📌 This text is the result of the transcription of the panelist’s participation in Bússola Tech’s event
Dear colleagues, in this article I am going to give information about how we created and implemented the digitalisation of the legislative process in the National Assembly of the Azerbaijan Republic.
As in all Parliaments, the legislative process starts with the introduction of legislative projects from the legislative initiator. The document includes the text of the proposal, the letter of the organ presenting the law, and other attached documents together with it entering the National Assembly.
The documents submitted are discussed in the framework of various meetings in the National Assembly, like committee meetings, plenary sessions, and public discussions, if necessary. Usually, the results of these discussions is to add a large number of documents to the proposal, like changes made to the text of this law, committee decisions, protocols, stenographic transcripts, various references, protocols of meetings, amongst others. Furthermore, the audio and video files of the sessions reflecting the parliamentary discussions themselves are added to this system.
As a result, we have three types of data: text, audio, and video. Generally, in our system, there are many formats associated with the text format. We have used docx, PDF, HTML formats and the JSON system should be added to expand the system. As for the audio format, there are numerous formats and the one that works better for us is the waf format. Generally, we have chosen the format of video files MP4 to ensure easy streaming over the web.
One of the important issues is the proper delivery of parliamentary discussions to the public just as it is. There are several ways to publicise the discussions and the most useful is the transcription, which we can do in two ways: handwritten or using automated systems that convert voice into text.
Parliaments sometimes make available audio and video files, which makes it easier to transcribe. Using technology for this is one of the best methods. But, it is necessary to find a concrete project or a person with the necessary information and experience for that.
I want to bring to your attention that many problems arise in the preparation of transcription. First, in any case, the sound is converted into text always has mistakes. It does not matter if this is done through humans or it is done through software.
The second difficulty is that any speaker does not perform according to grammatical rules. That’s why after any converting, a special army of editors work on the text. According to a book published jointly by the United Nations and the Interparliamentary Union, 68% of the parliaments have more than 10 employees engaged in the preparation of transcription. According to the statistics, 14% of the parliament employs about 40-50 employees. This large number of employees is necessary to ensure the speed of preparation of the transcript.
The third negative side is that the transcription takes time. Again, according to a book published jointly by the United Nations and the Interparliamentary Union, 53% of Parliaments publish the draft versions of the document within 24 hours. Usually, they publish the last edited version for 1-2 weeks, as it takes a certain amount of time to place a textual form of parliamentary discussions on the website.
The fourth issue is the intervention of Deputies in the transcriptions. According to a book jointly published by the United Nations and the Interparliamentary Union, 59% of the polled parliaments allowed parliamentarians to edit the transcription and 16% in Parliament required parliamentary approval for the publication of the transcription.
The European Center for Parliamentary Research and Documentation held a seminar on 21-century transcription. In our conversation with the editors who participated in the seminar, we realised that these parliamentarians’ interventions created problems for the work of the editors. For example, if there are two deputies talking, the first one is speaking and the second is speaking based on the argument of the first. As a result, if they changed the speech of the first parliamentarian, then it changes the meaning of the speech of the second parliamentarian. Therefore, we think that the audio and video format would be a better way to store the data. It is just necessary to ensure the indexing of audio and video.
We established and implemented the verbatim record system in 2007 in the National Assembly of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the basis of this system is to record audio files of each parliamentarian. This was the first system we created and the method is very fast because from the moment the parliamentarian finishes his speech, it is already in the system. No conversion is done, so there is no need for the intervention of the parliamentarian. Therefore, this is a fully automated system that automatically generates files according to the speech of parliamentarians.
We have the search option, we can search the system by simply selecting the session of any parliamentarian and typing the name of it. When each microphone connects during the session, we add audio voices to the system. Video files are already in the system after 12 hours of the end of the meeting, which usually ends at the end of the day. It includes all meetings in the Plenary Hall of our Parliament, whether it is a plenary session or an event.
The second system we created was the agendas of parliamentary meetings. In these systems, we can see the annexed documents related to the bill and it can be a reference or a committee decision, for example. This system was set for parliamentarians, there was a monitor equipped with a touch screen where the deputies were sitting in the hall. They can get acquainted with this system with the text of laws, its annexation, and, at the same time, they can join our legislative system without leaving their place. In this legislative system, there is a virtual keyboard, where you can search for the name of any law, display the law, see how many times there have been changes.
Back in 2010, we thought we could make a system that could reflect the agenda and the events taking place inside the parliament. At the moment, we think that we should create a system to ensure that the information at the parliamentary session is consistent hourly and minute-by-minute. In general, it is difficult to collect all this information on paper in one place, but all documents in electronic form are in this system.
There is another interesting element, which is parliamentary discussions. There are topics that can be included in the agenda and those can be accepted or not accepted. For example, seven issues had been included in the agenda, one of these seven issues had been discussed and the other ones hadn’t. Hence, accepted is when the topic was discussed on that day and not accepted means that the others which weren’t discussed yet and will only be discussed at the next meeting. We have created this system, and we have developed it year by year.
Our next system is related to the legislative base. Legislation is constantly changing and to better follow these changes we have a list of amendments to the Code of Administrative Offenses with the initial version of the law and the last version. It is all about gathering information for people who are researching legislation. Having a parliamentary base is a solution for those who are engaged insufficient research and legislation, to listen separately or to listen to the issue as a whole.
There is another system that we just created, it is a parliamentary library with the announcement of future sessions, the news section, plenary sessions section, attached documents, a direct link to the agenda and protocol of the meeting. We have a page with all the information of each member of Parliament in alphabetical order, meetings with their voters, and official meetings. The most interesting statistics are according to the structure of the Parliament. How many percent of party representatives are here? How many parliamentarians are women?
In conclusion, this is our system. If you want to get acquainted with a more extensive and detailed system, then there is an official section, on our website, of the Parliament called “software”, in this section, you can get acquainted with the presentations that are quite available on this system.
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