2021 - Week 38

Theseus’s ship of state

The week did not get off to a terribly good start. Over the weekend, Twitter lit up with talk of the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government transmogrifying into the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities. Lots of people succumbed to rapid reckons about what this might mean for policy and what the appropriate acronym might be. Librarians being librarians and computational experts being computational experts, these matters did not concern us. We are really more about the things than the strings, so our minds turned to whether this might be a brand new thing or merely the same thing with a different name. All of that being slightly academic, as the system we use lacks the ability to time-bound a name. Which means we either plump for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities having an existence long prior to its coming into being. Or we close the old thing and create a new one. The latter option being the one plumped for.

Any changes in government departments present problems for us. The system we use to manage them having two records: the one describing the department and the one describing the department as an answering body. Which means every department has two identifiers. And whilst the question and answer system in the House of Commons uses one of these identifiers, the question and answer system in the House of Lords uses the other. In order to ingest questions - and indeed their answers - into our Search and Indexing triple store, department identifiers need to be mapped to their equivalents in the Parliament Thesauri. Which means we now have three identifiers and two mappings. Or four if you factor in the need to add the new department to our data platform for the purposes of being both a laying body and - at least potentially - a lead department for treaty related shenanigans.

None of this was made any easier by both Anya - who has long experience of such matters - and Sadia - the keeper of the scripts - being on vacation. All hands were to be found on deck as librarians Anna, Phil and Ned and computational experts Jianhan, Ian and Michael plugged assorted identifier gaps. And by the end of the day - or close of play as we like to say - all gaps were indeed plugged. So that was Monday. And a small part of Tuesday.

Public bills (slight return)

Following on from the previous week’s mapping exercise, librarians Jayne and Claire and computational expert Michael spent part of Thursday on the mind-numbing tasks of entering and checking data for our prerogative consent component procedures. And declared themselves happy.

With time to spare they also started to tinker with the public bill map proper, making a small start on the logic required to declare a bill to be in a House and a bill to have left a House. Both somewhat more difficult than expected when there are carry over motions and the invocation of the Parliament Act to take into account. Not content with that, they also went on an Erskine May hunt and are now slightly more sure why they mapped Ten Minute Rule bills having motions to adjourn in the first place. More of which next week.

On the enabling of enabled things

Some time back - your correspondents forget quite when - we tweaked our legislation model to include both enabling things and the things they enable. The impetus for which was JO Jane’s desire to identify proposed negative statutory instruments by their enabling Act and to separate those enabled by the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 from those enabled by the European Union (Future Relationship) Act 2020. Since then we’ve been looking to add enabling Acts to all of our SIs, the source of our Act data being resources in our Search and Indexing triple store. A source that was not entirely clean. Our Sadia and Jianhan have been hard at work for quite a while cleaning and polishing to a fine gleam. That work is now complete. Which means both our search service and our SI service benefit. Lovely stuff.

Tweaking our tweaty maps

It’s been a while since we had to tweak our treaty map, but week 37 saw the first report published by the brand spanking new European Affairs Committee. So librarians Jayne and Phil and computational expert Michael spent an hour or so adding new steps covering calls for evidence, the opening of inquiries, considerations and Government responses. And because we’re still running with route-type based maps in live and step-type based maps in staging they had to do it all twice. Over in step-type land, what was our International Agreements Committee component map is now our International Agreements Committee and European Affairs Committee component map, because one such committee considering precludes the other from doing likewise. By the end of the day, Jayne had re-actualised the Free Trade Agreement between Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and the UK and our new steps and links were live. Not content with that, she also knocked up a new query for those of a more SPARQL mindset. Because of course she did.

Questions and answers thereto

Week 36 saw Anya and Michael joined by Table Office Matt for an illuminating session on the process flow for House of Lords’ written questions and answers. A wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling whiteboard was filled with some of the contents of Matt’s head. This week Michael spent way too much time decanting the contents of said whiteboard into something more shareable. If you’ve ever found yourself hunting for a swimlane style diagram of questions and answers, this is your one stop shop. Or at least will be when we’ve covered off a couple more questions, done the same for the House of Commons, better understand how things work in Government and better understand how data flows between our own systems. That said, Michael remains proud of his efforts. If he keeps this up, this time next time he could be a business analyst. Or even a service designer.

Taking a brush to Rush

Librarians Anna and Ayesha have completed the tidying of some of the tables in the Rush database. Where we did have a ragbag of titles, genders, education levels and countries of birth, all such lists are now controlled. Or at least will be when James takes our tidying and normalises the results into new tables. Top work Anna and Ayesha.

Prodding the prodder

Returning reinvigorated from his much deserved vacation, young Robert has turned his pixel polishing upon our early attempts at a MNIS prodder. MNIS being the Members’ Names Information Service and our prodder being a very thin HTML wrapper atop its Member query API. We remain hopeful that simple - lists of Members filtered by X, Y and Z - style enquiries might be answered by researchers in the Libraries and elsewhere without recourse to parsing XML. Or at least, that that will be possible when we’ve finished adding the assorted filters.

On matters ontological

Librarian Ned, young Robert and Michael got together with the intention of turning our recent geographical explorations into something more ontological. But again got distracted by making minor tweaks to our peerage model. What was an extinction date for a peerage has now been split into either an extinction date or a date on which the peerage was merged into the Crown. A quick chat with Silver confirmed Michael’s suspicions that the utility model could do with a spring clean. We now bind all time related properties to the Temporal Thing class we’ve just defined there. Which allowed us to remove a little of the cruft in both the peerage model and the time period model.

Next week we fully intend to get stuck into geographies, although having said that, there is still the small matter of writs of acceleration to deal with. A matter which has caused some confusion with nobody being quite sure if a person in receipt of such a writ holds the title or merely uses it. A matter we hope the email sent to David, Paul and College of Arms Grant might finally settle.