Remote Deliberation Experience in the National Assembly of Ecuador during the COVID-19 Pandemic

About Asamblea Nacional of Ecuador

Strategic Partners

Written on September, 2020

 

Introduction

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced institutions and organizations worldwide to adapt to new ways of conducting business. The National Assembly of Ecuador, made up of 137 members, was no exception. This essay explores the challenges and opportunities that arose as the Assembly transitioned to remote deliberation, and highlights the importance of legal, political, and technological aspects in implementing this change.

 

Adapting to the Pandemic

 

On March 16th, 2020, when the State of Emergency was declared in Ecuador, the National Assembly immediately sought alternatives to continue its functions. Previously, remote sessions were not considered necessary, but now, the Assembly had to regulate and implement virtual meetings. The first virtual meeting took place on May 24th, 2020. This marked the beginning of a significant transition in parliament, as legislators were forced to migrate to the electronic parliament. This transition demanded clear objectives and a commitment to maintaining transparency, participation, and accountability.

 

Legal, Political, and Technological Aspects

 

Legal Feasibility

 

To ensure the successful implementation of remote deliberation, it was crucial to establish legal feasibility. The Ecuadorian constitution and the parliament’s own rules allowed for remote sessions, providing the necessary legal foundation. Additionally, the emergency state of exception justified the need for remote meetings. To enable this regulation, a legislative resolution was required, setting the stage for virtual meetings.

 

Political Viability

 

Political viability was essential for the adoption of remote sessions. This involved obtaining the consensus of all political movements and groups, along with the commitment of Assembly members to participate in virtual meetings. The President successfully garnered support for the implementation of remote sessions, ensuring that the institution could continue to function effectively.

 

Technological Aspects

 

Technological infrastructure played a significant role in implementing remote deliberation. This included providing appropriate equipment for Assembly members and enabling remote access to video conferencing platforms, such as Zoom. Technical staff worked directly with members to configure their devices and offer remote assistance. Furthermore, the Assembly needed to adapt existing technologies, such as the electronic voting system, to accommodate remote access. This required innovative solutions and the ability to manage the transition as a project.

 

Tools and Applications

 

To manage remote deliberation, the Assembly utilized a variety of tools and applications. Video conferencing was conducted via Zoom, and remote access to the electronic voting system was facilitated through AnyDesk. The document management system Nextcloud, institutional email with Zimbra, digital files with Alfresco, and the online office suite LibreOffice were all employed to ensure seamless operation.

 

Transparency and Information Channels

 

Maintaining transparency and open communication channels was a priority for the Assembly throughout the transition. Social media, legislative media such as radio and TV, and the National Assembly of Ecuador application ensured that citizens remained informed about the Assembly’s activities.

 

Results and Lessons Learned

 

By July 31st, 2020, the Assembly had conducted 47 plenary sessions, 84 votes, 892 interventions by Assembly members, and 432 committee sessions. Additionally, more than five laws were approved for the Ecuadorian State. This challenging period revealed the importance of political leadership and the need for legal and technological adaptations to enable modernization and digitalization of parliamentary processes.

 

Conclusion

 

The National Assembly of Ecuador’s experience with remote deliberation during the COVID-19 pandemic offers valuable insights into the necessary legal, political, and technological aspects required for successful implementation. Despite the challenges, the transition to remote sessions has demonstrated the potential for electronic parliaments to increase efficiency and allow for a greater focus on community engagement. The lessons learned during this period emphasize the importance of maintaining transparency, participation, and access to information in the digital sphere.

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