09 November 2010

Who's Lobbying Whom?

One of the frustrating things about being on the side of right, justice, logic and the rest is that all of these are trumped by naked insider power - just look at ACTA, which is a monument to closed-door deals that include rich and powerful industry groups, but expressly exclude the little people like you and me.

Against that background, it becomes easy to understand why Larry Lessig decided to move on from promoting copyright reform to tackling corruption in the US political machine. The rise of great sites like the Sunlight Foundation, whose tagline is "Making Government Transparent and Accountable" is further evidence of how much effort is going into this in the US.

The UK is lagging somewhat, despite the fact that in terms of pure open data from government sources, we're probably "ahead". But it's clear that more and more people are turning their thoughts to this area - not least because they have made the same mental journey as Lessig: we've got to do this if we are to counter the efforts of big business to get what they want regardless of whether it's right, fair or even sensible.

Here's a further sign of progress on this side of the pond:

We are excited to announce the Who’s Lobbying site launches today! The site opens with an analysis of ministerial meetings with outside interests, based on the reports released by UK government departments in October.

That analysis consists of treemaps - zoomable representations of how much time is spent with various organisations and their lobbyists:

For example, the treemap shows about a quarter of the Department of Energy and Climate Change meetings are with power companies. Only a small fraction are with environmental or climate change organisations.

It's still a little clunky at the moment, but it gives a glimpse of what might be possible: a quick and effortless consolidated picture of who's getting chummy with whom. As the cliché has it, knowledge is power, and that's certainly the case here: the more we can point to facts about disproportionate time spent with those backing one side of arguments, the easier it will be to insist on an equal hearing. And once that happens, we will be halfway there; after all, we *do* have right on our side...

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Rob said...

Glyn, thanks for doing a post about the Who's Lobbying site launch. If you have any ideas about how to make it a little less clunky, drop me a dm.

We'll be adding more data sources to the site over the coming months - to reveal a more comprehensive view of what's happening.

Rob - @whoslobbying

Glyn Moody said...

@Rob: I meant "clunky" as in early version, nothing serious.

I suppose the main problem I had was finding stuff of interest - that is, it's hard to know where to look when you're browsing. Not quite sure how this can be addressed...maybe just via the search engine.

Great project though - good luck with future versions.

Rob said...

Making the information accessible is a hard problem. The treemap overviews for browsing was one experiment to make exploring the data easier.

Here's something you may find interesting - meetings with Nick Hurd, Minister for Civil Society on music licensing: http://whoslobbying.com/uk/cabinet_office#meeting_on_music_licensing


Glyn Moody said...

@Rob: I think treemaps are a nice idea, but not quite there yet...

And yes, those were precisely the kind of meetings I immediately started looking for - thanks.

This will be very useful....