Having analysed the political context in which a parliament operates, a project in support of the parliament must be designed to fit the context and to support reforms. There are some crucial steps to such a process that reflect the life cycle of a programmme or project.
A Needs Assessment is a process by which there is an in-depth review and research of the needs and challenges facing a parliament. To be credible, such an assessment must be done mostly in person and with a team of technical experts that have both a strong knowledge of the national context in which the parliament works and international standards and best practices. An assessment can be general and review all aspects of a parliament's work or can focus on pre-determined themes related to portions of the parliament's work (e.g. – ICT, law-making, engagement with citizens).
Once the subject of the needs assessment has been determined, there are several tools that can be used to gather information, data and knowledge. These include:
- Desk Review of Documents: This can be done before the in-country work commences. This is a review of the crucial documents that define the authority and capacity of a parliament and can include the constitution of the country, the rules of procedure for the parliament, a corporate development plan, records of sessions, human resource regulations, media reports and committee reports.
- Surveys: The use of questionnaires to gather the perspective of as many parliamentarians and staff as possible. This allows for a quantitative form of research and to gain an understanding of the views of those actors who may not have leadership roles within the parliament.
- Interviews: This will allow in-depth discussions with key actors within the parliament, including representatives from all parliamentary groups and the secretariat of the parliament.
- Focus Groups: The gathering of small groups of stakeholders that work in or with parliament (e.g. – CSOs, media, staff) enables the gathering of information in an efficient manner while allowing for a discussion amongst key actors.
Once the data and information is gathered it is important to validate any findings with the key actors to allow for further clarification. The eventual goal is to develop a series of recommendations, based on the information gathered, that will form the basis of a project to support the parliament.
- tools for assessing governance
- existing initiatives for measuring democratic governance at the national, regional and global level
- how to measure governance with regard to specific areas of governance such as corruption or local governance
- how to use global indicators more correctly
- opportunities to connect and share knowledge with other practitioners and experts.
The first step in formulating a project is to define the broad outcomes that are expected to be completed by the time the project ends. These outcomes should be aspirational but also realistic. They should also be clear and concise. Once identified, the specific outputs and activities to achieve the outcomes must be defined. The outputs and activities are the details of how the outcomes will be achieved. The project document should also include indicators – both baseline and aspirational – to allow for the monitoring and evaluation of the project and to measure results. The document should include a clear description of how the project will be implemented, including management arrangements, costs, strategy and required inputs. The project should plan for annual work plans that define the activities that will take on an annual basis to advance the achievement of the overall outcomes.Many projects employ full time national and international technical staff that has experience and expertise to implement such projects and to build the capacity of parliamentary staff and parliamentarians.
Parliamentary support programmes draw from an array of activities and approaches depending on the context and needs of a given parliament. In some instances, support programmes may work with parliamentary staff to bolster the effectiveness of parliamentary committees, while in other instances, they may work directly with MPs to strengthen their outreach capacities to citizens. Several aApproaches to working with parliaments include:
- Inclusive approach: Multi-party initiatives are a non-discriminatory means of incorporating ruling and opposition political parties into parliamentary strengthening programs. Such initiatives can also function to ensure opposition participation in politically sensitive discussions;
- Emphasizing international standards: Potential problems regarding programmed ownership can often be avoided by emphasizing international standards. This strategy can help minimize accusations that a particular donor is imposing its own priorities on a parliamentary institution;
- South-South and regional cooperation can prove useful for increasing engagement on parliamentary development factors: linking local parliamentary development goals to regional programmes can help increase national awareness of institutional challenges and weaknesses facing a parliament. A key priority should be to ensure that programmes involve sharing information and expertise among countries that have had to address similar development issues. Regional support is well received in most countries and often provides real solutions that have been tested in similar situations.
Activities conducted by parliamentary support programmes may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Parliamentary committees: Programmes work with committee staffers to improve their capacities to draft reports and conduct analyses to enable them to effectively support aimed at improving MPs as the committee conducts its work . understanding of committee work . These may include conducting public consultations, adoption of tools for the standardization of committee reports and automation and standardization of other routine processes;
- Oversight: Programmes engage MPs and staffers in processes to gauge their needs and develop recommendations aimed at improving oversight practices, such as the format of question and answer sessions;
- Capacity building: Programmes may support trainings for MPs and/or parliamentary staff to introduce budgetary oversight or policy analysis tools. They may also convene meetings and public discussions on important issues to help institutionalize these skills;
- Outreach and citizen participation: Programmes may work with the administrative services responsible for citizen outreach or hold roundtables that afford citizens opportunities to discuss policy issues with their representatives. They may also support efforts to develop MP constituency offices in their home districts;
- Infrastructure: Programmes may work with parliamentary administrations to improve services, such as installation of high speed internet, or implementationing of new services, such as Hansard (verbatim transcription) or electronic voting systems;
- Reform processes: Programmes may work with committees established to recommend and/or implement reform processes, such as reforms to parliamentary internal rules, modernisation committees, and other similar initiatives.
Establishing project indicators and monitoring systems from the start of a programme is the best way to attain accurate measurements of the results of parliamentary development programmes. Monitoring can also be relatively cost-effective if it is integrated into technical cooperation strategies throughout the period of project implementation. Effective monitoring includes the use of various tools that can measure the impact and success of activities and outputs as they progress. This can include surveys of participants, exit interviews, and informal feedback sessions with project teams and parliamentary staff. On an annual basis there should be a more formal process of dialogue amongst project staff and parliamentary leaders. Formal and independent evaluations should take place at the mid-point of the life of a project and at the end of the project term. For more information on this subject, please click here.