The curious case of Erskine May

Erskine May is the name of the book that describes the rules, conventions and procedures for the United Kingdom’s parliament. The book has become part of the uncodified constitution of the United Kingdom, and it is effectively the staff handbook for the Members of Parliament and the Lords. However, you’ll find very little about the Erskine May rules on the parliament’s website. Instead, if you want to know the rules on how parliament is run, you’ll need to buy it in book form, at a recommended retail price of £381.

The UK has been one of the pioneers of digital government, so I’ve often wondered why these rules haven’t published for the public to see them. From a conversation I had last week, I now understand the reason is because the copyright is held by the book publishers, and not Parliament, and there is little monetary incentive for the publishers to move the content online.

Let’s imagine the Parliamentary Digital Service were able to publish the information online (or even make the content available under the Open Government Licence). It would create the opportunity to make it easier for UK citizens, and even new MPs, to understand how parliament works.

It would also be possible to make it easier to find information, and filter information based on the type of MP or topic. Using metadata and semantic tagging, it would be possible to mark-up sections, by type of audience, topic or other criteria. For example, if all the procedures relating to Scotland were tagged, you could create filtered views or special navigations routes for the rules and procedures relating to Scottish-only matters. This tagging could be carried out by MPs themselves, or perhaps even crowd-sourced.

There could be flowcharts and checklists, to help people understand all the steps in a procedure. It could also help ensure these have been carried out.  It might also make it easier to identify area where parliamentary procedures could be improved, streamlined or simplified. It would be good for democracy, too.

 

7 March – Cherryleaf’s policies and procedures writing course

Cherryleaf’s policies and procedures course teaches your staff how to write clear and effective policies and procedures, in a straightforward and efficient way. It is popular with staff from charities and the NHS, although it will benefit many writers of policies and procedures.

Our next public course will be on the 6th March 2017.

See

Cherryleaf’s policies and procedures writing course

Policies and procedures as an API

Here’s a trend that didn’t make our list of predictions for 2017 – having company policies and procedures accessible via an Application Programming Interface (API).

API is a term used to describe mechanisms that allow an application to access data or functionality provided by another application, system or service. For example, if your policies and procedures were accessible via an API, they could be embedded or used in other systems within your organisation. APIs offer connectivity, flexibility and future-proofing.

Instead of staff having to look up procedures in a manual or on an intranet, the official guidance or instructions could be embedded into the applications and forms they’re using. Developers could save time by connecting the application they’re developing to the API. They wouldn’t need to write the information, and staff would always be presented with the official, definitive policy or procedure.

You’re still able to create policy and procedure documents, as a web page or in paper format.

This prediction didn’t make the list because it relates mostly to business documentation rather than technical documentation, and we’re unlikely to see many examples of it within the next 12 months. In practice, the content might be managed by a headless CMS; however, the approach would remain the same. Perhaps the NHS and other organisations in the healthcare sector will be the first to take of this approach.

See also: Cherryeaf’s policies and procedures writing services

What do you think of this prediction? Please share your thoughts below.

Policies and procedures writing course – 11th October

We’ve scheduled another of our policies and procedures writing course. It will be held on 11th October, in central London (WC2). 25% of the available places have been snapped up already, so book early!

Cherryleaf’s policies and procedures course teaches your staff how to write clear and effective policies and procedures, in a straightforward and efficient way. It is popular with staff from charities and the NHS, although it will benefit many writers of policies and procedures.