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Declaration on Parliamentary Openness [Draft Commentary]

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Title V - Enabling Electronic Access and Analysis of Parliamentary Information

Sec. 44. Facilitating Two-Way Communication

Parliament shall endeavor to use interactive technology tools to foster the ability of citizens to provide input on legislation and parliamentary activity, and to communicate with members or parliamentary staff.

Interaction between citizens and their representatives enhances parliamentary work.  As a result, many parliaments are exploring web-based means of facilitating citizen engagement.  New technologies can complement in-person interaction between citizens and representatives by allowing citizens to provide comments or annotations in the text of draft legislation, or by providing citizens the opportunity to submit letters or questions to representatives in a public forum. Technologies can empower citizens who lack the financial means or time to travel great distances to their parliament, while they also allow for citizens to participate at their own convenience.

The World e-Parliament Report 2010 suggests that parliaments employ “all available tools, including new media and mobile technologies, to provide citizens with improved access to the work of parliament and means of participation in the political dialogue.”[1] New social media tools, including Facebook and Twitter, along with email, mobile devices, polling and other technologies, provide parliaments with a variety of means to engage citizens and receive feedback on parliamentary work. The World e-Parliament Report’s survey of parliaments concluded that 88% of parliaments currently offer the public email contact information and that 78% of parliaments report that members utilize their personal email to communicate directly with citizens.[2] However, just 18% of parliaments utilize online discussion groups to discuss legislative action.[3] 

The IPU details specific prescriptions for parliaments to increase their ability to interact with citizens.  Recommendations include using email, blogs or interactive fora, e-petitions, online polling, and the testing of new technologies as they are developed.[4] The European Parliament utilizes Facebook to interact with citizens. In South Africa, the “Taking Parliament to the People” program brings interactive debates to constituents via video or teleconferencing. In Namibia, the “Listen Loud Campaign Project” utilizes phone-based opinion polls to receive citizen feedback. In Chile, citizens can act as a ‘virtual senator’ and provide comments to a proposed bill.[5] Brazil’s parliament operates constituent call centers, an online e-democracy program to engage citizens directly in the lawmaking process (e-Democracia project), and a Committee for Participatory Legislation which allows citizens and organizations to submit proposals directly to lawmakers.[6] The e-Democracia website allowed for 30% of a bill on youth to be written by citizens participating online, an example of citizens receiving a concrete result from their involvement.[7] The Uganda Parliament is introducing the USpeak system for receiving, organizing and analyzing citizen input via SMS. In Portugal, Parliament facilitates an online discussion forum that is open to the public and centered around education issues, as well as a blog structure for members of parliament.[8] The House of Commons in Canada allows and encourages its individual members to utilize social media applications, including on mobile devices. For example, more than two thirds of the 308 members of the House of Commons are on Twitter.[9]

[1] Global Centre for ICT in Parliament, World e-Parliament Report 2010, IPU-UNDESA, p. 165.

[2] Ibid., p. 26.

[3] Ibid., p. 25.

[4] IPU, Guidelines for Parliamentary Websites, §4.1-2.

[5] All examples from Global Centre for ICT in Parliament, World e-Parliament Report 2010, IPU-UNDESA, pp. 34, 26, 43, 45, respectively.

[6] Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, Dados Abertos da Camara dos Deputados (Open Data from the Chamber of Deputies), 2011, p. 2.

[7] Faria, Cristiano, Can People Help Legislators Make Better Laws? Brazil Shows How, techPresident, 29 Apr 2010. Accessed 6/12/2012.

[8] University of Westminster, Parliamentary Web Presence: A Comparative Review, pp. 10-11, published in the Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on e-Government (ICEG 2006), 12-13 October 2006, p.10.

[9] Marc Bosc, Deputy Clerk of the House of Commons, Canada, The Evolving Concept of Transparency in Legislatures: The House of Commons, Global Centre for ICT in Parliament Meeting, Washington, D.C. February 27-29, 2012, p.11. Accessed 6/12/2012.