The Parliamentary Monitoring Organization Leaders Conference will be broadcast live on this page from April 30th - May 2nd 2012.
To help provide a platform for cooperation among PMOs, the Sunlight Foundation, the Latin American Network for Legislative Transparency, NDI, WBI, the Embassy of Mexico in the United States, and the National Endowment for Democracy are co-hosting a two-and-a-half-day conference in Washington, D.C., for global PMO leaders. The conference seeks to foster discussion on international strategies for improving access to parliamentary information on the national level, including a transparency 'pledge' for parliaments, which is available for comments on the AGORA Trusted Area now. To take part in this discussion, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The conference will also provide an opportunity for PMOs to share good practices for monitoring parliamentary transparency, discuss collaborative ideas for addressing common challenges, and explore engagement in international fora to raise awareness of PMOs and their work.
Parliamentary Monitoring Organisations
Citizens are increasingly recognizing the importance of parliaments due to their roles in representing citizen interests, lawmaking, and overseeing the executive. To strengthen citizen engagement in and understanding of parliamentary work, a growing number of citizen-based groups are becoming active in monitoring parliaments, assessing their performance and functioning, and developing new ways to enable citizen participation in parliamentary processes.
According to a 2011 publication by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the World Bank Institute (WBI), Strengthening Parliamentary Accountability, Citizen Engagement and Access to Information: A Global Survey of Parliamentary Monitoring Organizations, nearly 200 parliamentary monitoring organizations, or “PMOs”, are presently monitoring more than 80 national parliaments worldwide. Drawing on a survey of these PMOs, as well as interviews with PMO leaders and the international development community, the publication finds that PMOs have “shown promise in strengthening a number of components of democratic governance, including the accountability of parliaments to the electorate, citizen engagement in the legislative process and access to information about parliaments and their work.” PMOs are developing a variety of innovative and effective tools for monitoring parliamentary functioning and performance, and supporting reform initiatives aimed at strengthening the democratic development of the parliamentary institution. Some examples of PMO initiatives are described below. Information on specific PMOs and the work they conduct can be found in AGORA’s PMO Atlas.
Developing Information and Communications Technologies
Among the PMOs surveyed for the NDI and WBI report, around 40 percent have adopted the use of advanced information and communications technologies, known as “parliamentary informatics”. These tools allow PMOs to automatically aggregate and organize information from parliamentary websites and other information sources, and generate visualizations, such as political finance maps or timelines of MP activities. PMOs also use these tools to facilitate citizen-MP communications and to engage website visitors in the monitoring of MPs or analysis of policy.
A word cloud developed by Regards Citoyens for NosDeputes.fr, which monitors
the National Assembly of France, allows visitors to instantly search all of the
available comments made by an individual parliamentarian on important issues.
Supporting Initiatives to Promote Democratic Parliamentary Reform
Although the use of parliamentary informatics is on the rise, many PMOs aim to support parliamentary reform by engaging parliaments directly. The Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT), has gathered parliamentarians, parliamentary staff, prominent journalists and academics, and others, to evaluate the performance of the National Assembly of Pakistan using the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s Self-Assessment Toolkit for Parliaments. The participants were asked to rate the National Assembly’s performance on a range of questions related to six sections of the IPU‘s toolkit using a 10-point scale. The final report, State of Democracy in Pakistan: Evaluation of Parliament 2008-2009, states the results and recommendations developed by participants to improve the parliament‘s effectiveness. Other common PMO activities aimed at supporting democratic parliamentary reform include testifying on parliamentary reform issues, fulfilling information requests from parliament or individual MPs on specific issues or legislation, and even proposing MP codes of conduct.
Improving Parliamentary Transparency and Integrity
One of the most common challenges faced by PMOs is limited access to parliamentary information, a problem that limits their capacity to help engage citizens in the legislative process. The lack of information on parliamentary websites – such as voting records and floor speeches – reduces the ability of some PMOs to use technologies that have proven effective in helping citizens understand parliamentary information and engage productively with parliamentarians. Even when this information is available, it must be posted in machine-readable formats for such tools to be useful. For PMOs that do not use informatics, limited access to parliamentary information may cause the use of less effective means for assessing parliamentary performance.
PMOs have employed a range of creative solutions to try to overcome these obstacles. One effective approach to increasing transparency involves enlisting the support of parliamentary candidates to sign a good governance pledge that serves as a public commitment on the part of the candidate, if elected, to improve parliamentary transparency and integrity. The Al-Quds Center for Political Studies, which operates the Jordanian Parliamentary Monitor, used Jordan‘s 2010 elections to secure candidate signatures on an agreement that included a pledge to develop a parliamentary code of conduct once elected. The Regional Index of Parliamentary Transparency, which was a joint effort by Corporación Participa (Chile), Fundación Poder Ciudadano (Argentina), and Acción Ciudadana (Guatemala) to test parliamentary transparency by assessing the concepts of access to information and accountability along four dimensions (comprising 62 variables) of work in which the legislature is involved. Building on this work, the Latin American Network for Legislative Transparency, which includes 15 organizations from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, has developed tools to gauge the availability of parliamentary budget and expense information, lobbying regulations, and financial statements and declarations of interest.
Latin American Network for Legislative Transparency
PMOs and AGORA
Through their monitoring activities and support for parliamentary reform, PMOs have gained a wealth of knowledge and expertise related to parliaments and their functioning. Yet, despite the innovative approaches developed by PMOs for both online and offline monitoring, the sharing of these practices and experience has been hindered by a lack of international networking opportunities. AGORA seeks to facilitate interaction and information sharing both among PMOs, and between PMOs and the broader parliamentary strengthening community. PMOs can email the AGORA network administrator for access to the trusted area and AGORA’s internal parliamentary monitoring group, which serves as a forum for networking among PMOs and as a resource center on parliamentary monitoring.