Sunday, 11 October 2015

Legislation mapping

A recent challenge in work has been to contribute to a legislation mapping exercise. I've been helping to identify relevant legislation to be considered for inclusion in the maps. But my findings have been extensive, which raises the question how can I best support my enquirer in this exercise? I've also had to reconsider my understand of what legislation maps are.

Why legislative mapping?

Legislation mapping is an exercise to identify legislation that is relevant within a particular topic area (e.g. homelessness) or to record the legal requirements placed on an organisation / operation (e.g. legal requirements of Information Managers - the Tasmanian Archives & Heritage Organisation provide a great introduction here).  When used well legislative mapping will provide a comprehensive view of the legal landscape. Maps may well include primary and secondary legislation, but may also identify regulatory bodies, statutory codes or guidance. 

So what's the problem?

This all sounds very straightforward. What's the problem? Well for me there were actually two problems:
  •  a lack of understanding of what the final map might look like; 
  • and the quantity of information required in the mapping exercise.

It's going to be a map, right?

What do you think of when someone says "map" you? An image representation, a diagram? Well yes! We are all familiar with maps:  Ordnance Survey, road atlases, town plans, Google maps. But many legislation maps predominantly aren't images or diagrammatic in their form. They tend to be tabular! So map and terms such as "charting the legal landscape" can be very unhelpful if you aren't aware that the end product is likely to be a table, or series of tables.

A legislation map in a simple area may well be diagrammatic, but these appear to be rare. Why map an area of comparative legal simplicity? A straightforward text description may be used where a simple legal landscape exists. (For instance, see the British Geological Survey's summary of mine wastes legislation and policy). But some legislation maps do fit the traditional model of "map". This alternative form of legislation map compares legislative protections between different geographic areas and therefore is ideally suited to visual presentation as a map. An example from the Huffington Post mapping dangerous dogs legislation across US States exemplifies this form (See right - available here (c) Huffington Post)

Information overload!

So, for my case in point, forget diagrammatic representations and start thinking tables! This immediately helps me, because if I have an understanding of the key features being described in the table then I can target my information retrieval to meet these needs. Better still, if I have a template of the table, or agree a layout of the table with my enquirier, I can start to populate the table, saving my enquirer time.

Tabular legislation maps

From a quick trawl through tabular legislation maps there appears to be a couple of layout types.
  • Legislation listed in alphabetical order (by Act /Regulation title), or in chronological order - useful when exploring legislative development and change. An exploratory legal map of the responsibilities of the Local Better Regulation Office provides an example of the alphabetical layout type - see here. A chronological example, concerning telecommunications law from INFORRM   (The International Forum for Responsible Media blog) is available here . 
  • Some maps also use a tabular format to provide a hierarchy of legislation: listing acts in the top row, and then detailing derived regulations, guidance or codes of practice in subsequent lower rows. Such tables may also indicate regulatory bodies, and could also accommodate information on the influence of European legislation. Mapping economic and financial legislation within the EU, undertaken by the European Parliament, is an example of this layout 

So what?

Personally, a revised view of legislation mapping helps me move forward with this enquiry. I can use the tabular format to overcome the difficulties of too much information. The table template and column headings help me focus on the information that is required. However, for this research assignment I suspect that neither an alphabetical or chronological listing of results will be helpful. I need to use my skills to identify the most significant legislation in this area, and list this first.

What would I do differently?

Faced with a similar enquiry in future I will ask if my enquirer has a concept of what the finished product might look like. They may already have a template table which I can start to populate, or we can work together to tease out a preliminary design. Alternatively they might be expecting a diagrammatic representation! In which case I will be able to work with them to see if this is a realistic proposition, and what the options could be.

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