What makes for effective and meaningful parliamentary online public engagement?

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Politics and International Studies


In my eyes this project involves going back to basics. The aim is to emulate a natural face to face discussion, over the internet. Naturally when we are conversing, our brain will do all the hard work in analysing someone's words, actions and body language, and tone to decipher what they really mean from what comes out of their mouth. This will then influence the subsequent decisions we make. This becomes increasingly difficult through written text, and as such, existing systems in place for capturing and analysing this data are not adequate. Therefore, the role of this project is to create a system in which real insights can be gleaned directly from the words of the people we need to listen to most, the citezans. As a data scientist, understanding not only how to collect the data, but what it means on a grander scale or the big picture is crucial in completing the job. As a linguist, I understand the underlying elements of not just English, but all natural language, how to map that into predicate logic computations and rules, and the pragmatics that feature in language. I intend to combine the knowledge from these two disciplines to bring a novel perspective to this project, one that does not just focus on the politics, computing, or statistical theory, but always has the different areas in mind, ready to create a well-rounded and sustainable product. The project can be broken down by years; in the first year I aim to have a good grasp on the processes already in place, understanding the business problem at hand from the people who will be using the tool on a daily basis, and the opportunity to collect and analyse the existing data to complete quality and missingness checks. In the second year, I aim to create some preliminary exploratory tools to better capture the data and improve analysis. These will be tested and the results analysed and compared, and in the final year I will use those results to create an implement the completed tool for future use. As I predict the volume of data to be large and constant, I would look to use a big data system such as Apache Spark with Hadoop and Apache Streaming for real-time data analysis if necessary. This would of course depend on the existing system in place and how it integrates.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000746/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
1944386 Studentship ES/P000746/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2020 Nicole Nisbett
Description During this Phd I have thoroughly analysed many online public engagement activities run by the UK Parliament. I have identified several internal barriers to engagement and created a purpose-built web application to ameliorate these barriers. This application allows parliamentary staff to use natural language processing techniques during the analysis of large scale digital engagement activities. This makes reading through comments left by the public much easier and quicker, creating opportunities for further engagement sessions to take place, and making it easier to close the feedback loop of engagement.
I have also mapped the organisational structure of teams within the UK Parliament with a remit for digital engagement. This includes both Houses and explains their roles, the type of data they deal with, and which wider department they fall under. This makes it much easier to understand who is involved internally in parliamentary engagement and how they might work together. This can also help to reduce the organisational silos which exist in the institution.
Exploitation Route The web application can be used by a wide range of people within Parliament dealing with all types of textual data. The review of digital engagement in the UK Parliament may also help future researchers to understand the complexities of working with a parliament and how different types of engagement can lead to different outcomes.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Government, Democracy and Justice

Description My findings have been used internally in the House of Commons to improve the understanding and analysis of the digital engagement activities. This allows teams to hold more engagement activities and create opportunities for the public to be involved in decision-making. I have been asked to contribute to the public engagement strategy which will guide best practice over the next 5 years. I have also submitted to select committee inquiries who have used my research to assess how they receive evidence from the public during inquiries.
Sector Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Reference in select committee reports
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
Description ESRC LSSI Impact Acceleration Account
Amount £1,800 (GBP)
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2018 
End 09/2018
Description SoBigData Transnational Access Award
Amount € 3,500 (EUR)
Funding ID 654024 
Organisation European Commission H2020 
Sector Public
Country Belgium
Start 10/2018 
End 11/2018
Description SoBigData Transnational Access Award
Amount € 4,500 (EUR)
Funding ID 654024 
Organisation European Commission H2020 
Sector Public
Country Belgium
Start 07/2019 
End 08/2019
Title TheGist 
Description TheGist is a text analysis web application which uses elements of natural language processing including key-word extraction, topic modelling, and sentiment analysis to analyse large volumes of text. 
Type Of Material Data analysis technique 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact It can be used by the House of Commons digital engagement team to analyse the social media comments collected from their digital engagement activites 
Description House of Commons 
Organisation House of Commons
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The phd is in collaboration with the House of Commons, specifically the Digital Engagement team and certain select committees. My main contribution has been through my skills in data analytics specifically natural language processing to analyse the large volumes of textual data collected through online engagement activities. I have also created a web application for the team to use analyse their data easily once my Phd is over.
Collaborator Contribution The House of Commons has contributed with access to the parliamentary estate (through a parliamentary pass), and access to their teams and the data they collect. I have been able to meet with parliamentary staff dealing with engagement in various departments. Their expertise in the different types of engagement done in Parliament has also been very valuable to my phd.
Impact Web application for text analysis
Start Year 2017
Description Scottish Parliament Participation Network 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I presented my work to the Scottish Parliament's Participation Network meeting: using evidence from public engagement to influence policy. I focussed on how digital engagement is used in the UK Parliament and the steps they are taking to improve and facilitate this. The network also shared their practice in digital engagement.

I returned to the Scottish Parliament to help run two workshops to Modern Studies teachers on encouraging youth to engage online with Parliament. This was held as part of the Scottish Modern Studies Association.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019,2020