Houses of the Oireachtas revamping their website

Revamping their terrible, terrible website, I should add.

I went looking for answers to a Parliamentary Question recently and was stumped. Searching the site turned up nothing. I could find the questions, but not the answers.

I tried Google, my usual method of getting past awful state site interfaces, but it drew a blank too. However it did taunt me by showing me the Scottish Parliament’s easy to find Parliamentary questions and answers section.

So, in a burst of interference, I emailed the site’s managers.

Like so:

Hello there
I am having trouble finding the answers to written Parliamentary Questions on the Oireachtas Site. Can you make this more obvious, possibly along the lines of the Scottish parliament’s site?

http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/business/pqa/

Thanks.

I recieved a very interesting reply yesterday.

Dear Sir,

Thank you for using our web site, and for taking the trouble to contact us.

The Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas is currently migrating systems to XML based systems to take advantage of initiatives in eparliament and eDemocracy. We are investing significantly in a number of ICT projects to update areas of work such as

The Production of Journals and Order Papers
The Legislative Process
The Debates Function
Translations Service
Parliamentary Questions

A project to transform the processing of questions has begun, with a view to developing a prototype editor to assist Departments with their replies. As the project progresses in 2006, it will become clearer as to how best to publish the practice on the web site.

At this point I cannot advise as to how exactly written answers will be published in the new system, however, I will keep your comments on file for periodic review. I will also copy your comments and this reply to our General Office for inclusion at the next development meeting of the project team.

Thank you again for your comments and for using our site.

From the desk of;

eDemocracy Unit
Leinster House
Dublin 2

I am not a technical person. But I’m sure technical people could think of excellent ways that this kind of info could be used. In particular, I’m thinking of the ways in which parliamentary data has been reused by the people behind FaxYourMP.com and TheyWorkForYou.com. If anyone does have any ideas, leave a comment or trackback. We’ll see if we can get the bright sparks in the General Office some good reading at their next development meeting by emailing the democracy unit at [email protected] any good notions.

And whatever result comes out of the revamp, it literally can’t be worse then what’s there now. Unless they decide to model themselves on the EU’s site.

Which is the worst site in the world.

And, incidentally, if you want to find the answers to written parliamentary questions, they are tagged on to the end of every day’s Dail Report.

2 Comments

  • celtictigger says:

    Wadddefook is a ‘prototype editor’?

    There are countless commercial and open source document editing tools that support export to XML templates (MS Office XP and MS Sharepoint, or OpenOffice spring to mind). Sharepoint would allow the text of any reply to go through a series of reviews before being published to a publicly accessible webpage.

    Check out http://www.microsoft.com/sharepoint (or even http://www.wordpress.com).

    Or are they developing a tool that enables them to edit prototypes? Which of the Big 5 consulting companies is advising them on this bespoke development when an off-the-shelf solution may (in all probability) exist?

  • Simon says:

    I think they already have it in XML format. The big project is trying to find useful and easy ways to use that info. I’m hoping for a series of feeds on different topics/Ministers/TDs speeches that you could subscribe to.

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