News Labs at Accountability Hack 2015


Last weekend, Lei He from BBC News Labs and Ransome Mupini, Edwin Lowther and Patrick Asare-Agyiri from BBC News Visual Journalism joined the Parliament’s annual hack event.

It’s the fifth edition of Accountability Hack 2015, the Parliament Hackathon. The BBC team of four developers and data journalists together with many other “hackers” turned up at the National Audit Office (NAO) on the Saturday morning with the aim of finding innovative ways of engaging the pulic more in the democratic process with open data.

We were also joined by Meg Hillier, MP for Hackney South & Shoreditch and 2015 Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, who expressed her vision for a more honest Parliament driven by “citizen auditors”.

What is the AccHack?

Accountability Hack is a two-day event bringing together the UK’s civic tech community to connect people with Parliament and democracy and to improve accountability and public sector data.

What are the challenges for AccHack2015?

  • NAO challenge: Use spend data and any other data set to improve accountability;
  • Parliament challenge: Best use of linked data to improve accountability;
  • ONS challenge: Use the ONS OpenAPI to improve accountability;
  • Wildcard challenge: Use any three open data sets to improve accountability.

What was our idea?

Initially we had been trying to create a tool to help voters scrutinize local government spending, to see whether some councils were getting better or worse deals on major procurement spending – a vital task, and one which many believe has not been properly carried out since the Audit Commission was abolished. When we saw the Spend Network website, we thought that this would be the perfect data source to help with our aim, but as we scratched beneath the surface we realized that sadly, the data underpinning it was too patchy to be of much use to us.

After our initial idea failed, we reviewed the personas and user needs and found one interesting need: “As a user I need to know the MP I want to vote for or my current MP is upstanding”. In order to address this need and many other needs related to MPs, we came up with the idea of helping the voters engage more in the political process by helping them to relate to MPs more as people, rather than as a distant ruling elite.

How did we do it?

BBC team hacking at AccHack2015
BBC team hacking at AccHack2015 (Photo Credit: Accountability Hack 2015)

The project is called “What Are They Like?”. It takes text from MPs’ speeches in Parliament using the TheyWorkForYou API and tries to find out about their personalities using the IBM Watson personality insights API. The data is pre-loaded into JSON then served up on an easy to use webapp. We also used BBC News Labs’ Juicer API to surface the recent news coverage about MPs in order to help the public get more informed about their MPs.

What are they like
“What are they like?” - A hack project by the BBC team at AccHack2015 (Photo Credit: Accountability Hack 2015)

“Show and tell…”

Get in touch

Tweet us at @BBC_News_Labs if you want to find out more.