Parliament of Ghana
Written on January, 2023
In an era where technology plays a pivotal role in every sphere of life, many governmental institutions are capitalising on digital tools to optimise their operations, foster more significant engagement with citizens, and improve the accessibility and transparency of their services. The Parliament of Ghana is at the forefront of this digital revolution, having embarked on a substantial digitisation journey to foster greater transparency and increase citizen engagement. A vital part of this digital transformation strategy is the introduction of the ‘Parliamentary Watch’ application, a comprehensive mobile application developed in-house. This essay undertakes a deep dive into the Parliamentary Watch application, examining its various features, user reception, potential areas of improvement and future plans.
The Genesis and Purpose of Parliamentary Watch
Parliamentary Watch is a native mobile application, conceived and developed by the ICT department of the Parliament of Ghana. It is compatible with a multitude of platforms, including Android, iOS, and Windows. Since its inception, the app has witnessed several enhancements and modifications, marking its evolution through three significant versions. The primary motivation behind this application is to bridge the knowledge gap that exists among Ghanaians concerning the functioning of their Parliament. This disconnect stems primarily from a lack of understanding about the roles and responsibilities of Members of Parliament (MPs), the regulatory framework that guides parliamentary proceedings, and the intricacies involved in the workings of parliamentary committees.
Features and Functionality
The Parliamentary Watch application is designed with a dual-purpose – to utilise the widespread popularity of smartphones to boost the visibility of the Parliament, and to reach out to the public with information that can deepen their knowledge about the Parliament’s work processes. In doing so, the app aims to raise awareness about the relevance of Parliament, and to stimulate and sustain citizens’ interest in parliamentary activities.
One of the app’s most noteworthy features is its ability to send push notifications, alerting users to real-time events, such as the commencement of a plenary session or when new legislative documents become available. This feature is particularly relevant in the context of Ghana, where high data costs might deter people from frequently visiting websites to check for updates. Furthermore, the app provides access to essential content and functionalities even in an offline mode, allowing citizens to refer to crucial documents such as the Constitution and Standing Orders without requiring an internet connection.
The app also offers an in-depth repository of information about MPs, including details about their education, work experience, constituencies they represent, committees they serve on, and other personal details. It grants access to a wide range of documents produced and used by the Parliament in the course of conducting its business, such as the Order Paper, rules and proceedings, Hansard, bills, and acts.
User Engagement and Feedback
Since its launch, the Android version of the Parliamentary Watch app has seen about 31,000 downloads, while the iOS version has around 3,000 downloads. These numbers provide a testament to the app’s growing popularity among Ghanaians and the acceptance of digital platforms as a means for engaging with the Parliament. The app also welcomes regular feedback from its users, both positive and critical, which is then taken into consideration for future updates and enhancements.
Challenges and Future Improvements
While the app has been a success, it has also faced certain challenges, particularly in relation to the timely dissemination of information generated in Parliament. Certain features which allowed citizens to provide feedback through comments had to be removed due to privacy concerns. However, the Parliament plans to reintroduce a feedback mechanism that will adequately address these privacy concerns.
Future updates aim to further improve user engagement, reconnect with previous users, and reach new users. New features being considered include event notifications, deep linking, text-to-speech capabilities, and a parliamentary watch assistant in the form of a chatbot. These features are poised to offer a more personalised user experience, providing a platform where users can interact with the app in a more natural, conversational manner. For instance, the chatbot, currently in the piloting stage, will answer questions posed by users about Parliament, fostering a deeper understanding of the institution’s workings.
The future update also considers integrating the application with popular voice assistants like Siri and Google Assistant, thus facilitating a seamless user experience across different platforms. Additionally, a version of Parliamentary Watch for Android TV is in the pipeline, expanding the app’s reach to different types of devices and enabling users to watch live streams or old videos from Parliament on a larger screen.
Impact and User Reception
The Parliamentary Watch application has received mixed reviews from its users. While some users have appreciated the app for its usefulness and convenience, others have voiced concerns about the lack of timely content updates. Despite these criticisms, the application’s development team is committed to continually refining the app based on user feedback. By closely monitoring these reviews, the team aims to ensure that the application remains responsive to the evolving needs of its users and continues to serve as a reliable bridge between Ghanaians and their Parliament.
Conclusion and Future Directions
The Parliamentary Watch application represents a significant stride in the digital transformation journey of the Parliament of Ghana. Despite some minor setbacks and challenges, the application has successfully improved the transparency of parliamentary proceedings and facilitated greater citizen engagement. The ongoing development and planned upgrades promise an even more feature-rich, user-friendly, and accessible tool for Ghanaians to engage with their Parliament.
Future research could focus on assessing the overall impact of the Parliamentary Watch application on civic participation. Studies could explore how the app has shaped perceptions of parliamentary transparency, influenced citizen engagement, and potentially transformed the relationship between Ghanaians and their Parliament. Additionally, further research could provide valuable insights into user behaviour, helping to inform future app updates and digital engagement strategies.
The Parliament of Ghana’s experience with the Parliamentary Watch application provides valuable lessons for other governmental institutions embarking on their digital transformation journeys. As this case study demonstrates, digital tools can play a vital role in fostering transparency, increasing citizen engagement, and enhancing the effectiveness of governmental institutions. However, the success of such initiatives ultimately hinges on a responsive and iterative approach to development, one that places the user at the heart of the process.
Supporting and donating to this library is more than a contribution; it is a vote for the importance of freely accessible knowledge and a pledge to our shared intellectual growth. Each donation aids in the curation, preservation, and expansion of our resources, ensuring the continued availability of relevant and timely content. It helps us sustain the quality and breadth of our offerings, enabling us to serve our diverse community better. Your contribution signifies your commitment to fostering a vibrant, informed, and connected community, underpinned by the principle of equitable access to knowledge.