In the first part of this series I looked at bringing general news sources and blogs into one place; in the second I looked at social media discussions. This final part looks at how to know what government departments are saying and doing, even if no one is reporting it.
Data and documents provide some of the most useful leads for reporting: they tell you what the government is doing, and what it is being forced to reveal.
It’s important to understand that much of the information revealed by official government websites are the result of scrutiny by opposition politicians and Freedom of Information requests. This is how to find out when they do.
What do they know?
New releases of statistics, data and reports – and consultations ahead of possible change – are published on the Gov.uk site’s Publications section – and there are RSS feeds as well as email alerts.
The navigation on the left allows you to narrow down what you want by type of information, topic and department, among other things – so you could simply get a feed of all the publications coming out of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
If you use the Topics menu to select ‘Welfare‘, however, you’ll also get the occasional related release from other departments, such as Ministry of Defence updates on housing.
Those publications include responses to Freedom of Information requests, but as these only relate to central government departments, you might want to look for further feeds on WhatDoTheyKnow.
Here, for example, you can conduct a search for the site for “spare room subsidy” (the official name for the bedroom tax) and get an RSS feed of any new FOI requests made using the site, or responses to those, from public authorities including local councils, police bodies, health groups, regulators and others.
‘Your’ questions answered?
Freedom of Information requests aren’t the only way of getting answers from government departments. ‘Written questions‘ – asked in Parliament – provide all sorts of interesting ‘written answers’ that often lead to news stories, as well as useful background context to others.
You can get a feed of written questions that mention a particular word or phrase (or involving a particular politician) on TheyWorkForYou.
Look for similar resources on your local authority website, and any other relevant local public bodies. Birmingham City Council’s Democracy section, for example, publishes details on meetings, agendas and other resources – it has an email alert facility but yours may have an RSS feed.
Parliament has a page devoted to its various RSS feeds. These are quite general, including calendars, Early Day Motions, all research briefings and news, so if you do add these to your feeds you’ll have to ignore all the irrelevant updates.
Can you think of any other useful sources for documents and data? Please let us know in the comments or @hmiwelfare.