More fine-tuning of #ottawaspends on Twitter

- July 8th, 2009

For a while now, I've been 'tweeting' whenever the government issues a press release announcing that it is spending some money.

I'm making a couple of changes to the way I've been going about this.

1. First, whenever I tweet routine spending announcements, I'm going to tweet them from a new account I've just created: ottawaspends. You can follow ottawaspends and, if you do, all you'll get mostly are these, sometimes strange looking messages with rudimentary details of federal funding announcements. I do this because I've had more than a couple of people, including – gasp! – a senior member of the government — note that on days when there are lots of announcements, all of the ottawaspends tweets originating from my regular Twitter account davidakin can begin to look a bit like spam.

So, my suggestion: If you're interested in my contributions to the #ottawaspends hashtag, follow those contributions by following ottawaspends. You probably want to see other people's contributions to #ottawaspends (The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, for example, often chips in on that hashtag) and so you might wish to consider checking this Web page or picking up the RSS feed for #ottawaspends from that page.

2. Second: I'm going to separate different fields in my tweets with commas. Again, this change is based on requests I've had for those interesting in potentially harvesting this data and putting into some database for further analysis. A string of comma-delimited text is a lot easier for software engines to deal with and yet it's still not so hard on regular human eyes.

So that would turn this tweet:

Finley HRSDC Hiebert Pacific Community Resources Society to help 20 young people find work Surrey BC $236,376 BC #ottawaspends

Into this tweet:

Finley,HRSDC,Hiebert,Pacific Community Resources Society to help 20 young people find work,Surrey,BC,$236 376 BC,#ottawaspends

(You'll notice that the dollar amounts do not have commas but a space where a comma would normally be. This is an aid to those dumping this into some spreadsheet.

Now let me explain the field layout for that. It goes like this:

MINISTER,DEPT,MP,DESCRIPTION,MUNICIPALITY,PROV,AMOUNT,REGION,HASHTAG

  • MINISTER – Last NAME OF MINISTER RESPONSIBLE FOR RELEASE. Note that MOORE refers to JAMES MOORE, Heritage Minister and should not be confused with ROB MOORE, NB MP and Parl Secy to Justice Minister. Click here for a full list of Ministers and their portfolios . Note that as some ministers get on Twitter (like James Moore) I will use their Twitter handle. So Moore comes out as @mpjamesmoore .
  • DEPT – ACRONYM FOR DEPARTMENT RESPONSIBLE FOR FUNDING The list of acronyms can be found here for major govt institutions and here for smaller agencies and offices. I use the English acronyms. Some are missing and so here they are: (I've made these up)
    • Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency: ACOA
    • Canadian Heritage: PCH
    • Canada Economic Development for Quebec Region: CEDQR
    • Citizenship and Immigration: CIC
    • Foreign Affairs and International Trade: DFAIT
    • Sustainable Development Technology Canada: STDC
  • MP – Last NAME OF MP ANNOUNCING FUNDING (If no local MP makes the announcement, then the minister's name appears here again). Here is a full list of MPs. Again, if an MP is on Twitter then I use the Twitter handle. So Alberta MP Blake Richards would be identified here as @WildRoseMPBlake . Where two MPs have the same last name, they get differentiated with their LASTNAME_FIRSTINITIAL. So Rob Moore is Moore_R .
  • DESCRIPTION – A brief description of the initiative receiving funding.
  • MUNICIPALITY – The name of the municipality from which the announcement originated. This is not necessarily the same municipality where the spending will occur.
  • PROV - The province from which the announcement originated. Not necessarily the same province that will benefit from the spending.
  • AMOUNT – The total amount of federal spending involved in the initiative. I do not include provincial or municipal amounts that may be included in the press release. Also — and this is important — I use the overall figure whether the money is to be spent in one year, two years or 10 years.
  • REGION – The province or region that will benefit from the spending of this money. It usually is just a two-letter code for a province but could also be ATLANTIC, to mean the Atlantic provinces or WEST to mean most of MB, SK, AB and BC or NORTH to mean YK, NU and NT. It could also be NATIONAL which means all parts of the country ought to benefit from the spending.
  • HASHTAG – Will usually be #ottawaspends but could also include others. Check out my Directory of Political Twits for other Ottawa-related tags.

Some other important things to know about this on-the-fly database I'm creating:

• I'm only putting up the tweet on the day the announcement is actually made. So, for that reason, #ottawaspends will not be a complete list of all spending announcements. If I'm off the job for a day or two, I will not be putting up tweets with day-old or two-day-old announcements. So these will be “Fresh” tweets only.

• I don't care if it's new money, old money, recycled money. The point of this collection of data is that somewhere in Canada, a government politician (and it is always government politicians who hand out the money) has issued a press release paid for with public funds to announce and usually earn some political credit for spending public money. I maintain other databases (and you may too) that track new money, instrastructure money, training funds and so on. But this database, though it involves a field which has a dollars-and-cents value is really about tracking politicians.

• Some asked why do this: Beats me. Twitter is still new for all of us but it was my thinking that, as a reporter, I am never going to write a full story about a $5,000 announcement. I'm probably not even going to blog it. But give me 140 characters of space — sure, why not? And, as I and others have noticed, in reporting all the small announcements, some broader more interesting trends in government spending are emerging.

Of course, #ottawaspends belongs to no one. If you've got your own syntax or short forms you want to use, knock yourself out. If you want to let me know your rules, I'll be happy to post 'em here and, perhaps, create a separate Web page with them.

UPDATE: Adding in some indication of what riding the money is being spent in:

I've added some more information at the end of each tweet to give you an indication of where the money is being spent by riding. I have to look up each spending announcement by hand so I'd appreciate any correctives.

Let's go back to our example and see what the new stuff looks like:

Finley,HRSDC,Hiebert,Pacific Community Resources Society to help 20 young people find work,Surrey,BC,$236 376 BC,#ottawaspends #CPC riding Hiebert

That last bit after the '#Ottawaspends” hashtag indicates that the money is being spent mostly or all in a riding held by the Conservatives and that the name of the MP who holds that riding is HIEBERT, as in Russ Hiebert. CPC stands for Conservatives: LPC for Liberals; BQ for Bloc Quebecois; and NDP for New Democratic Party. If you see an “M” it means multiple ridings will benefit from this money.

Categories: Politics, Technology

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1 comment

  1. Anonymous says:

    One hiccup: the comma used in dollar amounts (e.g. $236,376) clashes with your CSV record format. You can put the dollar amount in quotation marks (e.g. “$236,375″), or find another delimiter.

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