4/7/2012

Data Journalism Awards featured winner - Transparent Politics

 

The winners of the 2012 edition of the Data Journalism Awards were announced on 31 May during a ceremony held at the News World Summit in Paris. In this series of posts we will present each of the six winning projects to understand their relevance to the field of data journalism and provide an overview of the tools and methods used by participants.

The winning project to be showcased here, Transparent Politics, achieved a first place under the category Data-Driven Applications, national/international category. To see the jury comments click here.

 

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Distribution of votes in the Swiss parliament for the issue of asylum law

People in Switzerland feel a need for more transparent politics and for being able to trace the state’s decision-making process. Transparent Politics, a project of the Swiss start-up Politnetz, visualises the votes of the Swiss parliament and gives citizens the possibility to track what the politicians they elected vote for, and compare their number of absences in parliamentary sessions. The goal is to enable citizens to take more informed decisions in future elections.

The entire Polinetz team worked on the project: Thomas Bigliel (CEO and community manager), Gabriel Hase and Lukas Peyer (former lead developers), Markus Koller (developer), Adrienne Fichter (former community manager), Raphaël Leuenberger (community manager), Sabina Navaratnam (community manager), and Luca Farinelli (sales). The team spent about three weeks developing the initial prototype for the parliamentary session in winter 2011, and has since continued working on fully automating the process so that future votes can be imported and visualised with no manual work. For the summer 2012 session the visualisations have also been integrated into the official website of the Swiss parliament (also available in French).

"The biggest challenge initially was understanding how the council sessions are organised. It was necessary to know this in order to present all this data to citizens in a way that is simple and easy to understand. Once we had this sorted, we had the challenge of getting the actual data on the vote results. This data isn't available in a machine-readable format (e.g. XML, JSON, etc.) so we had to deal with the official PDF transcripts of the votes and develop our own parser for them. To make matters worse the markup of these PDFs isn't always consistent (e.g. names are written differently in different transcripts), so we constantly have to tweak and refine our system. The tools we used to develop this were Ruby on Rails and RaphaëlJS, among others."

The project was very well received by politicians and citizens alike. "The only person not so fond of our project was the politician that turned out to be absent most often from the parliamentary sessions," says the team behind the project.


Advice for aspiring data journalists

"Transparency in politics is a stringent need for citizens of modern democracies. You don't have to start a project of the scale of Wikileaks to be successful, just think of simple and useful ways to make government data more accessible and go for it! (If you are a Swiss newspaper journalist and would like to do something with the parliament votes, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).)                                                         

 

The Data Journalism Awards is a Global Editors Network initiative supported by Google and organized in collaboration with the European Journalism Centre. Please visit the Data Journalism Awards website for the full list of winners.

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