Research on Open Data and Transparency

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Westminster 2.0: Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy


Today the UK Parliament published the results of the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy, that recommends online voting and live social media coverage of debates. Here’s the summary:

The Commission has outlined five key targets and outlined recommendations which are a route map for the House of Commons…

1. By 2020, the House of Commons should ensure that everyone can understand what it does.
2. By 2020, Parliament should be fully interactive and digital.
3. The 2015 newly elected House of Commons should create immediately a new forum for public participation in the debating function of the House of Commons.
4. By 2020, secure online voting should be an option for all voters.
5. By 2016, all published information and broadcast footage produced by Parliament should be freely available online in formats suitable for re-use. Hansard should be available as open data by the end of 2015.

You can see the summary and full report here. This analysis describes the changes as potentially revolutionary. The recommendations certainly fit with recent changes towards a more interactive legislature, such as the House of Lords Digital Chamber and publication of datsets as well as unoffical developments by others, such as this app tracing wikipedia amendments carried out from within Westminster. mySociety also reviewed Parliament’s digital services in 2014. You can read my evidence to the Commission here.

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Secrets, Lies and Coalitions: Should Post-Election Negotiations be Secret?

British opposition Liberal Democrat LeadAn interesting point of view from Liberal-Democrat Minister David Laws reported in the Guardian on the need to keep post-election Coalition talks secret (with a Coalition of some kind looking very likely).

In a keynote speech at thinktank the Institute for Government on Monday, the Liberal Democrat MP for Yeovil said he thought that the way the coalition was formed in May 2010, without the then head of the civil service, Gus O’Donnell, in attendance, allowed politicians to “cut to the chase more quickly and have slightly more candid, productive arguments”.

He said that coalition talks are more effective when politicians don’t “feel they’re being minuted and recorded by civil servants than when they feel that everything is being done in a more public way”. Laws argued that it can be difficult for the civil service to maintain complete independence when it is drawn in to advising different political parties.

He continued: “I think it was William Hague in May 2010 who joked, when we locked Gus O’Donnell out of the door … that at least now he wouldn’t need to worry about freedom of information requests coming in about what we were discussing and, sure enough, on the very last day of the coalition talks … the civil service received the first freedom of information request from some industrious journalist asking for the minutes from all our coalition talks. We were able to say quite honestly that there were no government minutes.”

Two quick thoughts here. First, how democratic is  it to keep coalition talks secret? Second, why not just make an FOI for any emails or phone call notes (even texts?) between officials or others relating to what’s said during or after the event?