Bahrein’s Shura Council Digitalisation During the COVID-19

Read Hashim al‑Alawi’s text from Shura Council based on his participation in LegisTech Series

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📌 This text is the result of the transcription of the panelist’s participation in Bússola Tech’s event


My name is Hashim Al-Alawi and I’m the head of the IT department at the Shura Council of Bahrain. I’ll share how the IT department has made things as easy as possible during the pandemic to make sure the MPs work easily and present all their arguments and their participation in the Council. 


I’ll share what problems we’ve had and what kind of solutions we have been able to implement to make these problems as minimal as possible.


The pandemic was difficult on everybody, a lot of people have gotten affected by it and the Council was no different.


It was difficult for the MPs to come and attend the weekly meetings and the committee meetings.During the pandemic, the main problem was for the MPs to conduct their weekly meeting. The accessibility to the internal voting system was difficult and they had to be physically present in order to use the system and vote on the agenda that they had during that day. That was one of the main issues that we’ve had is the lack of ability for the MPs to access the internal voting system and to conduct their committee meetings. 


The ability to review the document review that weekly agenda and the hansard, which is the minutes of the meeting. It was difficult for the MPs to see that minute of the meeting and share any kind of comments and approve it. 


Another major thing was the fact that a lot of the MPs were technically challenged, since it was difficult for them to easily use these devices and systems all of a sudden. Another challenge was the lack of ability to view the committee’s reports and share any kind of comments, so when the MPs got to meet during their committees, it was difficult for them to see the documents that they had to review or read from or comment on. 


These are the main problems that we’ve had during the pandemic, so at the IT department we had to come up with solutions to make the lives of MPs much easier, in a sense it makes their collaborations between each other possible and doing all of that in a very secure environment and a very easily accessible environment as well.


It was a challenge for us to find a reliable system for them to have their committee meetings without any issues. 


Our solution was first and foremost to migrate all of our systems into the cloud. A lot of our systems were on premises, so they were physically inside the Council and it couldn’t be accessed from outside. Because we’ve shifted as much as we could to the remote, it was easy for us to have different applications accessible to all the MPs at the same time. 


Because of these innovations, we were able to conduct the first fully remote meeting on April, 12th 2020. That was the first time in history the Council was able to conduct the weekly meetings with everybody in their own home to ensure their safety. In order to achieve that, we were able to integrate Zoom and our systems to conduct the meeting for all the MPs.


During that time, there was a challenge of voting: how was the voting possible? 


We had to develop an external mobile application that was accessible to all the MPs. Through that application, they were able to vote on the agenda that was presented by the Council’s Chairman. The integration between their mobile application and the internal voting system made things much easier. 


In terms of the Council itself, the building and offices, we were able to introduce facial and temperature recognition devices throughout the Council to ensure that everybody is safe and to be able to detect any issues before they happen.


On the staff level, there were also training sessions that were being conducted remotely. We didn’t stop having training sessions for all the staff members, instead we even thrived during that time, because there were a lot of different kinds of training sessions, such as seminars and lectures and they were conducted remotely. It was very easy for the staff to attend these lectures and training sessions. To be able to fully benefit from what was happening during the training sessions, we also were using and utilising different applications and services, such as Office 365, Zoom, MS Teams. We’re utilising these on a much better level and training the MPs to be able to use them, so that we can come full circle and be able to have everything integrated.


All of the MPs access the systems from the iPads and the Council was able to remotely manage these devices, so that we can also cover any kind of security issues and to be able to protect the MPs from data breaches. 


What have we learned during this pandemic? 


The most important thing that we’ve discovered is to have a contingency plan. Having a contingency plan is vital for the success of these systems, to make things happen so that work cannot stop, the MPs can do their job no matter what. 


The transformation from having the systems on-premisses to the cloud was extremely helpful during this time. It made things so much faster and cost effective, meaning that infrastructure on the cloud is extremely helpful for times like these. 


It’s also important that the MPs are aware of those systems and they know how to use them. Conducting training for the MPs is just as vital for making these systems become successful and they’re used by the MPs. It will also be much easier for the MPs to share documents between themselves, to be aware of everything that was happening in the Council instantly. 


Another thing that was really important during this time is to have the capacity and the ability to support the MPs during this time, to have very qualified and trained staff support members to be able to help the MPs. 


This is in a nutshell, what we’ve learned during the pandemic. I think the Council has thrived during the pandemic, and we were able to jump at least five to ten years ahead in the future in terms of what kind of systems that we’ve implemented to make the MPs work much easier and faster.


[header image source: unsplash] 

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