The Quality of Government and Public Policy: A Big Data Approach

Funding: OTKA  
Duration: September 1, 2017 - August 31, 2019 (24 months)

The topic of good government is a staple of political thought since the antiquity. Studies have attempted to answer this question, and international organizations developed indices aiming at particular topics, such as corruption or the easiness of doing business. While useful, they may be easy to manipulate, or are often ridden with ideological biases. Empirical research that are comparable across nations have produced debatable results. In Hungary, there is still a gap in this knowledge. How does the formal quality of government and public policy in post-regime change look like in the country?

Driven by the scarceness of studies covering the quality of government in Hungary since 1990 — and considering that indicators may not take account of all the complexity around what “good government” is—, Miklós Sebők, the principal investigator of the project, launched the “The quality of government and public policy: a Big Data approach”, funded by the Hungarian National Research, Development and Innovation Office.

By identifying bad legal norms in public policy, the project also aims at illuminating the good ones. Good laws are difficult to define, but bad laws are easy to spot: they are amended, repealed, or create new challenges to tackle. The frequency with which lawmakers amend laws is a good indicator of the quality of government. Besides filling the knowledge gap and analyzing these outputs from 1990 to 2018, the project lays the groundwork for innovative methods. Dr. Sebők uses Big Data, through quantitative text analysis and text mining, to offset the complexity of measuring legislative quality across time, because the data needed for such an analysis is not readily available. These quantitative methods will bring to light two aspects of policy quality. One is to gauge the stability of pieces of legislation as well executive decrees, or how often they are amended. Another is to ex post evaluate these laws and decrees after entering force.

The project outputs contribute to advancing scholarly debates and production in political science. It also foster transparency by making legal and policy pieces accessible. As a by-product, the project also contributes to developing Big Data applications and algorithms for studies using Hungarian language text corpora and serve as a reference for computational approaches in the country. For that, a book manuscript on the formal quality of government in Hungary for the period is in progress. Multiple papers covering topical questions are also currently under review.

Principal investigator (PI):

Miklós Sebők   
Senior Research Fellow
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