England & Wales Democracy, devolution and governance, Technology

They said it couldn’t be done! (or how we know about every candidate this May)


Photo Credit: Jstar1223 via Compfight cc

Joe Mitchell, from our Democracy Club partners in #OutfortheCount, takes a moment to celebrate a momentous achievement in opening up UK elections, but there’s more to do!  

We had a crazy idea. Based on our success at last year’s general election, creating the most comprehensive and accurate parliamentary candidate database, we thought we’d go again for the elections in May 2016.

We knew there would be loads more candidates. We thought we might get all the regional assemblies, Police and Crime Commissioner races and perhaps 1,000 local candidates. If we were lucky.

Instead — thanks to the efforts of tens of volunteers painstakingly working their way through Statements of Persons Nominated published on council websites — we’ve managed to identify virtually all the candidates!

That’s 12,493 candidates across:

  • Local elections across England
  • Mayors of London, Liverpool, Salford, Bristol
  • London Assembly
  • Police & Crime Commissioners
  • Scottish Parliament
  • National Assembly for Wales
  • Northern Ireland Assembly

We’re just tidying up the last few areas now. And there’s a few by-elections here or there.

But this level of multi-election data on candidates — well before polling day — is definitely a first for the UK!

Of course, in a bright digital future, the one we’re sometimes told about, we shouldn’t really have to ask volunteers to spend their evenings taking data from council PDFs and putting it into a Democracy Club web form. This data should be published in an open, structured format by default, by every council. We’ll blog about this after May, and try to get councils and their IT service providers to sign up to doing this.

What’s next?

We’re gathering emails and social media profiles of all these candidates. Help us out here. This will enable voters to get in touch with candidates to compare and contrast their positions.

We now need to get this data in front of people, to help raise awareness of the elections, and help people make a more informed choice.

We’ve created WhoCanIVoteFor.co.uk for this reason. There’s also Democratic Dashboard from our friends across the road at LSE.

But really, if we’re to reach millions of voters, we need a big media partner. We’re reaching out to a range of news desks, data journos and essentially anyone with an audience.

If you can help us out here, please let us know! Do you know anyone who works in media, or in any organisation able to communicate with a big audience?

All the data is available for free on an attribution and share-alike licence.

Let’s get the people’s data to the people!

And then its Out for the Count

All this work will also help us on the next big push, capturing the people’s decisions. With our LGiU partners and with support from the Open Data Institute, we’ll publish the votes against every one of those candidates we painstakingly captured as open data.

And we’ll need your help for that, too and in telling the story of the UK’s first open data election. Find out how you can join us here.