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Monitoring Democracy with Political Watch

Words by Pablo Martín • Aug 30 2022

This article is written by one of Code for All’s newest Affiliate Members, Political Watch, an independent Spanish organization that, through the development of civic technologies, advocacy, and research, fights for a more fair, democratic, and sustainable society.

Seven people posing for a photo in front of an outdoor fountain.
Team photo in Madrid

The ‘Spanish #Occupy Movement’ and the launch of Political Watch

2011 was a year of great social effervescence in Spain. Following the 2008 financial crisis, there was widespread social discomfort, and in response to this, the 15M Movement (the Spanish Occupy) flourished in almost every Spanish town and city. All over Spain, citizen assemblies gathered to demand more democracy and a better political class.

This call for ‘more democracy’ crystallized in Spain with the simultaneous launch of a number of organizations and initiatives focused on fighting for more transparency, accountability, access to information, and public participation. In this context, Political Watch was born, as a think-and-do tank with the aim of developing civic technologies, conducting social impact research, and performing public incidence campaigns to promote a fairer, more sustainable, and more democratic society.

Political Watch believes in the potential of an active, conscious, and demanding citizenship; in the need to subject power to civic monitoring, and in the value of a capable and independent media. We contribute to reaching these ideals by providing open access to information through the development of civic technologies, promoting civic monitoring, encouraging public participation, strengthening accountability processes, and generating content and spaces that stimulate an informed public debate.

A distinctive feature of Political Watch’s work is that we always have one key, long term goal in mind with all of our projects: the promotion of policy coherence for sustainable development principles. This aims to incorporate a sustainable development focus in any decision related to the design, implementation and evaluation of public policies. It implies foreseeing and acknowledging the social, environmental and economic impacts of any public policy and doing so from a triple perspective: here & now; in future generations; and in other places (especially in the Global South). 

Our organization is composed of an interdisciplinary group of people, from civic hackers, to social researchers, journalists and designers. Together we are able to develop leading-edge technologies without losing sight of their social impact and strong human values. We also rely on a wide net of collaborators (individuals and institutions) which allow us to increase the reach and impact of our projects and actions. 

Our focus in parliamentary monitoring

Text on a yellow background that reads "The parliamentary monitoring we deserve".

Since the beginning of our civic monitoring activities, the main focus of Political Watch has always been placed in the Parliament. The Spanish democratic system, based in a parliamentary monarchy, has the Parliament as the cornerstone of the entire national political regime. Not only due to its legislative powers, but also for its capacity to monitor and orientate the activity of the Government.

QHLD, “What do parliamentarians do?” in English, is an online, parliamentary monitoring platform, which has been active for more than 10 years. The mission of this platform is to offer accessible and useful information about parliamentary activity to civil society organizations and citizens in general. To achieve this, we have developed a tool that automates information extraction from the Parliament website to analyze later. A quick note: since the beginning of the actual political cycle, our tool has processed more than 100,000 parliamentary initiatives. The analysis is done by using natural language processing methods in order to label each initiative with a set of topics from our collection (formed by 23 topics and more than 5,000 keywords). These topics are related to democratic quality and social and environmental issues.

QHLD offers an advanced online search engine as well as a personalized notification system which alerts you each time we find an initiative that matches your preselected criteria. These notifications are very useful for journalists and social organizations when they want to be up to date on a specific topic, a parliamentary group activity or the approval of a law, but they don’t have enough time to look for parliamentary news on their own. Furthermore, QHLD has a bunch of functionalities like digital cards for initiatives, parliamentary groups and deputies, that contain clear information about their work and which topics are prioritized by them.

With the aim of generating an added-value to the search engine, we have developed an algorithm called “parliamentarian footprint”. This algorithm highlights the MPs that are more relevant to the topics monitored by QHLD. This algorithm calculates all the parliamentary activity registered by each MP and weighs it according to the type of initiative (e.g. legislative proposals weigh X times more than questions to the Government) and the percentage of them that is successfully tabled. Moreover, the algorithm punishes parliamentary inactivity and rewards MPs accessibility towards citizenship. All relevant information about this algorithm on “parliamentary relevance”, can be found on the project webpage (so far only available in Spanish). 

In the end, QHLD´s main objective is to make known the parliamentary processes that are crucial for people’s rights,  sustainable development and the quality of our democracy. We also aim to acknowledge parliamentarians who are promoting this agenda, and also expose those who are hindering these objectives, or that do not fulfill their promises. 

Apart from parliamentary monitoring, Political Watch has been involved in electoral processes from a public advocacy perspective, as well as implementing information standards to compare manifestos. In addition, we have monitored the implementation of several laws and developed “follow the money” projects during the COVID-19 pandemic.  We carry out these tasks with the determination to change things. 

We would like to thank Code for All for the opportunity to participate in this vibrant network of civic hackers passionate about improving our societies and democracies. We would also like to thank each organization for the projects they are carrying out in their countries and regions. Thank you for shining a light on the fine and detailed work of thousands of citizens who are concerned about their communities and the problems they’re facing.

We will do everything we can to meet your expectations as the first Spanish organization to be part of Code for All. Keep coding for a better world!

Author picture

Pablo Martín

Civic Hacker and CTO of Political Watch

He is a civic hacker born and based in Huelva, Andalusia (Spain). He studied Computer Science with a Master in Machine Learning. He has worked in the public and private sectors (mostly on nonprofits and cooperative orgs) for more than 15 years. His main area of specialization is the design and putting into action technological processes to solve democratic challenges which, at the end of the day, help improve people’s lives.

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