The information architecture behind False Economy and the cuts data


4:27 pm - April 12th 2011

by Clifford Singer    


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As part of a project to make available to programmer data on the government’s cuts – called APIs Against the Cuts – Sunny asked me write on the information architecture behind the False Economy website.

False Economy was built using the ExpressionEngine CMS – which has also been used by 38 Degrees, the Obama campaign and A List Apart among others. It’s built with PHP and uses a MySQL database.

False Economy crowd-sources information about:

– cuts (which I focus on below as it’s probably of most interest)
– personal testimonies about the effect of cuts
– campaigns
– events

There is a list of RSS feeds for these items here: http://falseeconomy.org.uk/go/rss

We use an XML-driven Flash map to help plot cuts. View the map here.

Cuts are placed according to their top-level postal area (eg M for Manchester, SW for South West London)

(We didn’t use a Google-based map for various reasons including the fact that many of the cuts don’t have a specific geolocation but cover a wider area. However we do ask users to supply full postcodes where possible, so the data could still be used to drive Google maps.)

Cuts are also tagged by sector.

Each cut has a unique URL, eg http://falseeconomy.org.uk/cuts/item/weir-road-reuse-recycling-centre

One way forward may be to ask all the websites currently offering some kind of cutswatch to add an RSS feed written to an agreed standard, so the equivalent bits of data on each side are wrapped in the same tags. These could all then be fed into a super-cutswatch site providing a comprehensive overview.

But others geekier than me may have better ideas.

The aim of APIs Against The Cuts is to bring together activists, bloggers, and technologists who are interested in collating, using and mining cuts related information. We’re planning an event, provisionally for mid-May.

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About the author
This is a guest contribution. Clifford Singer runs The Other Taxpayer's Alliance website. You can join the Facebook group here.
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Reader comments


I really think this is quite the most beautiful thing I’ve written. One for the Orwell Prize.

I’ve read it three times over, it gets better on every viewing.

I hope to flag this up to techies so that we can start thinking about whether data at FE needs to be cleaned up or imported into other formats so it can be used by other programmers…

@1 ROFL!

It would be interesting to have the data in a form where cleverer people than me could do some mashups. For example, OS have shapefile data about constituencies (and if I can get my arse into gear I may be able to convert that to postcodes per MP) so matching cuts to MP would be interesting.

There’s other data freely available on ONS. There are Dept of Health data about health inequalities, deprivation, prescriptions etc which could be matched to cuts.

It may be possible to come up with some powerful connections which may be useful for local activists. For example, “Hey complacent Tory MP, do you realise that you have the highest number of over 85s in the country in your constituency but the county council has closed all county nursing homes and a major private provider of homes – Southern Cross – is about to go bankrupt? A lot of vulnerable old people are about to be put at risk. Don’t you think you should do something about it?” [Actually, I know that place already. It is where I live 🙁 ]

You can see the sort of thing…

Richard – that’s exactly what we’re hoping for…

@5 Sunny, so it may be useful to be able to get FalseEcon data via an XML feed. A web service taking the high part of the postcode and the sector and then returning the cuts in that area would be great, but failing that, all the data in one XML dump would at least allow people to extract the data relevant to them: use a little bit of AJAX to clean it up!

(Of course, if I want the list of NHS cuts I could always go to http://falseeconomy.org.uk/poster/embed/large/l1 and scrape the items from the HTML, but that’s a bit messy 😉 XML is much easier to deal with)

Richard, are there standard XML tags for wrapping around each variable (postcode, sector, etc) or would we create our own naming system? If so should we try to draw up a standard that other cutswatch sites use to generate their own XML feeds so we can pool the data?


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    False Economy http://bit.ly/dTa9J8

  2. sunny hundal

    How is @FalseEcon gathering and storing its data on govt cuts? Clifford Singer explains http://bit.ly/dTa9J8 (one of the techies)

  3. Ron Graves

    RT @sunny_hundal: How is @FalseEcon gathering and storing its data on govt cuts? Clifford Singer explains http://bit.ly/dTa9J8 (one of t …

  4. christian

    mmmm data feeds. http://t.co/IiOCnLx

  5. Liberal Conspiracy

    The information architecture behind False Economy and its data on the cuts – http://bit.ly/dTa9J8

  6. Rupert

    RT @libcon: The information architecture behind False Economy and its data on the cuts – http://bit.ly/dTa9J8

  7. Chunkylimey

    RT @libcon: The information architecture behind False Economy and its data on the cuts – http://bit.ly/dTa9J8

  8. Stardust we are

    The information architecture behind False Economy and the cuts data | Liberal Conspiracy: http://bit.ly/gLMh3Y

  9. cinnamon carter

    RT @sunny_hundal: How is @FalseEcon gathering and storing its data on govt cuts? Clifford Singer explains http://bit.ly/dTa9J8

  10. Ben Shoemate

    The information architecture behind False Economy and the cuts … http://bit.ly/fgsHJr





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