The House of Commons Library is an independent research unit, here in the UK Parliament. MPs need to know an awful lot about an awful lot, which is where we come in. Accurate, unbiased information can be hard to find, but we have loads of it. We publish around 900 research briefings each year online, for anyone to read.
But if you are going to read our briefings, you need to know they exist in the first place. This is why we've been working on growing our public profile over the past couple of years. It's also one of the reasons we're here writing guest posts on the PDS blog.
You’ll hear from different team members across the Library over the next few months. If you’ve got any questions, or just want to let us know what you think of our posts, you can leave a comment in the comments box below. And to keep up to date with what we’re doing you can follow us on Twitter.
The ultimate pub quiz
Ever wondered who the youngest ever MP was? Or wanted to know how many times the Prime Minister has missed Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs)? Or needed a list of all the leaders of the main political parties since the 1970s? Parliament: facts and figures answers these questions and more.
It’s a series of publications on Parliament and government compiled by my colleagues here in the House of Commons Library. You can use them to find info on legislation, MPs, select committees, debates, divisions, parliamentary procedure, government ministers, elections, and more.
So what’s this got to do with me? I work in the communications team for the Commons Library and my role is to make our online content readable, searchable, and accessible. I’ve recently been working on improvements to the website so that our users can find these publications more easily.
Why are the facts and figures useful?
This collection of research briefings is great for anyone interested in nerdy political facts. It could provide the basis for the ultimate parliamentary pub quiz but the briefings are also useful in helping people understand the workings of Parliament and government.
For example, the Opposition recently used an opposition day debate in the House of Commons to call for the government to publish legal advice on Brexit. On this occasion, the Opposition tabled a motion for a return by means of a humble address to the Sovereign. Our research briefing on Commons opposition day debates shows how often this procedure has been used in recent times and provides context for these types of events.
So the collection is a fantastic resource for researchers, journalists, and anyone interested in Parliament. But it’s not very useful if people can’t find it or don’t know about it, which is the problem we had earlier this year.
Why did the pages need improving?
Together with colleagues from PDS, I had started to review our content on parliament.uk in preparation for future migration to the new website. This is when I took notice of the facts and figures page.
It had been a long time since this page was updated and it wasn’t very engaging. It was mainly a long page listing the research briefings. It was also really hard to find the page on the website.
Google Analytics data showed that there were very few pageviews over the previous year, so I unpublished the page. It was only when my manager, Grace Rowley, got an enquiry from a journalist and couldn’t find the page, that we realised it might be worth reviewing and improving it, rather than getting rid of it.
Grace and I talked through the times she used briefings on the page to answer questions from journalists and inform their reporting of what happens in Parliament. Recently, she explained that when the MP Ian Paisley was suspended from the House of Commons for 30 days earlier this year, she got a flurry of questions from lobby reporters. They wanted to know when an MP had last been suspended and if anyone had been suspended for this long before. Luckily we have a research briefing on MPs who have withdrawn or been suspended since 1949. Grace then sent this briefing to journalists so they could get the facts.
We also know that our Twitter followers love this type of in-depth data and information about Parliament. It was clear that we weren’t making the most of this valuable resource so I set out a plan to improve the content of the page and make it easier for users to find.
Optimising the content
The first thing I did was break up the content into relevant categories. The briefings are now categorised into these topics: Parliament, debates, Members of Parliament, government, legislation, and parties and elections.
I then met with the subject specialists in the Parliament and Constitution Centre (a research team within the Library), who produce these briefings. We talked about how we can make better use of the landing pages of the research briefings. By combining their expertise in parliamentary procedure and my knowledge of writing for the web, we worked together to improve the readability of the landing pages.
After improving the content, it was also important to make the new pages easier to find on the website. Users can now find it listed in the left hand menu on the research briefings page. I’ve also updated the information pages about the Commons Library to include a link to the facts and figures section.
Rebranding and marketing
The final step was to come up with a new name. The old page was called ‘Parliamentary Information Lists’, which didn’t sound very interesting or describe the content particularly well. After discussing a few options with my team, we decided to rebrand it as ‘Parliament: facts and figures’.
My colleagues in the Library’s communications team then prepared some content to promote the newly updated pages on Twitter, like the gif above.
The feedback so far has been positive. Since the new pages were published two weeks ago, they've been viewed more times than the old page was viewed over an entire year.
You can leave a comment for the Commons Library in the comments box below and don't forget to follow them on Twitter.