Official Inquiries Project: 3 weeks in

Posted on 3 August 2016

We are now 3 weeks into the Outlandish Fellowship-funded part of our Official Inquiries project. We’ve got a basic website up and running and are busy uploading user-friendly, simple text versions of official inquiries for people to browse and search conveniently on their computer or mobile device.

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We began the project right at the moment that one of the most anticipated official inquiry reports in UK history – the Chilcot report – was released. This presented a great opportunity for us. If we could get something up on our site, the publicity around Chilcot would give us a way to enroll people in the project and get feedback from the public. The time pressure would also allow us to test and refine our text extraction and tidying processes and make sure these were as efficient as possible.

As the release date for Chilcot approached, the first priority was getting the website fit for public viewing; so we replaced the generic content so that visitors could learn about the project and then made the first inquiry that we had trialed our extraction on – the Levin/Coburn report into the Financial Crisis – available. The report had an index page and then a page for the text version, with links to the original.

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Once Chilcot was released, we immediately worked to make the executive summary – the most important part of the inquiry, around which the immediate media coverage was centered – available on our website in a similar fashion. Of course, having only run the simple text extraction, it was not particularly tidy, but in many ways this worked to our advantage, as people who saw the site were keen to help tidy it up. By tweeting our interest in the report and letting people know about our project, we managed to enroll help in tidying up Chilcot, which has proven invaluable in getting to where we are right now. We also added a “get involved” page that made it easier for people who are interested in helping to get in touch with us.

In the following weeks, we managed to get the first two volumes up on the website in various stages of tidying. One of the people whom we had enrolled helped clean up the executive summary and early parts of Volume 1 to a high standard, while we worked on a script to automate as much of the tidying process as we can.

Right now, that script has helped us tidy up the first volume to a good standard, and it is available on our website. The experience of working with Chilcot has also caused us to think hard about how we want to organise our website, repositories and workflow for the project and how we should promote our project on social media.

If you’re interested in this project, we’re always looking for people to get involved.