The Legislative Environmental Monitor is a value proposal to monitor the advance of environmental topics in Congress. Based on a huge database made from scratch from unstructured text, this tool is helpful to understand the law enactment process, monitor the advance of bills in an opaque context and provide a public service for the audience to demand specific measures against climate change crisis. This application was made by LA NACION Data together with four NGOs ‒one of them, a specialist in legislative matters‒ and the other three are local reference in environmental topics.
Today it covers 16 topics.
After we published, we received lots of feedback from Congressmen and activists pushing for this kind of legislation.
Also, the Auditoría General de la Nación (AGN), a public agency that gives the Congress technical support, offered us some help to empower our tool.
The Legislative Environmental Monitor gives a clear “We-are-watching” message to politicians as regards those projects left for months or even years in some special Committees.
A non participant NGO, Aves Argentinas (Birdlife International) -one of the oldest non-profit local association‒ asked the alliance to include new topics (as the bill for a new protected area in Cordoba province) to show the importance to the National Congress.
After we published this monitor, two environment-related bills were enacted at the Congress. Also, a congressman in Catamarca province presented a bill in his jurisdiction to create a local Environmental Legislative Monitor.
The backend development consisted of the creation of a relational model that represents the progress of a bill to be considered in the Congress.
Python was used for its implementation and PostgreSQL as a database engine. To make the system available, it was used Amazon Web Services, specifically AWS Lambda, AWS RDS, AWS Beanstalk and AWS S3.
The backend connection to obtain information for its visualization is not synchronic and this improves the loading performance and the reception of bills for their subsequent visualization. SaSS was used for the style management.
At LA NACION Data, we don’t think this project as a “one-shot-and-one-destination” issue. We believe in the power of reusing content. For this reason, we developed the way of embedding the each “clock by environmental topic” in different news articles regularly published and related to general or specifically environmental topics.
What was the hardest part of this project?
The first visual representation was the result of a succession of steps in a rather linear sense: from the introduction of the bill in Congress until its enactment. The problem was that only some intermediate steps were taken into account. In other words, many inconveniences may appear between the two extremes.
For this reason, the current concept, represented through a circular spiral device (“Clocks”), gives better results as regards these variables. It brings the idea of a cyclical process of temporality and gives rise to a “second round” in the legislative process in case of consideration of a bill, or else, of the request for amendment by one of the Houses.
Temporality is one of the strongest concepts on which this design is based. The cease of effect of each bill, located in the center of each cycle, shows the possibilities that each bill has of attaining or not the purpose before its ceasing to have effect. Certainly, time is not the only variable that sets the pace of a bill, but it is a very important one. Especially because many times the strategy of legislators is to delay the progress of a bill and wait until it ceases effect to show disinterest.
One of the purposes of the Legislative Environmental Monitor is precisely to emphasize this aspect, since these subjects are highly important for any citizen.
What can others learn from this project?
There are many aspects to consider when designing and programming an information tool in projects like this one, with automatic updating and complex content. Technical and communication aspects must be taken into account, that is why it is necessary to plan and define the objectives very well in order to build a structure capable of considering all possible variables.
Firstly, we had to know all the legislative twists and turns of a bill until its enactment. For several months, we met with internal production teams (LNData and digital development) and, also with external collaborators, NGOs members and legislative advisors.
Even so, it was difficult to understand that bureaucratic and political issues within the legislative process often divert the expected path of a project.
In this same sense, we understood that before translating such a complex process ‒the creation of legislative rules‒ into a visual language, we should first understand it in depth, and take into account all the elements and variables that may interfere in it. That is why, it is very important to carry out ‒at a previous step‒ detailed research of the content, which allows us to provide the basis for the development.
Although the result was highly satisfactory, we comprehended that if we had prioritized the complex structure of the information, we could have avoided many difficulties that the design had at a later step. Journalists, designers and programmers had different tasks, but they all worked together towards the same goal: achieve clear and simple graphic representation that could communicate how the legislative process works.
In conclusion, without the collaboration of the five organizations (LA NACION and four NGOs), this project would have been impossible.