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What digging the data revealed about Assembly Members' priorities in 2017

We analysed 2.5 million words over 68 plenary sessions to unveil our top ten talked-about topics this year

There have been 68 plenary sessions in 2017 and at newsdirect we’ve watched all of them but in the fast moving world of politics, it can be really hard to get a sense of trends in the longer term.

We’ve been using data more and more at newsdirect to improve our monitoring services and we wondered if data science could help us work out what AMs have discussed the most over the past 12 months.

Enter our very clever friends at Big Lemon Creative. We worked with them to take the transcripts of every plenary session, which are available on the Assembly website in an open data format, and set up a programme to count how often each word occurred.

We’re obviously into this kind of stuff but we think the results are fascinating.

Big shout out to the humble ‘the’ who tops the chart with a mighty 200,000 occurrences, followed closely by ‘and’ at 100,000 hits and ‘that’ at 99,000.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t really tell us much about what AMs were talking about so we had to scroll down the list a bit. And then we had a to scroll a bit more to find the words which signify policy areas.

We went past ‘Wales’ (21,000), past ‘government’ (16,000) and past ‘people’ (12,000). In fact, we had to get to the 104th word on the list before we were clear on the policy area being discussed.

And what did we find? ‘Health’ topped our list with more than twice as many mentions as the next policy area.

Here’s the top 10 with word occurrences in brackets:

  1. Health (5902)
  2. Children (3542)
  3. Care (3299)
  4. Education (3229)
  5. Authorities (2462)
  6. Economy (2418)
  7. Funding (2373)
  8. Schools (1995)
  9. Tax (1937)
  10. Housing (1753)

This makes a lot of sense. It’s the job of AMs to scrutinise what the Welsh Government is doing and health spending in Wales is almost half of the annual Welsh Government budget.

Education, children & communities and local authorities are other areas where the Welsh Government spends a lot of cash and has almost total control.

Tax comes in at number 9 because the first Welsh taxes in 800 years were signed into law this year and there has been much discussion of how they will work over the last 12 months.

The only surprise for us is that ‘Brexit’ didn’t feature in the top 10. It’s still up there with around 1000 hits at number 14. While it feels like all we talk about is Brexit, the data says differently!

Stay tuned over the next couple of days as we dive deeper to bring you more insights.

If you’d like us to look at anything in particular for your organisation, give us a shout. Next week in the newsdirect office will mostly be spent eating mince pies and scrolling.

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