ParlRulesData.org aims to make available historical, machine-readable records of parliamentary rules ("standing orders", or "rules of procedure") over prolonged periods of time.
Our project is unique, both in its historical scope and in the way that our data is generated and structured. The UK House of Commons dataset, published in 2019, marks the first major ParlRules release spanning over 200 years of UK parliamentary history. Over the coming years, we will extend our data gathering efforts to other legislative chambers in Europe.
The data itself has been specifically designed to aid computational analysis. We employ a system of root numbers that uniquely identify sub-articles over the course of their "life". Users can therefore easily trace the history of an article over its entire existence, and review how it has evolved through successive parliamentary sessions. As the data is machine-readable and available in JSON, XML, and CSV formats, users can further employ their software of choice to run their own analyses.
The ParlRules project is part of a larger trend in academia to digitise and analyse large volumes of data. We see such efforts across disciplines, in the digital humanities, linguistics, history, and political science. And not without reason: as we gain access to larger volumes of data, often going back hundreds of years, researchers are able to answer a wealth of new questions. Such questions may include tracing the authorship of age-old texts in historical linguistics, investigating the evolution of political discourse, or, in our case, tracing institutional parliamentary history.
The relevance of these projects extends beyond academia. This is particularly so with the standing orders that apply in a legislative chamber: Parliamentary rules have an important effect on our daily lives, even though we may not always by aware of the myriad ways in which these influences play out.
Parliamentary rules determine whom of our politicians gets to speak and when, affecting their electoral success and their public reputations. Standing orders also affect public policy through committee procedures, the distribution of agenda-setting powers, and determining which bills are debated on the floor. As they set the rules of the game of the legislative arena, legislative rules may also facilitate or impede the powers of individual legislators vis-à-vis their parties, affecting the dynamics of representation. Finally, the abuse or lack of parliamentary rules can have detrimental effects on legislative outcomes, playing into questions of the quality of democracy.
For all these reasons, the ParlRules project is committed to facilitating the study of the evolution of parliamentary rules and their effects.
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