and the quiet environment to watch peacefully. Text feed streaming is far more convenient. The only other option is to wait for the end of the day to read published Daily Hansard from Parliament, equally inconvenient.
What it does
- Pushes live data from stream to text in cards
- Allows access to historical debates
- Allows viewing of speaking history for any given MP
- Allows following of various subjects and MPs of interest to be notified when they speak or when a certain topic is - debated
- User friendly and accessible
- To educate the public on their government and MPs
- To encourage informed engagement in politics with youth (snapchat?)
- Accountability - trackable, live written record, for both constituents and journalists
- Personalisation - follow and be notified on key issues of interest
How we built it
We identified the clear APIs and functions that would be carried out by the app and divided them us between them. Sam took front-end and began development on the android application using the outputs from the database and designing from the draft images we drew up. John began crawling parliament archives and downloading masses of archival raw data from data.parliament servers after investigating APIs such as TheyWorkForYou and psuk-parliament. We found the most effective was to use the individual-friendly download fields for raw data and iterate over pages to crawl through them and download them on mass, then parse the large sets of identical files. Aloysius spent the Hackathon therefore parsing huge amounts of raw data, producing various JSON and csv outputs eventually for uploading to a mySQL database. We're using Google Cloud Computing to create endpoints to generate requests for our database for the various search functions. We sought to enhance our app to promote user-accessbility above all else, with Andy building in functions such as post tagging and a breakdown of votes by MP for each division of the house. Altogether we can unequivocally declare ourselves the most informative and most usable parliament app available, furthering that aim of augmenting accessibility for users engaged with politics.
Challenges we ran into
- Data Aggregation - some csv files ended up with over 65 million lines; one JSON with 1.2k had to be iterated over with double loops to build up an indexing system across all our data.
- Data Presentation - politics is complex and it is easy to become disinterested and disaffected with the incessant
- Huge number of functions - politics can be deceptive and it's important to maintain as many perspectives as possible. We tried to service as many methods of data presentation possible, from representing bills by breakdown to individual MPs by both voting and speaking history.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
- Handling in the tens of millions entries of data, stemming from every single vote, speech, and debate that has been held in the House of Commons since the September of the last year with the start of the current parliament session.
- That the app is functional, with 10 functions at current count, at two in the process of being added.
- The the app is usable from a Minimum Viable Product point of view, if not yet aesthetic, with small improvements available to be made.
- Time management for a good work-rest balance will maximising productivity.
- That we are providing a service no other application or program is able to, with a clear selling point of convenience that is critical to the most fundamental institution of our country, public office.
- Clickable names through to personal 'MP profiles'
- Ability to save bills and follow stories for a personalised experience
- Night theme
- Project was inexpensive - we were able to source all the data we needed using free APIs and parsed the data ourselves to store on our server
What we learned
- We learned about how to deal with a wide variety of different data sources combining them into on cohesive data store which can be easily used by multiple API.
- We tried different different aspects of front-end design and experimented until we found what works best.
What's next for ParliaMate
Because there is such a great need for this app that we have tried to provide for, there is only a pathway onward and upwards for this app. All of us are passionate to keep expanding and adding new features, as well as integrating a greater volume of data, both historically from before 2017 and in the present and future - using scheduled future bills and perfecting drawing live data from the Commons. We would also seek collaboration with the public office in order to hire public stenographers to take live records in the Commons and/or review transcripts from automatic transcription services - still currently the best way to provide reliable data to the user which is so necessary in this app which seems to inform the public. A companion app for the Lords might also be released. To the more fundamental objectives, the aim of the project is to help the average voter with understanding the electoral process and how they are being represented, so we aim to branch this into different ways. We have plans to add more interactive ways of presenting voting data, based on geography and other statistics, and presenting aggregated wiki information detailing the history of politicians and parties, so that the public can educate themselves on the goings on in parliament (while keeping as nonpartisan as possible, of course). We hope to make this into the most useful tool one could have in participating in democracy.