I’ve downloaded the reports of 205 city council meetings (as well as 1,116 council committee meetings) from the website of the City of Amsterdam. They contain over 38 thousand text fragments spoken by council members. Each fragment comes with an indication how long the council member had the floor. From this, it should be possible to calculate how fast council members speak.
The chart below shows the correlation between speech duration and the number of words, for the current city council period (see Method for caveats):
There’s a strong correlation: longer speeches contain more words (rank correlation 0.95), which shouldn’t come as a surprise. The median rate is over 158 words per minute, but this varies per council member. The red dots represent Jan Paternotte, the fastest speaker of the city council (he has since become a member of the national parliament). During this council period, his median rate was over 185 words per minute.
This doesn’t mean he rushes through his text. Here is an example (starting at approximately 59 minutes) where Paternotte speaks at his characteristic rate. For comparison, the speech by Daniel van der Ree (starting at approximately 6:08) is close to the median rate for all council members.
It’s tricky to compare these outcomes with data from other sources, but with that caveat: Paternotte speaks faster than the average news reader at BBC radio, but slightly slower than radio news readers of the French RF or the Italian RAI (not to mention the Spanish RNE).
UPDATE - Valid criticism of the chart title here (in Dutch).
Method (and an update on open council data)
For this analysis, I used the ‘old’ source for city council information. When I had almost finished, a press release announced that council information is now available as open data. Amsterdam participates in the commendable Open Raadsinformatie programme, which aims to make the city council information of over one hundred Dutch municipalities available as open data, in a uniform format. This will make it easier for journalists, researchers, app developers and anyone else who is interested to access and use this data.
Council members in Amsterdam have for quite some time been asking for open city council information. Participation in Open Raadsinformatie was meant to provide for this. However, at this moment only council meeting reports and voting results are available, and only in pdf format. This means that Amsterdam trails cities like Utrecht in terms of transparency.
Open State, an organisation that plays a key role in the Open Raadsinformatie programme, indicated that service provider NotuBiz currently makes agendas and agenda items available as part of a pilot. They are currently evaluating the pilot with the national organisation of municipalities VNG and their customers, and considering adding more data and functionality in the future.
For now, I used the ‘old’ source. Its search functionality is sub-optimal, but in this case I could get around this by scraping the site map.
The amount of text in the reports varies considerably; as of 2015, more text is available than in previous years. Further, the speech rate is higher in more recent years: a median of 158 wpm for the current council period, compared to about 145 wpm before that. I’m not sure how this can be explained, but it appears that minute taking has improved over time. Before 2015, there are frequent examples of meetings for which (almost) no speech has been reported. All in all, it appears that the data for the current council period is the most reliable.
The chart omits a few outliers. Further, I excluded speech of the chairmen of meetings from the analysis; this contains more noise. This script shows how I collected and anlysed the data.