Free software tools tracking…

Free software tools tracking European law making looking for funds


Parltrack, a free software-based web service for monitoring, analysing and tracking the law making process in the European Parliament, is looking for funds to finance maintenance and improvements. Its developer, Stefan Marsiske, launched his request at crowdfunder Indiegogo. The 1300 euro pledged so far is already enough to cover fixing bugs and maintaining the platform for another year, he says. "If the support grows to 2500, I can maintain the data scrapers."

Parltrack's software and its database tools allow users to follow the law-making process in the European Parliament. It aggregates data daily from several sources at the EP. "The EP itself is not able to present their own data like this", says Marsiske. "Their documents are stored in different departments, and connecting them is hard, because of either ICT or political barriers."

His free software tools offer several advantages that are not available otherwise. For example, users can see all the dossiers handled by a Member of the European Parliament, or get a list of amendments per MEP. Parltrack can show which committee is responsible for which dossier and which committee provides input. It forecasts the next steps in committees and the EP, including the deadlines for tabling amendments. It creates a calendar with dates on EP events and committee meetings. "In short, this tool allows users to see who are the influential MEPS and when are the important milestones on a certain dossier."

Raw data
The Parltrack software's main function is to extract the raw data from the documents made available by the European Parliament. On its site, the EP publishes its documents in the open HTML and PDF formats, but also in a proprietary format. One of Marsiske's most labour intensive tasks is to check for changes to these sources. "The EP revamped its website in November 2011, and it took three months to get all of Parltrack's scrapers corrected. It would help if the EP presented the raw data in a standard way."

Marsiske, based in Budapest, Hungary, paid for the project out of his own pocket the past two years. He is now hoping others will help him to continue the project. He published a request for funds at Indiegogo, that runs until the end of February.

The software developer hopes to raise 20,000 euro. That would allow him to improve the user interface, allow users to monitor keywords, publish data mining results and add other data sources. "Even better would be for the European Parliament to improve the way it publishes its data. That would make my work unnecessary."

The source code for Parltracks is available on the Github repository. It is published as open source, using the Agplv3+ licence. "I encourage NGOs and journalists to reuse the Parltrack data, just like the Paris-based advocacy group La Quadrature du Net is doing with its 'Political Memory', or like, which traces the sources of parliamentary amendments to lobbying by the industry."

More information:
Blog of Parltrack developer
Parltrack funding campaign
Article by Open Knowledge Foundation
Parltrack on Github
Epfsug blog on Parltrack
Parltrack on EPSI Platform

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