Tracking Down Local Government Consultation Web Pages

One of the things I have on my to do list for this year is to try to get a joint paper out with Danilo Rothberg on public consultation platforms at local, national and European level.

In the UK, many local councils have an area of their website dedicated to local consultations, so my first hacky thought for a way to track them down was to scrape something together around a Google search of the form: site:gov.uk intitle:consultation intitle:council.

By chance, I stumbled across page on OpenlyLocal linking to the services offered by a particular council, which made me wonder if I could actually pull down a list of the URLs of consulation pages by council directly from OpenlyLocal.

A quick Twitter exchange with that site’s maestro, Chris Taggart/@countculture, suggested that OpenlyLocal “[s]piders the Localgov redirect urls every week… …trick is knowing the LGD service id code, and then you can get all URLs for councils with URL for it”. In addition, “It’s the OL key you need (that maps to the ldg native uid). Something like this: http://openlylocal.com/services?ldg_service_id=370“.

So, decoding that, and with a bit of extra Googling, here’s where I’m at:

  • from the esd/effective service delivery toolkit (“Facilitated by the Local Government Association (LGA) working for local government improvement so councils can serve people and places better. esd-toolkit is owned and led by the local government sector”), we can find the LGD service ID codes for services relating to consultations:
    • Council – consultation – service delivery (867): All councils are expected to consult on specific areas of their service delivery. This allows service users and other interested parties to have to opportunities to be involved in planning, prioritising and monitoring of services. It also gives customers an opportunity to see all consultation activity, both current and in the past, and a mechanism for customers to research satisfaction with service delivery, opinions about specific projects and looks at lifestyle profiles which helps us design better local services.
    • Council – consultation and community engagement (366): The local authority uses various means to consult and engage with local communities including development of community and citizens’ forums and panels, consultation events, public events, young people’s participation.
    • Council – spending plans – consultation (658): Arrangement of public meetings or other means by which citizens can be consulted on budget plans for the forthcoming year. Previous consultations may be published or available for view on request.
    • Education – consultations (49): The education authority consult with all interested parties (schools, teachers, parents, pupils) on all issues concerning education provision and in particular on any proposed changes to education within schools run by the authority.
    • Equalities and diversity – assessment and consultation (861): The LA is responsible for ensuring that equality and diversity is considered at all times both in employment policy and in the provision of services. Every authority should assess, and consult on, the impact of policy in relation to equality and diversity within their community
    • Planning – consultation (855): The involvement of the public in the planning process. When planning applications are submitted there is a comprehensive system in place which ensures that proposals are publicised in order to invite comments from the local community.
  • To pull down the URL associated with each service for each council from OpenlyLocal (URLs of the form http://openlylocal.com/services?ldg_service_id=370), we need to know the mapping from Local Service ID codes shown above to the corresponding OpenlyLocal service codes (link???)
  • The DirectGov A-Z Directory of Local Services page links to alphabetical listings of service related pages presumably keyed on the Local Gov Service ID (LGSL= in the URL?), though on a quick skim through the listings I couldn’t find any consultation related services? [Ah, I should probably have tried from here: Directgov: Find out about local consultations]
  • From the Local Directgov on the Dept for Communities and Local Government website, I found a newsletter link to Local Directgov: open datasets
  • On data.gov.uk, there’s a handy CSV data file referred to as the Local directgov services list: “This dataset is held on the Local Directgov platform which provides the deep links into Local council websites for a number of services in Directgov. The Local Authority Service details holds the local council URLS for over 240 services where the customer can directly transfer to the appropriate service page on any council in England.” The CSV data is organised as follows:
    Authority Name,SNAC,LAid,Service Name,LGSL,LGIL,Service URL
    ...
    Adur District Council,45UB,1,Find out about local consultations,867,8,http://www.adur.gov.uk/consultation/index.htm
    ...

So, that’s where I’m at… I now have a CSV file from data.gov.uk with a list of deep link URLs in to local gov websites, and a set of Local Gov Service IDs from esd that allow me to identify the links corresponding to various sorts of consultation.

If I run those URLs through an RSS/Atom feed autodiscovery service, how many open/current consultation feeds do you think I’ll find?!

PS One of of the things OpenlyLocal is managing to do is provide an abstraction/normalisation layer over the myriad local council websites. It’s interesting to compare this with the JISC funded Linking You Toolkit that surveyed URL patterns across various UK university websites and made a series of recommendations about a normalised URL scheme that could potentially be used (via URL rewrites) to provide a common URL interface over common areas of UK HE websites (a simplification that I think also fits into the spirit of normalised data presentation approach being taken with the Key Information Sets). It strikes me that an alternative scheme, at least for the purposes of building services that can map from a central service to deep links related to particular services or content areas of a university website, would be to follow the Local Gov Service ID model and come up with a set of university related services or content areas (potentially reusing those identified by the Linking You project), and then request that universities publish site maps relating deeplink URLs to the appropriate identifier.

PPS as to why I bothered with this post: I’m just trying to document/model an example of the sort of search process I go through whenever I try to find anything out… Which as you can see, is still messed up and informal, starting with Google, then moving to tapping folk I suspect might know the answer to questions I’m trying to articulate, and finally ending up by checking out data.gov.uk…

PPPS Given the full list of government consultation websites for departmental and agency consultations, I wonder: is there a service/content area coding scheme used to identify common areas of central gov department websites?

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