Friday, October 05, 2012

Sharing and comparing political party policies - developing an XML schema for party policies

Something I've had on the backburner for awhile has been the development of a better way to share and compare political party policies.

If you've ever looked at the policy platforms of different political parties in the same election campaign, you'd recognise that each writes their policy in a different format, including different information and a different flow.

For example, compare the way the policies are presented by the three main parties in the ACT election:
The differences in how policies are constructed and presented leads to four critical problems:
  • It is hard for average voters to quickly understand policies from different parties (as they are formatted and written in different ways)
  • It is very hard for average voters to compare policies on the same topic across parties (as they don't contain the same types of information)
  • Sharing policies with constituents through third party sites is very hard. Parties rely on their own sites and have no effective way for supporters or media to rapidly embed their policies into other websites for promotion, comparison or discussion purposes.
  • Accessibility of many party policies is poor. They are often presented as PDFs only (and not accessible ones), or in other inaccessible formats.

A solution must address the four problems:
  • Make it easy for average voters to quickly understand policies from different parties - supporting a common format and approach
  • Make it easy for average voters to compare policies from different parties - containing a standard set of information
  • Allow policies to be easily shared with third party websites, mobile apps and other digital services but keeping a single point of truth
  • Support accessibility by separating content from format
What's the best approach to achieve these four things?

An open XML schema for policies! 

Why is this the best approach?
  • Because this allows political parties to provide their policy information in an easily reusable and comparable manner, without sacrificing their ability to provide unique information important to their own policy position.
  • It preserves the party as the 'source of truth' for their policy, they can update it whenever they wish and anyone who has embedded a copy of their policies will have them automatically update (drawing on the updated XML), ensuring there's no confusion as to what a party's current policy may be. 
  • It improves openness and transparency for the party, supporting an open government agenda and helping voters and the media quickly understand what the party is communicating. 
  • It also promotes sharing, meaning that parties can enlist their supporters to communicate their policies - increasing reach and cut through across the community
To explore this idea I've created the Policy XML Schema wiki and invite others to participate in discussing and shaping this approach.

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