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Hansard in the Holidays

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Collaboration culture, Outreach, Training and Development, Workplace Culture

MPs may have broken up for the summer, but Parliament is still a-buzz with activity. Our team at Hansard are hard at work on a range of exciting projects, and in this blog post, we tell you all about just nine of the things that we’re getting up to in the recess.

1. Vote 100

2018 marks the 100th anniversary of some women winning the vote and of women being allowed to stand for election, and our staff have played an important part in celebrating their achievements. Cara, a committee sub-editor says:

In 1920, Nancy Astor was the first woman to make a maiden speech in the House of Commons Chamber (read it here). Hansard staff have been commissioned by the Vote 100 team to undertake an ambitious project to research demographic data and write short profiles of every female MP—491 and counting. We have used Historic Hansard to present their political priorities and achievements in their own words. This is the first time that such data has been collected, and it will help researchers to build a more accurate picture of women in Parliament and their achievements.

2. History of Parliament Trust

And our work doesn’t stop there – Parliament is a place with a lot of history, after all. Committee sub-editor Owain explains how we are helping to capture it:

Since 2011, the History of Parliament Trust has been creating a sound archive of people involved in politics at a national and constituency level to provide a unique record of post-second world war British political history. HPT conducts interviews with former MPs on their careers and political experiences, and Hansard reporters have been writing summaries of the recordings to sit alongside them in the British Library’s online sound archive. We have already summarised interviews with Ted Rowlands, Jonathan Aitken and Jenny Tonge, and we are working on interviews conducted with, among others, Edwina Currie and Jeffrey Archer. Grammatical skills and attention to detail make Hansard reporters particularly adept at executing the work.

3. The Hansard Archive

As a centuries-old institution, Hansard has its own history that tracks parliamentary change. Committee sub-editor Portia and her team of researchers use the recess to document key moments in Hansard’s development:

The Hansard Archive was established in 2017 to document the working practices of The Official Report. We are currently working with staff in the Parliamentary Archives and the Commons Library on “The Battle of Mrs Winder”: a display in the Commons Library telling the story of Jean Winder, the first female reporter to work for Hansard, and her battle for equal pay. The display is scheduled to open in November 2018.

4. Historic Hansard

But if you just want to read Hansard, rather than about Hansard, the historical debates are now more accessible than ever before: the launch of the much-improved new Hansard website in early July was a great success. The online content isn’t perfect, though, so House reporter James and other eagle-eyed Hansardians will have their work cut out over the summer.

Adding two centuries' worth of new content to the website means that there is now a lot of online parliamentary reporting to check - which is where we come in. The process is quite simple. We check the online content against the paper bound volumes and make a note of where we need to correct missing volumes, odd heading structures and scanning errors. The bound volumes are the finalised Hansard record, so if an error exists in the bound volume, it will remain "wrong" on the website, because it's not our job to rewrite history. The process is currently being done on paper, but as soon as our online correction tool is up and running we will be able to correct the many errors we've spotted so far, thus improving the online historical record.

The new Hansard website, featuring more than 200 years of content

5. Hansard analytics

We want to improve the experience of using the Hansard website in other ways too, so we keep a close eye on how people are using our new website – and especially what people like to read about most – as Ian, a managing editor, explains:

A small team of Hansard staff will spend some time in the summer updating our analysis of how many people are reading our content online and which are the most popular debates. Debates on the updated Hansard website now go back as far as 1803, so we will be paying particular notice to which historical content has caught readers’ imagination so far – have people been reading the great speeches of Churchill? The Disraeli-Gladstone debates? Or perhaps the famous attempt in 1981 through a private Member’s Bill to regulate the “Space Invaders” video game? Watch this space the other side of the summer recess.

6. Petitions Committee

It's not all about the website – our Hansard team are also working closely with other parts of Parliament to help out with Committees and the Library, improve our relationships with MPs’ staff and learn more about the workings of parliamentary procedure. House reporter Kath works with the Petitions Committee:

I’m one of a small group of Hansard reporters who have been trained by the Petitions Committee to moderate e-petitions. About 250 e-petitions are created every week, and each one needs to be checked against the Committee’s standards before it can be published online—for example, we can’t accept petitions that are offensive or about something the UK Government or House of Commons aren’t responsible for. It involves in-depth research, often into tricky or sensitive subjects, and gives an interesting insight into the issues people feel strongly about.

7. Library briefings

The Library is another incredibly busy team in Parliament, and Hansard’s proofreading power helps to lighten their load over the recess and in term time. Bran, a committee sub-editor, leads the Hansard reviewers:

This summer, Hansard reviewers will proofread Library briefings, which cover everything from Brexit to tidal lagoons, and their landing pages, which were created to give people a thumbnail sketch of a subject. Reviewers look for consistency of style, correct mistakes and aid clarity using a light touch. They then fill in a form, devised with the Library, which includes questions such as: “Is the landing page impartial? Does the writing style communicate complex information clearly?” The authors genuinely appreciate reviewers’ efforts. With 77 briefings to read over recess, we have plenty of work to do!

8. Behind the scenes

Elsewhere in Parliament, Gareth, a parliamentary reporter, takes the opportunity of the slight lull during recess to give MPs’ staff a guide to Hansard and our website, and help them to guide visitors around Parliament, with a course that he and others have designed:

Hansard reporters can be found everywhere when the House is sitting but it’s not always clear why, or why it’s all so urgent. A group of parliamentary reporters wanted to explain what we do – and why – so we worked up a half-day course for MPs’ staff. “Behind the Scenes” is an overview of Hansard, including a practical guide to the website and its usefulness, followed by a walkabout including an (optional) introduction to the visitor route and access issues. We develop the course constantly, adapt it for others and find the informal interaction with MPs’ staff interesting, lively and helpful to both sides.

Behind the scenes at Hansard

9. Procedure course

We at Hansard like to learn things ourselves too, and parliamentary reporter Kathy has spent time in previous recesses and on non-sitting Fridays through the year getting to know what makes the Clerks tick – something that she has greatly enjoyed, as she describes:

If you want to understand how much rules and conventions pervade every area of MPs’ activity, I recommend the Clerks’ courses on procedure. Erudite, witty explorations of different topics are augmented, at level 2, by student projects: I helped prepare a group presentation on the history, function and effectiveness of “praying against” delegated legislation—a way of mounting a challenge when the Government use a streamlined way of making law. This was both fascinating and frustrating—so much sprawling archive, so little time. Still, like the course overall it left me more confident about reporting procedural topics—and a bit awed by the Clerks.

So whether you’re catching up with a busy year of Hansard reports, or promoting your latest e-petition for us to get our teeth into in September, we hope you’re having a good summer too and that this blogpost has opened your eyes to a few of the projects that Hansard staff work on when we aren’t producing the Official Report.

If you use Hansard, please let us know what matters to you. Click here to take a brief survey and for a chance to meet the Hansard team.

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