Hansard at Huddersfield: making the parliamentary record more accessible

Lead Research Organisation: University of Huddersfield
Department Name: Sch of Music Humanities & Media

Abstract

The Hansard at Huddersfield project aims to produce a user-friendly web-based version of Hansard, the record of the UK parliament, which will enable both professionals with an interest in the workings of government and the public to see how their concerns are addressed by politicians. The Hansard at Huddersfield project builds on another recent project which annotated the whole of the historic database of Hansard with 'tags' enabling users to distinguish between synonyms such as 'Labour' (Party) and 'labour' (relations) and to trace historical development of topics, despite the different vocabulary that is used at different periods. The Hansard at Huddersfield project will make this annotated database freely available through a website and offer a range of easy-to-use search facilities with associated visualisations, which make the rich resource of Hansard more useful to a wide range of people and more informative for non-expert users.

Hansard has been published since the 17th century in paper form and in recent years a scanned database of the years 1803-2005 was made available online, alongside the more recent material of ongoing parliamentary business in a different format. Hansard is, therefore, a hugely rich resource for those interested in the workings of government, the language of governance, and historical changes in the concerns of the UK parliament. However, the current methods of accessing the database are unfortunately rather inflexible and require considerable levels of knowledge of the internal workings of parliament in order to make sense of the search findings.

The team of researchers based at the University of Huddersfield is led by Professor Lesley Jeffries and includes Dr Alex von Lunen, who is the technical lead on the project. They are joined by Professor Marc Alexander, from the University of Glasgow, who was the lead researcher in the previous project which annotated the Hansard database. The team will be completed by a research programmer RA and an administrator.

The project team will work closely with collaborators from a diverse group of organisations which share a professional interest in the deliberations of parliament. These include political parties, pressure groups, local authorities and think tanks. Rather than dictating which aspects of the Hansard material will be most readily available through our website, we will work alongside this representative group of likely-end users to develop a responsive and helpful tool, which will meet real world needs. The project will thus depend on a series of consultations with these end-users, both through questionnaires and face-to-face meetings, to establish the optimum set of searches and best formats for their results to suit the end-users. The programming and design of the website will respond to this collecting of responses in order to best match the needs of future users of the site.

During the project, the team will aim to widen the group of end-users to include more and different types of end-user. In addition, the two launch events, in Huddersfield and London, will aim not only to celebrate the outcome of the project, but also to broaden the public awareness of the website and of Hansard itself.

Planned Impact

Hansard - the public record of the U.K.'s Houses of Parliament - offers a potentially transformative resource for anyone wishing to learn more about the decision-making processes and language of the government as well as how the topics they care about are treated by those in power. However, the only online version is difficult to search, severely restricting its use. The Hansard at Huddersfield project aims to make Hansard more accessible by creating a new user-friendly web interface. This will make it easier to search and for anyone to explore topics of interest. It will also produce informative visual analyses of the data, which can be used to share and explain trends and findings.
The accessible website will be of particular use to professionals for whom debate in parliament is a vital source of base information. They will be able to use the site to underpin their work, leading to a high likelihood of impact on the areas their work feeds into, including policy-making and legislation, democracy, public services, environmental and civic planning as well as in raising public awareness and understanding of economic and societal issues.

The following is our initial list of such end-users and the reasons they are likely to be interested in the site:
- Political parties - working on policy areas and wanting to see how they have been treated in parliamentary debate.
- Pressure groups - finding out what politicians have said about their area(s) of concern.
- Think Tanks - working on a range of social and other policies who want to know how they have been approached at different times and by different groups of politicians.
- Local Authorities - working on policies relating to the division of labour between government and local democracy.
- Archivists and museum curators - drawing on the database as a research tool to informing and enhance their response to public enquiries and the production of exhibitions and interpretation.
- Journalists - working on (news) stories of political relevance which have been debated in parliament.
- School, and college teachers across the world - using the visualisations generated by the database to explain change over time to their pupils/students and to help them become aware of the way in which democratic debate works.
- Hansard - making its contribution to democracy more relevant by promoting the project to the public.
The work of these initial users directly impacts on the lives of the public, shaping the political and democratic landscape in which they are situated and the information available to them. These key stakeholders are also 'knowledge brokers' whose work has an extensive reach.
Through their connections to the public, we anticipate that the collaborating organisations will facilitate more widespread use of the site by, for example: amateur social historians; grassroots organisations; community and residents' groups; consumers of news; museum visitors; school and college students; activists; readers of political and policy-related journalism; interest groups affected by policy.

The development of an increasingly wide end-user community for this website is one of the intended results of this project. Whilst the initial stages involve small numbers of specific professional users, we expect that the number and type of end-users will grow rapidly once there are some visible results from searches.
We aim to ensure that all such end-users will not only use the outputs from the website in their work (and acknowledge its source) but also promote the site itself through their websites, social media and print publications. This will bring the site to the notice of other similar organisations and the public, depending on the nature of the original end-user. Eventually, it is hoped that Hansard will become a key tool for the broad range of users detailed above, which is embedded into their research processes, re-shaping the relationship between the public and parliament.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description It is early days, but the website has gone live and been launched in the UK parliament. End-users are beginning to feedback their uses of the website and any problems they encounter. We are in the process of building up training materials to encourage innovative use of the data and we will be touring a workshop round the country in the next six months to develop the end-user community. The uses of the website so far are to answer burning questions about how parliamentary debate has changed over time, for example whether MPs are more or less constituency-oriented (more; whether council housing has given way to social housing (and later affordable housing) as a concern of the House of Commons (yes); whether 'correlation' is an argumentation strategy more called upon in recent times (yes). These users hail from policy thinktanks, other academic subjects (politics and history) and NGOs so far.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Title Visualizations of/interface to the database of Hansard Proceedings 
Description We developed a web application to provide a better interface for the Hansard Proceedings from 1803--2004. This interface comprises of a combination of full-text search and visualizations to guide the user's search; also, visualizations to browse the data set were implemented. 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2019 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact Searching of the Hansard corpus is now much more intuitive, as we created a more user-friendly interface to narrow down searches. Exisiting Hansard search facilities lacked this easy-to-access interface. 
URL https://hansard.hud.ac.uk
 
Description End-user meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact We invited prospective end-users of our website, from a range of backgrounds, to attend two meetings in London and two in Huddersfield as part of the process of developing a responsive product which would meet the needs of these groups. We presented the interim stage of the development and asked for feedback.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018