Information Management in Parliament
If information is key to an effective democracy than it is absolutely critical for an effective parliament. In almost every aspect of the work of the institution, access to timely and accurate information is important to ensure a productive and efficient decision-making process. Anyone associated with a parliament can recall an example of how committee meetings and plenary sessions grind to a halt because one or more parliamentary groups is either pressing for the release of information or, if it had the right information, would not hold up deliberations.
Parliament is also the creator of much information. The process by which the institution receives, gathers and disseminates this information is known as information management. And parliaments must consider both internal and external demands when considering the management of this information.
Internally, it is important that all MPs and parliamentary groups have access to information. From the simplest order paper or daily agenda to volumes of documents related to a committee investigation, a parliament must ensure this information is catalogued, filed and accessible in a timely manner. And it is critical all information be managed in a similar manner, as it is difficult, if not impossible, to determine what piece of information may never be requested again or may become the centre of a future critical debate.
Such systems have traditionally included hard copies of documents and involved complex filing systems. It would also include the engagement of library, research and committee units to identify and categorize such information. More recently, electronic document management systems have been developed, allowing MPs and staff to access summaries or entire documents through an internal electronic system. These electronic systems have often been part of an intranet for internal use by staff and MPs.
One of the traditional tools of information management is a daily transcript of the plenary sessions of the parliament, known in Anglo-Saxon countries as Hansard or the Congressional Record. Many parliaments struggle to produce such a transcript in a timely manner (usually considered within 12-24 hours of the end of the sitting), but it is a critical document that allows for the clarification of the proceedings when there is a challenge or dispute between MPs or groups. More recently, with the use of ICT, parliaments have been able to produce electronic versions of the transcript and have even posted these online. For more information on parliamentary transcripts, please click here.
Externally, many people are interested in the work of the parliament. Some are seeking information related to a specific draft law or seeking an opportunity to advocate to MPs or a committee. Others monitor one or more aspects of the work of parliament and require information on a routine basis to ensure proper oversight. Still others may just want to learn more about the workings of the parliament.
A website is now the accepted portal to the information contained within a parliament. Citizens and stakeholders alike should be able to access as much information as possible through online sources. Of course this means parliaments must populate their online sites with the information. Ten to 15 years ago, many parliaments established simple websites that provided static and limited information about their work. The standard is now a website that is interactive, allowing citizens to provide feedback on the work of their MP, a committee or parliament in general.
As important is the ability of citizens to access a wide range of information. This may include draft laws being considered by the parliament, a report from a parliamentary committee or details of the annual budget of the parliament. By making this information available to the public the parliament is fulfilling its mandate of representation while promoting the principles of democracy and the role of parliament in that system.
More advanced parliaments are even providing live feeds or podcasts of plenary sittings and committee hearings. Others allow citizens to submit petitions online that are then accepted by the parliament for consideration.