Open data innovation leads to NI’s first political contact web app

Photo by Michael Cooper

Pictured (L-R) are Brian Cleland, software engineer at University of Ulster, Olive Hill, Invest NI, Chris Brown, MCE and Professor Jonathan Wallace, University of Ulster.

MCE Public Relations, a specialist in public affairs and social media, has developed Northern Ireland's first political contact web app using open data. The project received assistance from Invest Northern Ireland through its Innovation Voucher scheme.

The app has been developed by Chris Brown, Head of Public Affairs at MCE in partnership with the University of Ulster, and is the first mobile web app created using the Northern Ireland Assembly open data project.

Olive Hill, Director of Innovation and Technology Solutions for Invest NI said: “What makes this project innovative is its use of open parliamentary data. It is a great example of what open data is all about – allowing people access to data to which they can add value and reproduce in a format such as a new mobile application.

“Using our Innovation Voucher MCE was able to link with the University of Ulster and get their help to research and design an innovative mobile web based app that will allow people to immediately search for their local political representative and access their full contact details.”

The Northern Ireland Assembly open data project allows data on the work of the Assembly to be published in its raw form. The data can be copied, published and adapted, to create new products such as web and mobile phone applications.

Professor Jonathan Wallace, Director of Knowledge & Technology Transfer in the Faculty of Computing & Engineering at the University of Ulster said: “The Innovation Voucher Scheme is a very effective mechanism for academic colleagues to apply their extensive leading-edge research knowledge to the direct benefit of local industry.

“Innovation Vouchers are often the start of a longer-term strategic partnership between the University and companies leading to further collaborative R&D, or Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs).

“The University of Ulster, and particularly the Faculty of Computing & Engineering, has been at the forefront of these industry engagements, with the University having completed over 350 voucher projects to date.”

Chris Brown, Head of Public Affairs at MCE Public Relations added: “As a company that provides political monitoring, public affairs and social media advice, we spotted an opportunity to develop a web app to help people reference local politicians and get in contact with them.

“Our intention was to create a simple, in your pocket tool and we've achieved that adding some media contact details as an additional function.

“The open data project at the Assembly provides a wealth of possibilities for a company such as ours to interpret the vast amount of information on offer to create tools and services that can be used by the private, public and voluntary sectors locally and further afield.

“As a creative agency we have lots of wonderful ideas that never see the light of day. The assistance of Invest NI and the technology partner at the University of Ulster has been instrumental in making this idea a reality.

“We are developing a number of projects in the areas of political monitoring and open data and expect to bring them to fruition in the near future. This first step shows that we can do it and continue to innovate and build on our work in this area.”

Further Innovation Voucher applications will be invited in October 2013 and February 2014. Interested companies can find more information and details of how to apply at