Congress of the Federated States of Micronesia
The novel coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has introduced unprecedented challenges globally, forcing all sectors, including governments, to rethink their modus operandi and embrace digital transformation. This essay delves into the case of the Congress of the Federated States of Micronesia, and how it underwent a significant digital transformation due to COVID-19.
Geographic Challenges and the Initial Impact of COVID-19
Located in the Pacific Ocean, between Hawaii and the Philippines, the Federated States of Micronesia is made up of around 600 islands. Its geographical location poses unique challenges, especially during a global health crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. The nation’s capital is situated on the island of Pohnpei, while other population centres are found in Yap, Chuuk, and Kosrae.
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, Micronesia’s president imposed a complete lockdown based on the recommendations of health authorities. This lockdown included a cessation of flights in and out of the country, which directly impacted the operations of the Congress. As the Congress members are spread across various islands, they would usually convene in Pohnpei by flying through Guam. With the halt of flights, business as usual was no longer feasible.
The Beginning of Digital Transformation
Recognising the need for action, the Congress decided to explore digital tools to facilitate online parliamentary meetings. In the initial stages, the Congress used YouTube and Skype for communication but these platforms did not meet their needs adequately. After investigation, they found Zoom to be a better fit for their requirements.
Alongside adopting new technology, they faced the challenge of ensuring that the legal and institutional framework supported the digital transformation. Changes were made to the rules of Congress to accommodate online meetings, and steps were taken to safeguard against potential legal challenges in the future.
Overcoming Technical and Procedural Hurdles
The digital transformation journey was not without obstacles. The Congress faced challenges related to document sharing and voting. To overcome these, they adopted a software package called ‘Boardable’, which allowed documents to be shared among all members. For voting, a change was made in Boardable to enable all votes to be sent to the Chief Clerk, ensuring the anonymity of votes.
Additionally, there was a need to maintain the formality associated with parliamentary meetings. To tackle this, the members began joining the meetings from designated spaces, decorated appropriately to convey a sense of formality.
The Role of Digital Transformation in Maintaining Democracy
This digital transformation was not just a practical necessity. It also upheld the democratic values of the nation during a health emergency. The Congress ensured that the president did not have unilateral power, maintaining the importance of parliamentary debate and action even in the face of adversity.
Furthermore, transparency was maintained by broadcasting the sessions on YouTube, making them accessible to anyone interested in the proceedings. This openness served to reinforce the democratic spirit of the Congress.
Currently, Micronesia has reopened, with people able to travel freely. The Congress has passed a number of laws to deal with the pandemic’s effects, including regulations for the country’s reopening. However, the digital transformation sparked by the pandemic continues to provide valuable capabilities. The Congress is now confident in its ability to function at full capacity, whether online or in person.
The case of the Congress of the Federated States of Micronesia’s digital transformation in response to COVID-19 serves as an inspiring example of adaptation and resilience. It underlines the importance of flexibility, innovation, and the role of digital tools in upholding democratic processes even during crises. As they look forward to the possibility of meeting in person again, the lessons they’ve learned throughout this digital journey will undoubtedly continue to inform their operations in the future.
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