Policy Positions

Like many in the web/tech sector, I’ve been following the progress of GOV.UK closely. The work they’re doing to present information clearly is fantastic.

The gov.uk team have also committed to making the information machine-readable, via JSON views and APIs.

I’ve been interested in what this might enable.

In particular, I thought I’d look at the policies section of the website. This is where the Government’s current objectives are specified. Apparently, before gov.uk, these hadn't ever been clearly written down before.

Policies represent a choice by the Government. A response to a particular problem, or a decision to take the country in one way or another.

Having good, well thought-out policies is arguably one of the most important things a Government needs to do (along with executing them). Therefore they deserve scrutiny and debate.

So I’ve built a thing to encourage people to read the policies, to form an opinion on them, and to state that position publicly.

It’s called Policy Positions. Take a look.

I’m not sure what this will lead to. Already, it’s prompted me to learn some things I otherwise would’t have.

The things I’ve learnt in the short period that the site has been in testing are firstly that it can sometimes be hard to understand a policy enough to be confident on whether you think it’s a good idea or not. With some of them, such as Developing a new high speed rail network, the policy title tells you enough. With others, such as Improving opportunities for older people, the title is so vague that it‘s impossible to understand what the policy would actually entail. So I’ve tried to encourage people to read the policy details on gov.uk itself.

The other thing I’ve learnt is that some people feel uncomfortable expressing any kind of political opinion publicly, for various reasons. I’m not sure that this is something I can particularly solve.

I’d be interested in any feedback you have on the project. It’s an experiment, so it could evolve in a number of directions.

The final thing to note is that the site stores every change that people make to the positions they take on policies. So if a major policy changes (and gov.uk helpfully maintains a changelog), it will be interesting to see if this also shifts public opinion.