We recently did some research into links to other websites from the MP and Lords pages on beta.parliament.uk. I want to share some of the insights we found.
We started by bringing together our research on why links to other websites needed to be added. We found that:
- users need to understand an MP's background and they expected to see some background information on MPs and Lords. Linking to an MP's or Lord's own website could meet this need
- MPs’ websites often have information about surgeries as well as other ways to contact them
- MPs want to show constituents the work they do and their positions on policy areas. A link to their website would meet this need
- having a link to an MP or Lords’ website was one of the things users expect to see
We also found the majority of other sites with information about Parliament link to a representative's website.
Other organisations have also looked into the potential value of MPs and Lords linking to their websites and social media accounts. Doteveryone and the Speaker’s Digital Democracy Commission report both talk about the value of doing this.
To summarise, links benefit users because they can reveal more about the activity of an MP or Lord, highlight their views and positions on certain topics, and offer a different way to contact them.
Lack of consistency
On the current site, there’s a lot of inconsistent links on the MP and Lord pages. The majority have some form of personal website which shares the work they do in Parliament and for their constituents, as well as a Twitter or a Facebook account. Sometimes an MP or Lord has all of these.
Others display information about their role in government, their party websites, and some Lords’ websites show what they’re an expert in or notable for. These are links to things that are not specific to a person but to a body or organisation.
While I was digging around, there were a few things that highlighted the lack of consistent patterns.
There are no formal naming conventions for URLs or social media handles. It’s not uncommon to see ‘vote ____’ or dates when elections occurred, such as ‘JohnSmith2015’.
Constituencies and parties
Some websites are location-specific. For example, they reference the constituency name and the party in the URL instead of the individual. These sites often show the work of local councillors and not just updates from the MP representing that constituency.
Individual work and expertise
Perhaps most interesting are the links on the House of Lords’ members pages.
There are links that reveal interesting insights into their area of expertise or work they do outside of Parliament but don’t highlight the work they do in Parliament. For example:
- links to the foundations they’ve set up
- links to organisations they founded
- links to academic institutions they’re a part of, or the research they’ve undertaken
- links to websites related to a religion they’re a part of
- links to organisations which they still have some role in (chairperson for example)
What we’re doing next
For our first iteration on the beta site, we’re looking into structuring the links better. For example, links to a party could exist on our new party pages, or department links on government department pages. We’re going to make sure that if the link is on the MP or Lord’s page that it refers to that person and the work they do relating to Parliament.
This structure has an added benefit as it would be very easy to begin ‘cluttering’ the page with too many links. So we’re hoping to provide the most useful links to our users.
We’ve been working on this task over the past couple of weeks and should have something to show very soon. The team intend to start small and regularly review if we have the right balance and of course, make changes where necessary.
Read more about the work we've been doing on parliament.uk.