Topical Versions of Local Council Websites… Give Us the Data and We’ll Work It For You

A couple of weeks ago, Simon @ventnorblog tipped me off to OpenlyLocal, @countculture‘s excellent transparency website on the make-up of UK local councils. The related post on OpenlyLocal Now Covers The Isle of Wight Council also reminded me of a quick hack I did some time ago looking at Council committee membership using treemaps.

As well as declaring council membership and publishing committee meeting calendar feeds and documents (whrer possible – I’m guessing this is a scraping task at the moment and therefore likely to be brittle), OpenlyLocal also publishes lists of the make up of each committee…

Which got me wondering – how easy would it be to automatically generate and display a javascript treemap of council committee makeup for each council on OpenlyLocal, either on a per councillor basis, or a per party basis?

An API from the OpenlyLocal site is available, but it doesn’t quite give the data out in a form that would make this sort of visualisation generation trivial.

To generate the treemap visualisation, I’d used the following representation:

(A third column containing the party affiliation, and maybe a fourth containing the size of the candidate’s majority at the last election would have added much more value to the range of possible visualisations that could have been generated too…)

So being a lazy sort, and rather than hitting OpenlyLocal’s API repeatedly with a bunch of badly formed pipes, I thought I raise a lazyweb question and ask…

– is there any chance of an API call that takes the name or identifier of a council, and returns a set of rows where each row contains: committee, councillor, party affiliation (and maybe as an optional extra, the size of the majority for that candidate at the last election?) for each of the committees? (or failing that, a hierarchical results file containing the name of a committee, supported by the names of all the members of the committee (along with their affiliation and potentially their majority), for each committee?

And as I’m on the topic of local councils at the moment, here are a few more related initiatives:

– Kent County Council’s Pic and Mix data mashup site, a great example of a council getting to grips with opening up their data sets, as well as mixing in data from elsewhere. (Hmm, I wonder if their URIs conform to the latest Chief Technology Officer Council’s interim standard on the design of URIs for the UK Public Sector (available for officially recognised comment on WriteToReply: Designing URI Sets for the UK Public Sector?;-)

Where Does My Money Go?, which aims “to promote transparency and citizen engagement through the analysis and visualisation of information about UK public spending” (something else I’ve chatted to the @ventnorblog about. I quite fancied the idea of a fuel gauge for each part of a council’s budget showing how much of it had ben spent in the current financial year, along with an indication of the change since the previous meeting;-) I’ve volunteered to help out with this project where I can, so I’d obviously like to commend it to you, dear reader:-) I also need to ponder how it relates to OpenlyLocal and the Pic and Mix site…? I wonder if Kent County Council would help work with both initiatives to make their life easier, and maybe trialling the Cabinet Office/CIO URI guidelines at the same time…?;-)

Mash The State, @adrianshort‘s campaign to get an autodiscoverable RSS news feed on every local council websites is still fighting an uphill battle to reach its target of 100% of local councils publishing some sort of autodiscoverable RSS news feed by Christmas 2009. (The current tally is 118 local councils with an autodiscoverable RSS feed on their homepage, out of 434 UK local councils (that’s 27%…).) I’m not sure if MashTheState and OpenlyLocal are sharing data, but again, there are common interests there…

PS if you know of any other websites relating to local council transparency in the UK, please post a link in a comment to this post. Thanks :-)

PPS See also: Bringing the fight for data home

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

2 thoughts on “Topical Versions of Local Council Websites… Give Us the Data and We’ll Work It For You”

  1. Ask and ye shall… well, sort of. If you now ask for a list of committees via the API you will also get back the list of members for each committee (where we know it), e.g. http://openlylocal.com/committees?council_id=298 for the Isle of Wight

    The info on majorities is tricky, simply because the base info isn’t there in many cases. You’d think having clear election results is something every council would do. Unfortunately they don’t, often embedding it in PDFs (occasionally just scans of hand-written forms), or having only very recent data. Nor does the electoral commission have any info. Have thought of crowd-sourcing this problem, but open to suggestions.

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