data.parliament for Starters

I am a business analyst in the Data.Parliament team, looking at the business processes that provide information to Data.Parliament.

I went along to last week’s Accountability Hack with the rest of the team, with the aim to see what a non- techie, with no database or programming tools, could achieve using the Data.Parliament website.

We have a potential audience who are interested in the data, but may also only have the skills and technology of Microsoft Excel or similar to hand.

I therefore left the developers to their JSON and RDF etc. and tried a few things with the web screens and downloading CSV files, which will open in Excel, to see if I could do any interesting analyses.

I found the page at really useful. This lists all the available “endpoints” which are basic query forms (click “Show Search Form”) for selecting a subset of the data in a particular dataset. This allows you to select, for instance, all Early day Motions (EDMs) within a range of dates, and then displays the results found on screen. Clicking the CSV link at the top right then downloads the file to your computer, which you can then open in Excel.

Excel then provides really good tools, such as pivot chart, to do analyses of this data. By resaving the file as a normal Excel “.xlsx” full Excel functionality is available. I was able to visualise the data and chart “number of EDMs tabled in 2014 mentioning Children, by party, by party of member raising the EDM, and by popularity (number of signatures)” , and finally showing a 3D Surface graph of MPs signing the most EDM’s and here’s the Excel workbook by Party worksheet) There are a some other visualisations in this workbook as well.

A couple of tips about the interface at the moment:

  • If you want to see all the data fields about each item on a dataset, you may need to click the “all” link on the right-hand ‘view’ panel (e.g. to show the names of all the members on a division). Also the default is to only bring back the first 10 records – so if you want more – increase this to 50, inspect the URL for the page (e.g. ) and keep increasing the page number from 0 to get subsequent items. This is a bit cumbersome, so the team are looking at some improvements in this area.
  • Date formats for the filters on the endpoints are “2014-11-03”
  • Note that filters on text fields are exact matches rather than ‘contains’ type matches.
  • If you’re comfortable with a slightly more advanced use of Excel, try the XML import option – this may make combining datasets easier.

Finally, thanks to our colleagues in Parliament’s Web and Internet Service for their work in the organisation of the Accountability Hack

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