A UK charity has built a searchable database of parliamentary proceedings, making it easy for constituents to monitor their representative’s voting record. On TheyWorkForYou, voters can see how every politician has voted – or abstained from voting – on key issues ranging from climate change to bankers’ bonuses. The site, run by mySociety, aims to make government accessible to all citizens.
Results & Impact
TheyWorkForYou receives some 150,000 unique visitors a month, a figure that more than doubles in the run up to a general election. MySociety's efforts have inspired the UK government to offer more accessible data on parliamentary proceedings. The Open Data Institute reports that the site has changed the way that some parliamentarians vote: they are voting against their party more often, and showing up for more votes.
TheyWorkForYou, mySociety, UK Government
The database covers Westminster, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly. TheyWorkForYou scrapes data from a number of sources, including Public Whip, Democracy Club, MapIt and official parliamentary websites. Data compiled for the searchable log of parliamentary debates comes from Extensible Markup Language (XML) released by the UK government every morning. All code is open source, meaning that anyone can use it for their own project. In addition to making use of governmental data, TWFY has also worked with the government to improve its digital strategy, and make its data more readily accessible to users.
Cost & Value
The Open Data Institute reports that the monetised time savings for journalists and civil society groups likely run up to a million pounds a year.
Running since 2004
In its 13 years of operation, TheyWorkForYou has had difficulty expanding its demographics. Its typical user is white, highly educated, politically engaged and 45 to 55 years old. To diversify its userbase, the site holds youth engagement conferences, in which it works with young people to expand their understanding of the UK's political and media landscapes.
A UK charity has built a parliamentary monitoring website with a database of politicians’ voting histories and a searchable archive of every word spoken in Parliament.
On TheyWorkForYou (TWFY), voters can see how every elected and nonelected representative has voted – or abstained from voting – on a range of critical issues, from gay rights to climate change to bankers’ bonuses. Alongside its goal of making Parliament – the UK’s legislative body – more accessible to every citizen, the monitoring site has impelled government to be more open with its data.
“This is one way in which we’ve been really effective: we’ve almost forced – but not in a combative way, just by providing a really good service – the UK government to be better at providing information to citizens,” said Jen Bramley, International Projects Manager at mySociety, the charity that runs TWFY. “Sometimes it’s easier to find information on our sites than official UK government sites.”
TWFY has also worked directly with government to improve its digital strategy by making official data more transparent and easy to scrape.
The Open Data Institute (ODI) reports that the monitoring site has changed the way that some parliamentarians vote: they are voting against their party more often, and showing up for more votes. The ODI also reports that the monetised time savings for journalists and civil society groups likely run up to a million pounds a year.
MySociety started TWFY in 2004, before open data reforms in the UK. The site receives some 150,000 unique visitors a month, a figure that more than doubles in the run up to a general election. TWFY does not know how many civil servants make use of the site, but Bramley said their Google Analytics data reveals that a great deal of users come from inside Parliament.
The database covers Westminster, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly. The most popular feature on the site is the postcode search, which voters can use to call up a detailed analysis of their representative’s record. TWFY also features Hansard, a searchable database of every parliamentary debate since 1935. While the UK Parliament also has this information available online, TWFY makes it user-friendly by highlighting each speaker’s contribution with a photo of their face alongside their name, party and position. Each debate has its own permalink that allows for easy sharing. Users can also set email alerts related to specific topics or representatives, and write directly to their representatives on a sister site, WriteToThem.
The biggest challenge faced by TWFY is expanding its demographics. “We find our users are mainly in the 45 to 55 years old age bracket. They tend to be middle class, highly educated, politically engaged, white – and privileged, with a huge amount of access to voice their opinions. Ideally, we want to make the site more available to groups that don’t have the ability to express their opinions so easily,” said Bramley.
In an effort to bring more young people to the site, Bramley and her colleagues have held youth engagement focus groups in Manchester and Brighton. TWFY speaks to young people about key issues, such as how to feel comfortable speaking to friends about political issues and how to understand what is and is not fake news.
The website scrapes data from a number of websites, including: Public Whip, Democracy Club, MapIt and official parliamentary sources. The site also has historical voting data going back to the 1600s, collated by a TWFY employee. Hansard data comes from Extensible Markup Language (XML) released by the UK government every morning. All TWFY code is open source, meaning that anyone can use it for their own project.
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