In Brazil, the Chamber of Deputies’ e-Democracia platform uses new social media and technology tools to engage a range of actors in the legislative process. For example, it allows citizens to comment on draft legislation and see when their comments are incorporated into law.
The platform enables multiple modes of interaction for citizens and lawmakers, including:
The e-Democracia platform was launched in June 2009 and, as of August 2013, the portal had about 3,000 debates (forum threads), 17,400 contributions, and 27,400 registered participants.
Open Ministry is a civil society e-petition platform that enables citizens to propose legislation to Finland’s Parliament. Any proposal that receives over 50,000 signatures is automatically considered by the Parliament. Issues that have thus far received more than 50,000 signatures and have come up for parliamentary consideration include banning farming of animals for their furs, copyright regulation, allowing same-sex marriages, and making Swedish language non-mandatory for Finnish students.
In India, voters have the fundamental right to know the financial background of any person contesting elections to Parliament. Since 2003, it has become common practice for candidates contesting elections to Parliament to submit an official declaration disclosing details of assets and liabilities for self, spouse and three dependents. The Election Commission of India is required to make these affidavits public so that voters may get to know the background of electoral candidates.
After a candidate wins elections to either House of Parliament it becomes mandatory for them to declare their assets (movable and immovable property for self, spouse and dependent children) within 90 days of taking oath of office as an MP. Liabilities to public financial institutions and the central and any state government must also be disclosed.
Parliamentary chambers in the Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Suriname and Ecuador have been testing Bungeni, which is a suite of open source applications for managing legislative information in XML following the Akoma Ntoso standard, and may use Bungeni to support their legislative information management needs.
In Ghana, memoranda are welcomed from the public on any bill before committee. The South African Parliament allows for “submissions” to committees as well, and provides a simple description for how citizens may use this tool in its website. While in Uganda, members of the public may appear before parliament to give evidence on an item in the budget.
In Slovenia, 100 seats are available to the public forplenary sessions and the parliamentary building is open to the public biweekly. In the Netherlands, there are 240 seats available to the public at plenary sessions. Committee sessions are held in several halls which have seats for between 24 and 208 visitors. In the UK, the public can observe plenary sessions of both houses and the Westminster Hall debates from the public galleries.
In Croatia, requests to hold a roundtable at Parliament are frequently approved by the Secretary of the Parliament, while many civil society organizations cooperate directly with parliamentary committees on round tables or thematic open sessions. Committee chairs have the right to invite NGO representatives to committee sessions to obtain additional information on reviewed bills.
Each committee has between three and seven external permanent committee members from think tanks, interest groups or NGOs. The external permanent committee members are elected through a public announcement and have the right to participate in committee discussions, but cannot vote. They receive monthly remuneration (approximately €260) and are entitled to reimbursement of travel expenses.
In the United States, the National Conference of State Legislatures operates a program called "America’s Legislators Back to School". The program gives elected parliamentarians in all 50 states the opportunity to meet personally with their young constituents and to answer questions, share ideas, and listen to concerns. The program is designed to teach young people what it is like to be a state legislator: the processes, the pressures, and the debate, negotiation and compromise. The program is emphasised as a bipartisan event.
Before the digital age, Congress established ‘franking rules’ on communication to constituents. These governed how Members could use public funds to send mass mailings to constituents, while guarding against incumbents using this privilege to advance political campaigns. When these rules were extended to include social media, at first they were restrictively applied, effectively making popular social media services such as Facebook and Twitter out of bounds. This reflected fears that using social media would imply a commercial endorsement through association with advertising, could tarnish the status of the institution, might create security issues, and would make inappropriate political activity harder to catch.
Following emerging experience, debates and a campaign led by the Sunlight Foundation, in 2008, the House and Senate revised these rules and allowed members and staff to use social media to correspond with constituents more freely, while still maintaining the principles of no product endorsement, no partisan material and no unrelated personal information.
While there is no overall social media policy, the House and Senate rules now makes clear that Federal law and House Rules on communication apply to all ‘official content of material posted by the Member on any website’, but not to the broader social media platform itself.
ManaBalss.lv is a Latvian civil society-run website allowing citizens to propose legislation that is considered by parliament if it receives more than 10,000 signatures. Civil activity at ManaBalss.lv has resulted in two new laws being passed.
Parliaments have institutionalized responsibility for transparency and openness either by the creation of a new commission or by emphasising this function in assigning committee jurisdictions, such as the Chilean Bicameral Committee for Transparency or the Mexican Senate’s Committee on the Assurance of Access and Transparency of Information (COGATI).
Launched in October 2012, Montenegro’s Citizens’ Voice e-Petitions platform enables citizens and permanent foreign residents in Montenegro to identify policy issue and propose solutions to the central government in the form of e-petitions. If an e-petition is supported by at least 6,000 online votes, the government undertakes to consider it as a formal policy motion.
In the first six months of the project, 21 e-petitions qualified for voting through Citizens’ Voice, two of which reached the threshold of 6,000 votes.
The platform was developed by the Government of Montenegro, in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme Office in Montenegro, using the experiences of the UK government e-petitions platform, the US Government website “We the People” and the German Bundestag’s e-petition website.
The president of the Chamber of Deputies of Argentina signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with a coalition of parliamentary monitoring organizations, who are using the Declaration on Parliamentary Openness and the Latin American Index on Legislative Transparency to help guide discussions on transparency issues. Through the MoU, the Chamber of Deputies has agreed to create a registry of citizens and non-governmental organisations to ease their ability to participate in committee and plenary sessions, promote an internal regulation about access to public information, create an on-going legislative transparency working group composed of the signatories of the MoU and more.
The Brazilian Chamber of Deputies’ open data standard states that data shall be available to all without registration and that “the data are not subject to any regulation of copyrights, patents, intellectual property or trade secrets. Reasonable restrictions relating to privacy, security and access privileges may be allowed.” The Brazilian Chamber of Deputies makes most categories of information available for recent years on its open data webpage.
The code for the UK Government’s Gov.uk platform was released on Github, which is the largest code host in the world. Gov.uk is a single domain used to deliver digital services to citizens. It is an open source and mobile-friendly platform.
The European Parliament is since 2010 using an open source release of AT4AM. This is a web-based amendment authoring tool used to create and table amendments on the proposals of the European Commission and the Council of the European Union, and the reports of the parliamentary committees. Until February 2013, 250.000 amendments had been created with AT4AM.
The European Parliament has undertaken a strategy to engage the public in the places where they are and to use social media tools to promote public understanding and interest in the parliament. It has developed custom applications inside Facebook to run live chats with members, to ﬁnd their local MEP and connect to their Facebook page. It has also run a competition to select a citizen to be a Facebook “editor” for a day.
The Finnish Eduskunta’s Committee for the Future is partnering with domestic and international research organizations, universities and institutions to address challenges of citizen engagement in the legislative process. It is also integrating new technologies into its methods of work, including exploring the use of social media during hearings and exploiting crowdsourcing techniques to boost citizen feedback.
The Italian Senate has adopted data standards based on the Akoma Ntoso format. All the bills published on the Senate’s website are available, other than in the usual HTML, PDF, and ePub formats, also in XML.
Akoma Ntoso defines a ‘machine readable’ set of simple technology-neutral electronic representations (in XML format) of parliamentary, legislative and judiciary documents and is the result of the efforts of the Africa i-Parliaments Action Plan to realize a common standard for the interchange of legal documents among institutions and countries.
After conducting a review of the Senate’s transparency policies against the Declaration on Parliamentary Openness, the Mexican Senate’s Transparency Committee has developed a workplan on parliamentary openness. The review took place with assistance from the local parliamentary monitoring organization and think tank Fundar.
The New Zealand Parliament’s website [www.parliament.nz] contains easy access to most relevant information, including web streaming and email alerts on pending business.
After a wide public consultation process, the Scottish Parliament published a set of Key Principles in 1999, ‘Shaping Scotland’s Parliament’ which set out how the Parliament should work. The Principles are:
Accountable: the Scottish Parliament is answerable to the people of Scotland. The Scottish Parliament should hold the Scottish Government to account; Open and Encourage Participation: the Scottish Parliament should be accessible and involve the people of Scotland in its decisions as much as possible; Power Sharing: power should be shared among the Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliament and the people of Scotland, and Equal Opportunities: the Scottish Parliament should treat all people fairly.
The Italian Senate publishes legislative data on its data portal dati.senato.it. The portal provides information for citizens, researchers and journalists to analyse and share information of what is being proposed, discussed and voted in the Senate. The data is released under Creative Commons (CC BY 3.0) for free reuse.
In Sweden, parliament reaches out to citizens through regional surveys or by holding panels of MPs in local districts. Parliament has also opened regional ‘branches’ throughout the country, where citizens can access educational and informational material on parliament and follow live broadcasts of parliamentary proceedings. These branches serve as meeting places for MPs and voters.
The Swedish Riksdag’s website www.riksdagen.se is easy to use. It provides public access to a range of information, such as preparatory documents, information about MPs and their work (including vote data), legislation and other valuable information. It contains information in a number of languages. Much of this information is also available on the Riksdagen open data portal for use by third party technology developers.
The U.S. House of Representatives, through its Committee on House Administration, published its standards for posting electronic information in December 2011. The standards are intended to ensure easy access to legislation considered by the House and its committees, and will be subject to periodic review and reissuance. Greater detail related to the House’s use of XML standards for posting information electronically is also available.
In Oregon, the Citizens’ Initiative Review was established in 2009 to improve the quality of public participation and political deliberation. It brings together 24 randomly selected, demographically diverse voters for 5 days to review evidence, talk to experts, hear from campaigns, and discuss a ballot measure that citizens will vote on when they go to the polls. They ultimately produce a citizen statement reviewing the facts and arguments. Each citizen statement is published as a prominent page in the voters’ pamphlet as a new and easily accessible resource for voters to use at election time.
A 2012 evaluation found the citizen statements to be “highly deliberative”, “high level of factual accuracy”, and insightful from the perspective of two-thirds of citizens who read them.
Legislation.gov.uk carries most types of legislation and their accompanying explanatory documents.
The UK Parliament’s application enables citizens to read the latest version of the House of Commons Order Paper, which is published each sitting day and lists the business of the House and sittings in Westminster Hall. It also lists questions for oral or written answer that day, questions for written answer which have not previously appeared in print, and other items such as notices of written statements, committee notices, remaining orders and lists of future business. It is designed specifically for the iPad.
The United Kingdom Parliament provides a range of opportunities for youth education through its Educational Service, including school tours, a parliamentary quiz web application, and video games. The Parliament Educational Service has more than 40 educational videos on its YouTube channel.
While still experimental, the Madison Project – a US Congress online crowdsourcing legislative platform – is an open source tool to allow anyone to comment on or annotate a piece of legislation.
The United States Library of Congress, through the online platform Challenge.gov has launched a challenge to invite competitors to map the Akoma Ntoso schema to established US and UK legislative markup languages to improve Akoma Ntoso’s support of US and UK legislative data.
The website of the Republic of Korea’s National Assembly provides a variety of information about its work, with updates on its homepage about recent happenings, a weekly calendar and schedule of upcoming programmes on the National Assembly’s television channel.