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During the 1990s, as the third wave of democratization – a term coined by Samuel Huntington to describe the series of transitions to democracy that took place throughout the world during the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s – began to peter out, the international development community turned its attention to strengthening these nascent democracies and developement experts began to recognise the "indispensibility" of parliaments as representative institutions in the democratic process. As the development community sought to bolster democratic governance, the role of parliaments – the arena in which citizens' needs meet government action – began to receive increasing attention. Today, parliaments are widely recognised as critical institutions for democratic development.

An effective parliamentary institution is strongly correlated with the existence of a viable democracy and an open society. Parliaments, on account of their representative and legislative functions, can empower ordinary citizens to participate in the development of policies that shape their lives. Due to their oversight role, parliaments are fundamental to establishing the rule of law, protecting human rights, overseeing transparent governance processes, and ensuring national compliance with international obligations.  These functions, though universally recognised, are not always naturally or effectively implemented in a parliament.  This is where external support can provide the opportunity to enhance the ability of a parliament to be effective.  


1. Context: Parliamentary Strengthening Framework

For the international development community, parliamentary support programmes are the primary mechanism for encouraging parliamentary development. These programmes aim to strengthen parliaments in order to foster representative, transparent, accountable, and effective government. Support programmes carry out this objective by providing technical assistance to MPs and parliamentary staff, and information and communications technologies (ICT) to strengthen the parliamentary administrative structure. Within this framework, parliamentary support programmes draw from an array of approaches and methodologies depending on the context and needs of a given parliament.  However, there are a few key methologies that are recognised as important to ensure a well-functioning parliamentary development programme. For more information on parliamentary strengthening framework, please click here.

2. Project Formulation and Implementation

The first step in a design of a project is a needs assessment. This assessment goes beneath the political surface to determine how the parliament operates and the challenges its faces in meeting the expectations of citizens and in fulfilling its legal functions. Once the needs of the parliament are identified, the project document must be formulated and implemented. This will include the definition of specific and clear outcomes, outputs and activities that will be achieved during the life of the project. There are  other crucial questions related to national ownership of the project, which must be balanced with the need to achieve results and the need to avoid potential conflicts and perceptions of bias. Staffing must also be considered. For more information on project formulation and implementation, please click here.

A successful parliamentary strengthening programme integrates monitoring and evaluation (M&E) into its work on a regular basis. It is through the use of various M&E formats that a programme can improve its capacity to support the parliament and to understand what worked and what did not work with previous outputs and activities.

3. Strategic Development Plans

Where the context permits and the parliament and its leadership are keen to drive the reform process, the creation of a parliamentary strategic development plan can be an important achievement. Through such a plan, the parliament conducts its own needs assessment and defines the key challenges and reforms for the coming three to five years. Once created, the plan is used to measure the progress of the institution as it reforms. It is also an opportunity for development agencies to ensure their support fits within the plan. More and more parliaments are developing such plans as a means of providing accountability to citizens and civil society as to their objectives for an improved institution. For more information about strategic development plans, please click here.

4. Role of Civil Society & Parliamentary Monitoring Organizations 

From past experience, the effective engagement of civil society in the work of the parliament will lead to a more accountable and representative institution with greater credibility among citizens. There are many roles for CSOs in the work of parliament, including acting as experts to parliamentary committees, supporting public feedback during the law-making process and promoting accountability. One of the growing means by which CSOs promote accountability is through Parliamentary Monitoring Organizations (PMOs). These organizations, usually organized at the national level, produce regular reports and analysis as to the means by which the parliament, as an institution, and individual parliamentarians are conducting their work and how that measures against regional and global standards.  For more information on PMOs, please click here.  

5. Aid Coordination

Aid coordination has two aspects to the work. At one level, there is the coordination between development agencies and implementers working with a specific parliament. To avoid the frustration that may be felt by parliament's leadership in dealing with various outside organizations, each with its own reporting procedures and priorities, it is important to find a successful method for coordinating such work.  For more information on the coordination of parliamentary development institutions, please click here.

At another level, there is the role of parliament in ensuring effective oversight of how aid is delivered within a country. As the main oversight body within a country, parliament must have the resources and capacity to receive information about where overseas development assistance is being spent in a country and if it is being used effectively.  For more information on this subject, please visit our pages on aid effectiveness.