Greetings from "IR and friends" at CSIRO on the Australian National University campus in Canberra, where Paul Rivera and William Han from NICTA are demonstrating "OpinionWatch". This is a system for analysis of public opinion. It was tested with data from Senator Lundy's Public Sphere Process , at Defence Joint Decision Support Centre and recently demonstrated to the Prime Minister. The idea is to be able to get an overall impression of what the community thinks on an issue without having to conduct expensive opinion polls or long consultation processes. The software can sift through thousands of documents and carry out an analysis of the general sentiment of the authors.
One interesting outcome of a demonstration analysis of public statements from the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader is that Tony Abbot's comments about climate change is very focused on "carbon tax" whereas Julia Gillard is using a much broader range of terms (which perhaps, I suggest, is why the PM is not winning in the opinion polls: the message is too confusing).
From a technical point of view the software is interesting in that it has a HTML5 interface and so should be usable on a tablet computer or smart phones. However, the interface currently presents far too much information to be usable on a mobile device and I have suggested it be redesigned to present less data, bolder. As well as make it usable on a smaller screen than should make it easier to understand when presented to a group on a projection screen.
One application for the software might be the analysis of the submissions to parliamentary inquiries, or even just the analysis of the topic of the inquiry in public blogs. Currently the Parliamentary Library prepares summaries of issues of interest to MPs, but these generally cover the facts of the situation, not the sentiment and take considerable work from expert information analysis to prepare.
ps: The former Parliamentary Librarian will speak at ANU, 4 April 2012, 11am.