Legislatures are central to modern democratic politics, holding governments to account, and scrutinising legislation in order to generate more effective public policy. Yet during moments of crisis, legislatures are often bypassed as presidents and prime ministers prioritise a rapid response. The concern that legislatures will be marginalised, with greater power concentrated in the hands of […]
Parliaments, or legislatures, are the cornerstones of democratic governance. They check and challenge the work of government, make and change laws and debate important issues. They also serve as a central gateway for all citizens to participate in public life.
What is more, parliaments play a critical role in states affected by conflict. They bring together divergent interests and groups to debate the issues that affect everyone. Effective parliaments contribute to the rule of law, economic prosperity, improved social welfare, and reduced violent conflict inside and among countries.
WFD works with parliaments to promote inclusive and effective governance that strengthens policymaking, holds government to account and represents people’s interests. Our long term aim is to see parliaments worldwide that are transparent, and inclusive, engage the public in their work and are truly representative.
After over 25 years’ at the forefront of democracy development, WFD is a trusted partner of parliaments. This is because WFD builds our approach on a deep understanding of local contexts. We work with local experts and do not try to impose any ready-made solutions or foreign ways of working whilst offering access to British and international technical expertise. We take a flexible, long-term approach that fosters learning. We make use of the latest research and seize emerging opportunities.
Our work with parliaments is closely connected to our work on openness and participation, through which we support parliaments to engage with citizens. Find out about our work on openness and participation.
WFD is helping develop new, improved standards for parliamentary performance as well as encouraging parliaments to innovate.
WFD is also researching the ways in which parliaments around the world are experimenting and adapting in a fast-changing world, including adapting to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Parliaments need effective and visionary leadership to serve as a central institution in a well-functioning democracy. This includes both political leaders (such as speakers, committee chairs, or heads of party caucuses) and administrative leaders (such as clerks): they need to work together to provide direction and manage the business – and politics – of parliament.
WFD supports parliamentary leaders in a variety of ways, including through peer-to-peer mentoring. WFD mobilises current and former British and international parliamentary leaders to support our partners.
Strategic planning is critical to achieving long-term institutional development. Effective planning brings together political and administrative leaders to ensure a joint, coherent effort plan to help parliament improve. WFD works with parliamentary leaders to develop strategic plans tailored to the local context that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time bound (SMART).
The Parliaments of Morocco, Jordan, Botswana and Pakistan are among those that WFD has supported to develop or update their strategic plans.
External communication is an increasingly important area of parliamentary support. Public knowledge about what parliaments do can be limited and negatively impact perceptions of democracy. We provide training for MPs and parliamentary support staff on the importance of engaging with the public, for example through developing a communications strategy or support on specific communications initiatives.
Parliamentary committees are the engines of legislature. They are an important place for legislators to manage the business of parliament, consider policy issues, examine the work of government, and draft and amend legislation. Committees are also the logical entry point for citizens to engage in policymaking.
Chairs and deputy chairs of parliamentary committees and their senior clerks play a critical role in shaping the work of committees. WFD supports committee leaders in developing annual strategies and work plans, testing out new approaches, and determining how best to engage government, civil society, citizens, the media, and the private sector.
Conducting effective scrutiny often requires committees to undertake some form of public hearing. The UK’s approach to select committee hearings is widely respected as impactful, transparent, and inclusive. WFD shares this experience around the world.
WFD also encourages committees to undertake more innovative approaches to conducting hearings and collecting citizen input, whether through mobile committee hearings or experimenting with citizen assemblies and juries.
WFD supports committees working on a wide range of issues, including the extractive industry, human rights, the environment, and gender equality. This work often overlaps with the support we provided to civil society organisations, where we connect them with relevant committees.
Ensuring that government spends tax payers’ money efficiently is a primary role of parliament. Analysing the numbers, comparing levels of spend between different departments and debating where the money should be spent often falls to a dedicated parliamentary committee. Parliaments need the right skills to be able to rigorously scrutinise and challenge budget proposals.
WFD’s approach shares the knowledge and experience of the UK Public Accounts Committee – the cross-party group of MPs who analyse and question government spending – with counterparts overseas. We also support the establishment of dedicated services to provide in-house, independent, technical advice within parliaments. For example, in 2020 we supported the establishment of the Parliamentary Budget Office of the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia.
From Tunisia to Serbia and Mozambique, WFD programmes have supported committees responsible for monitoring financial oversight and the parliamentary services that help them. In 2020, WFD published a series of accountability briefs to help parliaments worldwide monitor the spending of public money.
Parliaments often focus on passing new laws, as opposed to checking on the implementation of those laws.
Post-Legislative Scrutiny (PLS) is the practice of monitoring the implementation of legislation and ensuring laws bring their intended benefits. PLS is particularly relevant when it comes to matters of gender equality, environmental protection, and addressing outdated laws.
WFD has extensive in-house expertise in PLS and trains parliaments around the world in its principles. In 2020, following an introduction to PLS from WFD, MPs in Nepal scrutinised the decades-old law used by the Government of Nepal to respond to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Parliamentarians and parliaments as institutions need top-of-the-range support to do their jobs effectively. We work with the staff working behind the scenes to ensure MPs have the research and information they need to carry out their work.
WFD’s work in this area includes support to ensure the parliamentary record is kept up to date, establishing dedicated parliamentary research centres and institutions that provide financial analysis.
For example, in Ghana we helped establish the Inter-Departmental Research and Information Group (IDRIG) which provides research to Ghanaian lawmakers and improves the sharing of information between the library, ICT and research departments.
WFD supports women parliamentarians by helping them develop their leadership skills. We do this througah training, mentoring, and practical, hands-on joint working. WFD supports women’s parliamentary caucuses, which are important mechanisms for encouraging cross-party efforts to drive policy change. What is more, we support women to run for office.
WFD provides our parliamentary partners with ways to integrate gender and equality analysis throughout all aspects of parliamentary business. This includes the legislative, oversight and budgeting processes. We also help parliaments identify ways in which they can function better as a place of work for women and men. We help provide a safe and accessible space for all citizens to be part of their systems of government.
This blog was first published by PSA Parliaments: The UK Political Studies Association Specialist Group on Parliaments. Read the full report by Professor Nina Caspersen and Dr Gyda Sindre at the University of York. Since 1992, Westminster Foundation for Democracy has supported democratic systems as they emerge out of conflict and into peace and stability. Currently, we […]
A healthy democracy needs to include everyone in decision-making processes and structures of governance. However, in many parts of the world young people, women, and persons with disabilities (PWDs) have often been relegated to the side-lines. At WFD, we believe that there are endless possibilities and opportunities that can be realized when all people are […]