Harnessing the power of Open Data (Part 1: Voting and Democracy)
What is open data?
Open data is free, publicly available data that can come in many forms - spreadsheets, online tools and APIs are some of the best examples. The data is generally collected by large entities such as governments and charities, who also maintain it so that it’s as accurate and up-to-date as possible.
Whether it’s statistics to back up the report you’re writing, visualisation tools to plot your impact on a map, or using data to put users’ choices into context, there’s a great number of benefits that can come from using open data.
In this series, I’ll introduce you to some different types of open data that could come in handy for your next project!
Part 1: Voting and Democracy Data
Does your organisation have a social or political stance? How about your users? With voting and democracy data, you can understand how your users’ voting habits compare with their local communities, point them towards their nearest polling station, and keep them in the know about who their local leaders are.
One of the best sources of open voting and democracy data is DemocracyClub. They are a non-profit, community-led organisation that work to provide freely available democracy data for all. Their range of projects provide both raw data and APIs, and they have an excellent web interface to view and interact with the data. They have data about:
- Every UK parliament and local council election
- Local polling stations - including a free lookup service which can be embedded on any website
- Election candidates
- Election results
- Organisation representatives for public services
Did you know that the majority of the UK population don’t know the name of their MP? mySociety aims to fix this, by offering TheyWorkForYou, a tool — and associated dataset — which allows anyone to look up their MP by postcode.
The tool also shows how each MP has voted on a number of important issues, from environmental policy to schooling to weapons. Alongside this, TheyWorkForYou publishes transcripts of every word spoken during parliamentary debates, and the associated WriteToThem service gives everyone an easy way to contact their MP.
In fact, mySociety offers 264 datasets, including:
- Names of all worldwide politicians
- UK political debates, written answers and statements
- Conversions of UK postcodes and coordinates to political regions
- MP registered conflicts of interest
- UK public authorities
All data is accessible via well-documented APIs, as well as a number of web services that can be used directly or embedded within external sites.
Hopefully, you can see the huge benefits of working with open data for voting and democracy. As well as helping you to understand your users, it can also be instrumental in educating the public and providing key services.
If you enjoyed this article, make sure to check out the rest of the series, where I’ll be introducing Health, Employment and Location open data sources — coming soon!