Connecting parliaments: Harnessing digital dividends to increase transparency and citizen engagement

Connecting parliaments: Harnessing digital dividends to increase transparency and citizen engagement

Parliamentary digital transformation is a relatively underfunded area of work, but a vitally important one in achieving the very common overarching goals of open, accountable, inclusive and participative government. Improvements in how parliamentary digital capacity building can be done better are possible with better strategy, funding and cooperation, and when parliaments are enthusiastic and willing to take the opportunities offered to them to improve themselves.
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Authors
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Rebecca Rumbul (MySociety)

Contributors
Summary

The overarching argument of this paper is that parliamentary digital transformation is a relatively underfunded area of work, but a vitally important one in achieving the very common overarching goals of open, accountable, inclusive and participative government. Improvements in how parliamentary digital capacity building can be done better are possible with better strategy, funding and cooperation, and when parliaments are enthusiastic and willing to take the opportunities offered to them to improve themselves.

Now more than ever, digital transformation has become essential for parliaments. Such transformation can have a significant impact in making parliaments more transparent and accountable and can enable them to leverage greater public interest and engagement in the legislative and electoral processes.

Good external digital engagement requires parliaments to review their own internal digital structures, assess where development and investment are needed, and how digital improvement will assist in achieving their goals. Differential priorities in the needs of the parliament or societal actors can form a guide, according to which specific areas for digital development might be prioritised. These steps require long-term investment, which should go in parallel with the digital transformation of the Executive. However, because a country’s digital transformation is primarily the preserve of the Executive, it can bypass the legislature and may be almost disproportionately influenced by the ruling party. Uneven digital transformation between public bodies and the legislature may weaken the profile and legitimacy of the legislature itself. Furthermore, governments that effectively restrict digital development within the legislature are essentially restricting democratic integrity.

Besides the long-term process of building and developing infrastructure, short-term pilot projects can be useful to test approaches and begin building the digital infrastructure of the future. Properly targeted funding, to achieve specified digital transformation goals, agreed in collaboration with the development agencies operating in target areas, can yield significant dividends in improving the digital democracy ecosystem. This approach can neutralise harmful, short-termist and wasteful approaches to digital deficiency, and remove the ability of the more unscrupulous parliaments to play development agencies off against each other to leverage greater rewards or resources.

Digital transformation of parliaments requires better strategy, funding and cooperation on the part of donors and implementers as parliaments are enthusiastic and willing to take the opportunities offered by digitalisation.


Header photo: Jessica Taylor / UK Parliament

What's it all about?

Report authors Julia Keutgen and Rebecca Rumbol discuss their report and its key arguments

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The cover of the report. Details provided in the website page text
AI guidelines for parliaments

These AI guidelines for parliaments not only promote responsible AI use but also empower parliaments to mitigate the risks of AI whilst leveraging AI’s potential to strengthen their functions and serve citizens better. They were developed by a technical working group of 22 expert parliamentary scholars and professionals from 16 countries.

Part 1 of the document - the introduction to the guidelines - describes AI and generative AI, and outlines why we need guidelines, the challenges of using AI in a parliamentary setting, and how AI could be used in parliaments.

Part 2 of the document contains the guidelines. Following a summary, the detailed guidelines are organised into six sections, covering a range of critical issues:

• ethical principles
• artificial general intelligence (AGI)
• privacy
• governance
• system design
• capacity building

Each of the 40 guidelines is presented in a structured format, aiming to address three main questions:

• Why does this guideline matter?
• Are there known examples of its implementation?
• How can this guideline be implemented?

Brief further considerations and recommendations are also included in each guideline.

Part 3 briefly outlines a way forward in the development of guidelines for AI in parliaments.

Part 4 contains a list of abbreviations, a glossary, and the bibliography.

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The role civil society plays in monitoring International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreements varies across contexts
The role of civil society in monitoring IMF agreements

Governments are the sole parties that negotiate with the International Monetary Fund, which provides financial assistance to countries in or at high risk of debt distress. Because of this, unpopular deals often lack legitimacy in the eyes of citizens. 

But, active and inclusive civil society oversight can significantly enhance the legitimacy, transparency, and effectiveness of IMF programmes. 

This not only guards against the disenfranchisement of the populace but also ensures that the burdens and benefits of economic adjustments are equitably shared. 

This paper examines case studies from Kenya, Sri Lanka, and the Caribbean. The experiences from the Caribbean, where governments have been willing to formally incorporate CSO input into IMF programme creation and evaluation, demonstrate the positive impact of formal CSO representatives in oversight mechanisms, leading to increased public trust and consistent adherence to fiscal discipline. Conversely, the experience from Kenya and Sri Lanka, where CSO engagement was blocked, highlight the challenges faced by CSOs when excluded from meaningful participation in the negotiation and implementation of IMF agreements. 

The cases discussed signal a clear imperative for a structured collaboration between governments, international financial institutions, and civil society. Such collaborations ensure that economic reforms are not only technically sound but also democratically legitimised and aligned with the social and economic realities of the country.

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A person speaking using a mic while sitting around others
Empowering youth voices: Building a democratic future in North Macedonia

In March 2024, Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), as part of the Democracy Works' project supported by the British Embassy in Skopje, hosted two impactful events focusing on youth and their crucial role in shaping policies. Both youth organisations and political party youth branches engaged in discussions concerning key policy areas affecting youth.

The first event, 'Roadmap for Young People,' featured presentations from various youth organisations highlighting their recommendations across key policy areas such as youth standards, education quality, equal opportunities, and youth participation. 

Representatives from organisations like the Association for Research and Analysis (ZMAI), Youth Can, Youth Education Forum, Forum for Educational Change (FECH), Union for Youth Work, Youth Association of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing 'Young Sign,' National Youth Council of Macedonia, and Coalition of Youth Organizations NOW, among others, shared their perspectives on critical areas for policy intervention.

Subsequently, on 7 March 2024, representatives from 11 political party youth branches gathered for a public debate focusing on youth policies and demographic trends. This dialogue allowed political youth representatives to express their views and proposed actions aimed at improving the lives of young people. The engagement of youth representatives and organisations enriched the discussions, reflecting a collective effort towards addressing the priorities identified by youth.

The brief from the dialogues between youth organizations and political party youth branches summarize the key recommendations and insights shared during these events, emphasising the imperative for institutions to collaborate and prioritise initiatives that enhance the wellbeing and opportunities of young citizens in the country. 

While not exhaustive, this summary represents the voices of youth organisations and political youth representatives, highlighting their identified priorities for the betterment of youth at the onset of 2024.

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Violence against women in Montenegrin politics

Violence against women in politics is a globally recognised phenomenon that deeply impacts different political landscapes and influences the participation of women in all levels of power. It is especially present within societies that experience an increase in the number of politically active women. Montenegro is no exception to this rule, as women in politics experience violence and hate speech in both the physical and online spheres solely because they choose to become public figures. 

Since this ongoing struggle needs to be tackled properly, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy office in Montenegro has established an initiative to develop a Comprehensive Study on Violence Against Women in Montenegrin Politics. The study aims to shed light on the prevailing situation and offer insights and a deeper understanding of violence in politics within Montenegrin society.

"Violence against women in politics is widespread. I would not be surprised if women who would like to engage in politics think like – why would I do this to myself, look what other women in politics go through.”  (an interviewee in a Study)

The study's key objectives include assessing the current landscape of violence against women in politics, amplifying the voices of female politicians, and formulating actionable recommendations. 

It adopts a multifaceted approach, encompassing various methodologies to gather comprehensive insights. It includes a nationwide public opinion survey that showcased that half of the respondents (62.4%) recognise that the problem of violence against women in politics exists in Montenegro.

"The most frequent attacks against male politicians are political attacks. The most frequent attacks against female politicians are hate speech attacks.“

  (an interviewee in a Study)

Additionally, a segment of the study features interviews with politicians from diverse backgrounds and focus groups involving political party youth wings. They give insights to the personal perspective of politicians who deal with the violence in their working environment. 

The study also presents results of media monitoring of select portals as well as the analysis of social media which shed a light on the violence that is expressed through these means. 

By delving into public sentiment, political perspectives, and media portrayals, the study also identified barriers and proposed effective solutions.

"Quotas, compliance with the law, stronger authorities for the gender equality committee, stopping the divisions to male and female committees in the Parliament… all of this should be done.“(an interviewee in a Study)

In this way, political actors are given set of recommendations grounded in a thorough analysis of Montenegro's political landscape, drawing from international best practices. They provide pragmatic strategies to address identified challenges, fostering a more conducive environment for women in politics.

Ultimately, the Comprehensive Study on Violence Against Women in Montenegrin Politics represents a significant step towards fostering gender equality and inclusivity in the political sphere. Through collaborative efforts and evidence-based interventions, we aspire to catalyse lasting societal transformation.