VNG Realisatie (the association of municipal councils in the Netherlands) invited Cmotions to an orientation day at the Data Science Hub in Den Bosch. We were welcomed at a beautiful former monastery overlooking the canal by Pim Bliek, the Open Accountability Project Manager at VNG Realisatie. The mission for the day was to look at the extent to which data science can offer added value in strengthening the monitoring role of municipal councils.
Civil servants work hard every day to support and improve their municipality. These civil servants are directed by the Council Secretary, who in turn reports to the Board of the Mayor and Aldermen. It is the municipal council’s job to monitor whether they are doing their jobs properly. Their tools for doing this include crawling through large quantities of information: council information. Indicators are drawn up for the implementation of laws, which the councillors closely scrutinise to assess performance. For example, the government drew up a series of indicators on the Public Records Act and the Children Act, which municipalities have to meet.
The question at this orientation day was whether we could apply data science and machine learning to automatically go through all reports (council information) and then automatically read the indicators. We soon came to the conclusion that machine learning, and deep learning in particular, are currently making great leaps forward in the area of text analysis, but that this would still be too much to ask at this stage. For the rest of the day we focused on developing a conceptual model of where data science can offer added value in the short term and which is easily achievable.
We collectively had the idea to look first at whether we can determine the context before we read the indicators. Therefore the aim isn’t to read the indicators automatically but to make it possible for the councillors and other clients to do this efficiently and effectively themselves.
The conclusion we reached was that it would be best to first focus on reducing the amount of irrelevant information and finding more relevant information. The point of which would be that councillors would not have to read 60 articles over 60 pages, but five articles on five pages.
We felt the search engine was the ideal channel for this, given that it is the first channel councillors access to retrieve their information. We proposed three steps for this:
With the input from this interesting day, VNG Realisatie can get to work looking into further possibilities. We were delighted to be able to play our part in this orientation day on data science!
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