e-Parliament Systems and the Future of Parliaments

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The International Day of Parliamentarism on June 30 gives us pause to appreciate the critical role of democratic institutions around the world and reflect on how parliaments can most effectively respond to the needs of the people.

As the world reels from the debilitating impacts of COVID-19, one concern on the minds of governance experts and parliamentarians alike is how to retool parliaments for a post-pandemic era, as indicated in the Inter-Parliamentary Union's (IPU) e-Parliament Report of 2020 (IPU 2020). The report finds that the disruptive shocks of the pandemic challenged parliaments to reform and accelerate the adoption of innovative digital technologies , placing information and communication technologies (ICT) at the center of Parliaments' daily operations.

The report indicates that a good number of legislative bodies aspire to adopt an e-Parliament system to improve efficiency and citizen engagement , including civil society organizations, the media, and development partners. This boost is partly also driven by increased demand for transparency and accountability by the people, as life begins to return to normal after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Five key recommendations are made to help countries aiming to convert to an e-Parliament system to serve citizens more efficiently and transparently:

1. Install and operate appropriate and secure digital systems (infrastructure)

Firstly, install and operate appropriate and secure digital systems (infrastructure) in the chamber and committee rooms. The system functionalities should allow MPs to register their attendance; work and meet remotely; electronically access documents required for deliberations(anytime and anywhere); vote electronically; live stream the proceedings; video record the plenary and committee sessions; and digitally track amendments of bills. The system should be interconnected to e-library, citizen engagement platforms, and government systems to facilitate information access.

2. Digitize parliamentary information

Secondly, digitize parliamentary information (minutes, Hansard, library books) for easy access by MPs, staff, and citizens. Digitizing and uploading this information in a user-friendly portal would empower MPs to make informed decisions and provide transparency to citizens about the work of parliament.

3. Develop digital skills for MPs and parliamentary staff

Thirdly, develop digital skills for MPs and parliamentary staff. Based on the assessment, some MPs insist on using hard copies instead of electronic documents, and others face challenges using the devices provided to them. Parliaments should conduct a detailed digital skills assessment of MPs and staff to produce a user-centric and systematic capacity-building program in partnership with relevant education and training providers to ensure sustainable delivery of the program. 

4. Develop and implement a formal citizen engagement strategy

Fourthly, develop and implement a formal citizen engagement strategy using digital technologies to increase citizen engagement with parliament and contribute to enhanced democracy. In this regard, parliaments should develop a communications strategy and a policy on the use of social media by MPs and staff to accelerate the opening of parliament to citizens. The strategy should include initiatives to facilitate communication with CSOs, FBOs, women, youth, marginalized groups, and the media on parliamentary activities using different digitally-enabled platforms. Digital platforms should include social media, citizen-centered mobile applications, and, crucially, an interactive parliament website.

One example of a successful parliamentary platform for citizen engagement is Botswana Speaks, a web-based and mobile application that allows citizens to send messages directly to an online system using computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. The messages are uploaded automatically into a tracker and regularly viewed by the Members of Parliament for responses. 

5. Implement the pre-conditions necessary for the effective rollout of e-Parliament

Fifth,  implement the pre-conditions necessary for the effective rollout of e-Parliament. Specifically, (i) revise Standing Rules and Orders to allow parliament to conduct its business virtually. According to the IPU 2020 report, 37 percent of parliaments could not hold remote plenaries due to legal or constitutional impediments; (ii) strengthen policies and procedures concerning parliament information technology (IT) security; and (iii) adopt agile practices in designing, procuring, and deploying ICT.

A good number of countries have implemented e-Parliament reforms over the past decade, with support from partners, including the World Bank.  Lessons learned from these interventions could be useful for parliaments aiming to implement these systems.

An e-Parliament system is indeed a critical tool in shaping the parliaments of the future. It can help legislators perform their duties more effectively and efficiently, improve engagement with citizens, and encourage younger generations to join parliament and participate in the democratic process—just 17.5% of MPs worldwide are under age 40.

The above recommendations, coupled with collaboration between the executive and legislative branches, peer learning from parliaments using well-advanced digital systems, and leveraging on the expertise, good practices, and knowledge-sharing opportunities provided by the Centre for Innovation in Parliament could allow Parliaments around the world to leapfrog into this new era.

The report's findings are based on a survey of 116 parliamentary chambers in 91 countries and focus groups. It was held in January and February 2021 and involved 49 parliaments.

In celebration of  International Day of Parliamentarism – June 30 - we asked World Bank Global Director of the Governance Global Practice, Ed Olowo-Okere about the future of parliaments and what role they can play in strengthening institutions and promoting transparency and accountability. Watch the video below.


+ Related content: Video blog: Parliaments around the world are grappling with how to respond to citizens' expectations and demands. Technology and transparency are critical to making a change.


Patrick Kabuya

Senior Financial Management Specialist

Kafu Kofi Tsikata

Senior External Affairs Officer

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