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ODI Fridays: Does more data make for better politics?

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Fri Mar 12, 2021 13:00

What can the monitoring of parliament tell us about what impact, good or bad, this is having on democracy?

Join us on Zoom at lunchtime for our regular ODI Fridays talks. Once you’ve signed up, we’ll send you the link to join.

Does more data make for better politics? Are new sources of data, on everything from expenses to voting to Wikipedia changes, altering how we think about politics? What can the monitoring of parliament tell us about what impact, good or bad, this is having on democracy?

We can now monitor the activities of our representatives in ways we couldn’t imagine a few decades ago, seeing at the push of a button how they vote, what they say and what they spend. Our new project looks at whether new platforms and sources, from TheyWorkToYou to IPSA’s expenses map, are changing the behaviour of those being watched and the attitudes of those watching.

Our findings so far show how the new data are being used by a range of people, from activists and journalists to MPs themselves. All these new sources are, at least sometimes, making MPs and Peers more accountable, and subtly impacting upon how they represent us. Data has also helped shaped the expenses expense scandal, proxy voting and reform of the House of Lords.

Together new data makes for a democracy we can shape ourselves and use to question, query, and crowds-source. It can also make those we elect more responsive and more responsible. However, in reporting on voting and expenses, the new data can sometimes reinforce old, unhappy stories we tell each other about politics and politicians.

About the speakers

Stefani Langehennig is a researcher in the Department of Politics at Birkbeck, University of London and a Senior Data Scientist in Public Policy at ICF International. She received her PhD from the University of Colorado Boulder in American politics and political methodology in 2019. Her research focuses on legislatures, public policy, and computational social science.

Ben Worthy is a Senior Lecturer in Politics at Birkbeck College. His research focuses on transparency and openness, and he has written on FOI, open data and British Politics.

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