Digital and remote work spaces in Parliament of Finland

Read Sari Wilenius’s text from the Parliament of Finland based on her 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 Sari Wilenius and I work for Finnish Parliament in the ICT office as a designer. During the last few years, I have been developing various intra and internet solutions. One of them is digital workspaces for MPs. 


Firstly, I would like to share about the structure of our committee workspaces; secondly I will discuss about what information does the digital workspaces contain and what is relevant to our MPs; thirdly, I will briefly explain how workspaces get content information; then finally and fourth, the topic is how does mobile access work. 


Mobility is essential to MPs nowadays. What problems have there been in the development and use of digital workspaces and what are the key drivers for digital work reform? 


The digital workspaces of MPs in committees were introduced for the first time in 2015. The platform was and still is a Microsoft sharepoint. All the workspaces of the committees follow the same structure to ease the MPs’ work. It is important that the structure is similar as many MPs work in several different committees. 


There are white and blue boxes around the workspace platform. Blue boxes describe the content imported automatically from the back-end of these systems, and white boxes tell what information we need to save manually. If we start from right of the platform, that’s the part containing a link that leads to the automatically created page on committee members and deputies. 


The next area below has manually updated committee officials, as well as: I) links to relevant content notes to the committee Chair, II) relevant RSS feeds and information on key legislative projects and other current topics, III) an automatic list of the latest committee minutes reports and statements, such as listing the order committee reports and statements, in case they are needed, IV) information on recently published committee reports and statements and on EU affairs. This is only for committee officials as they are often part of a specific work chain, such as translations or something similar. 


Then in the next part, the members will be provided with up-to-date information, such as what is happening in committee and links to committee officials, so that they can request access to the workspace for MPs assistants or order additional equipment for members for their meetings abroad. 


Last but not least, and perhaps the most important part of the committee workspace, in fact the section describes the committee’s working process and all necessary documents. 


On the menu, we can find expert statements, other documents that will be saved manually, the agenda of the committee on formal and informal remote meetings and the schedule of the meetings and their topics.


On the left side of the platform, the committee’s agenda contains all the items to be discussed at the meeting and all documents related to pending matters, as well as active links to the document itself. Everything is just a few clicks away and the member can stay up to date on what will be covered in the meeting. 


On the right side of the platform, there is the committee’s weekly schedule which shows which days are scheduled for meetings, what are the topics and which experts will give their statements, and links to existing documents, if they already exist. 


On the left side of the platform, the committee’s meeting schedule shows a plan for the sessions. On the right, there are all the pending cases during the whole parliamentary term, as well as the related documents and how many documents there are in each case. 


How does all this come into the workspaces? 


We have three main systems. The committee’s case and document management system, that enters data and documents into the workspace. The other two systems, such as the MPs personal and parliamentary information and plenary systems enter information to the intranet, and allow them to make digital reservation to speak in the plenary and ensure that their speeches are properly documented. These functions are separate from workspaces, but part of our MPs’ digital services. All of this also works on mobile devices and I’ll describe to you how. We have tried to create as easy access to the workspace as possible. 


First, the MPs selects the f5 access application on the device, then they click on the connect button and wait for a few seconds to connect to the secure channel. The last step is to choose the committee of which the MP is a member. Actually, other committee workspaces for the member are not available and access is only also available on parliament’s own devices. 


In the last topic, I will tell you what we noticed are the key factors in digital work reform. However, let’s see the development challenges first. It was a challenge to create the workspace version that will work with all the 17 committees, because they all work slightly differently from each other. The first version of the committee’s digital workspace was introduced in 2015. Shortly afterwards, we realised that MPs only wanted to work with mobile devices. 


The second fully mobile version was launched in 2019, and then we heard about the EU level accessibility requirements, which came into force in 2020. In 2020, Covid-19 brought to committees the need for an informal remote meeting. 


The MPs wanted to edit documents in the PDF format and save it easily in their phone. So far, most of the MPs feel that the process is way too complicated, and as I mentioned earlier, when we look at the pending matters, the names of the documents do not describe the content. For example, the document name is “Expert Statement for adk2021ak345903”, when it should be “Expert Statement for Finland Sustainable Growth Program”. The naming is done only for the needs of the master system, not for the presentation layer. This has been finally corrected in early March, 2021. 


We have noticed that we should be reaching an environment where MPs are able to work with a consistent experience across devices, location and time. Mobility, security and user friendliness are factors that we should keep in mind when we are creating digital services.

[header image source: unsplash] 

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