Interparliamentary Cooperation towards the digital transformation

Read Ludovic Delepine’s text from European Parliament based on his participation on LegisTech Series

Author(s) in this article:

Institution(s) represented in this article: 

💡 tip: Click on author(s) or organisation(s) name(s) to access more content related to them. 



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


The purpose of this content is the exchange towards inter-parliamentary cooperation.


International cooperation is the essence of the creation from the European Union. During his introduction to European parliamentary week, at the end of February 2021, President David Sassoli reminds the list of values in which international cooperation was founded such as: freedom, prosperity, and peace. Based on these values, the current Global Democracy Support from the European Parliament is promoting democracy and human rights.


In a few words, international and inter-parliamentary cooperation derive, naturally, from this essence.


Obama (Former President of the United States of America, Barack Obama) mentioned in the book ” A Promised Land” that the pandemic is a manifestation of the inexorable march towards an interconnected world, a world where people and the future cannot help, but collide. We will live together, to cooperate and to recognise the dignity of others, and that’s exactly the purpose of our exchange today on inter-parliamentary cooperation.


I will go through three different examples on inter-parliamentary cooperation, and at the end wrapup with some elements that seems to be quite interesting based on this on these experiences.

These three ones are: The first, centre for innovation in parliament; The second, the European Center for Parliamentary Research and Documentation; and the third one the Interpares program; which is parliaments in partnerships.


The first one is related to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which began in 1989, a small group of parliamentarians dedicated to promoting peace through parliamentary diplomacy and dialogue. Today it contains 179 member-parliaments and 13 associate members, amongst which the European Parliament and the Centre for Innovation in Parliament was created from the Inter-Parliamentary Union. It analyses the potential for innovation across parliaments by bringing them together supporting collaboration on solutions, and sharing knowledge with the wider parliamentary community.


In the context of the Centre for Innovation in Parliament, there are six domains by which the corporation is supposed to be established. The first one is strategic planning of digital tools, and services; the second one is parliamentary openness, open standards and open-data; the third one is citizen engagement, in the work of parliament; the fourth one is internet and social media; the fifth one electronic document and record management; and the last one which is digital library and research services. So these are the six domains, in which the centre is supposed to be extremely active.


So how did it go into practice? There are three thematic hubs that have been opened, and five regional hubs. So what is a thematic hub? This is a transversal thematic to a certain number of parliaments, that we decide that based on the importance of the thematic to group together and to address as one domain. The other ones are regional hubs and this is a place where parliaments that belongs to the same region in the world try to cooperate together, try to learn from each other, because they are really belonging to the same neighborhood and they may share similar challenges in their activities.


In thematic hubs we currently have three hubs which are active: The first one is the ICT governance thematic hub. This was the first one that was open, it’s currently led by the European Parliament, and I’m the Chair of this hub. The second one is open-data thematic hub, and this is established by the Chamber of Deputies in Brazil, and is extremely active by providing at the end as an output, a database which is a reference that contains a set of bills and laws from all the parliaments participating to this initiative. The last one, which is most recently established, is a transparency hub led by the Knesset from Israel.


So we have three thematic hubs, which are worldwide and for which any of the parliaments member of the IPU can join and participate in the activities. Close to systematic hubs we have currently five regional hubs: The Caribbean one, which is led by Trinidad and Tobago; The Eastern African one, led by Kenya; The Hispanophone hub, led by Chile; The Southern Africa regional hub, led by Zambia; and the Pacific regional hub, led by New Zealand.


Of course on top of organising their activities, thematic hubs are extremely closely related to the regional hubs because, when several parliaments have exactly the same issue or fate the same challenge, and they want to request support from a thematic hub, because they are all dealing with governance, or they are all dealing with open-data, or they are all dealing with transparency, in this case there is a specific support from the hub to the regional realm.


What is also interesting in this case is the fact that, considering the ECPRD for the european zone, there was a real wish to go with cooperation rather than recreating another layer of cooperation between parliaments to recreate something and then to have a kind of double use from the parliaments in order to cover a worldwide zone. That’s a pretty interesting thing that these hubs involving the same parliaments with different people are able to cooperate together.


The ICT governance hub is composed currently of 51 parliaments, having a hundred of users active or participants active in this hub.


And why did we focus on ICT governance?


The discipline of ICT governance first emerged around 1993, deriving from corporate governance and dealing primarily with the connection between an organisation’s strategic objectives, business goal, on one hand and ICT management. So, given the power of IT to transform a Parliament, ICT governance is at the heart of many considerations.


As stated in the world e-parliament reports, since 2018, most parliaments would like to be more open and accessible, more professionally run, better resourced, and more representative. There is also a desire to change the way parliament works at the day-to-day operational level, support new ways of thinking about innovations in parliamentary practice and foster a far stronger and more vibrant future, based on transparency. But, in the same time, in 2018 a third of parliaments in the world had less than nine IT staff, and 42% of the parliaments had no external IT contractors, meaning that they have very low level of resources to face a certain number of challenges, especially the one that we are seeing during this pandemic situation, by having to work outside premises and to reinforce digitalisation of internal processes.


So, while we do not have infinite resources and time in the parliament to support these changes, making the right decisions about how we use IT will determine the success of our IT governance efforts. For this reason, developing this specific governance capacity is really the purpose of this hub.


Thus, how do we cooperate? How do we put that in practice? There are five different ways to do it: The first one is composed of presentations, an event made in front of a large assistance, independently from the parliament or their geographical locations, with the purpose to introduce a rational of IT governance and the IT maturity assessment tool, which is a framework that we developed with Sandro Mameli, from the European Parliament. This is able to define parliament a certain maturity, and to try to propose some evolution of this one based on the number of four domains that composes this maturity assessment. It’s a large scale presentations that we do regularly in different audiences.


We also have a peer-to-peer support, which consists in the introduction of IT governance. The IT maturity assessment tool from a representative or a parliament to another one. Very often the purpose of such a support is to evaluate the maturity of a parliament in terms of IT governance and to propose some recommendations and this is the one which is currently mostly used, meaning that we receive a request from a parliament that would like to assess their situation in terms of IT governance and would like to have some proposals on how to evolve.


Very transmissions of a couple of days, three, four, five days maximum, by which a certain number of interviews are performed in order to gather elements or evidences from IT governance in the parliament and then with a report that proposed some evolutions. It is sent back to the requesting parliament, so they can decide on their own how they would like to follow the recommendation or develop their own paths. As I mentioned before, there is also the option to have support to regional hubs, which is the introduction of IT governance and actual IT maturity to a group of countries based on their geographical proximity; and the purpose is to support future activities in between them.


The fourth way is thematic exchange. This is a group of participants having an extensive exchange on at least one of the topics related to IT governance. It was foreseen initially when the up was created in 2018, but we couldn’t release it right now because of the pandemic situation, mainly in 2020, which is “train the trainer”. The “train the trainer” event, is a session organised by a representative from a parliament having a deep understanding of the platform that we use; the IT governance and the IT maturity tool and all the module proposed. The purpose of such a session is to train representatives from parliament so that they can use the platform in any of these types of events and that they could use themselves. Therefore, these are the ways that we operationalise the ICT governance hub.


We ask for the evaluation of the maturity assessment from all the parliaments, from 51 parliaments inside our hub, and we see how they evolve in which domain they would like to evolve. That’s the first example of inter-parliamentary cooperation.


The secondcase I wanted to illustrate a little bit is the European Center for Parliamentary Research and Documentation, that is the ECPRD. It’s a community of parliamentary knowledge that was established in 1977, with a full domain of interest, economic and budgetary affairs; information and communication technologies in parliament; libraries, research services and archives, and parliamentary practicing procedure.


There are exchanges on different topics that could go from cybersecurity to artificial intelligence, document management, digital strategy. So, all topics related to IT are discussed through seminars, and can also be addressed by surveys, by which someone could request a specific survey within a certain number of questions to all the participants and get information back and try to evolve from the contribution of all the parliaments. So, the European Centre is Pan-European, it’s not only the European Union, it also includes other countries from Europe, so it’s extremely wide.


Similarly to the parliaments that we meet in the context of the Centre for Innovation in Parliaments, there is an enormous wish to collaborate, to participate into exchange, and this was one of my first experience as participation in a seminar with many parliaments, it was in 2007, at the “Sejm” which is the parliament from the Polish Assembly, in Warsaw.

So, I’m there to share what we intend to do to share, my knowledge, which are the best practices we intend to put into practice with people from all these countries, with people from the United States, from the Russian Federation, from Poland, from Estonia. There you really feel that all these people were there to gain knowledge, and to exchange knowledge, and we are open enough to have an exchange to raise questions and to open the problems. I think that this first seminar I did in the Inter-Parliamentary domain, was really the foundation of what I tried to build, and I tried to provide in terms of support to other parliaments, since almost 15 years ago. That’s really another experience through the ECPRD, which covers for part of its dimension the activities of the IPU but at the same time integrated all together.


The third experience is Interpares. Interpares are what we call parliaments in partnership. It’s funded by the European Union, and implemented by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, which is also called IDEA. Its purpose is to strengthen the capacity of parliaments in partner countries by enhancing their legislative oversight, representative budgetary and administrative functions. It focuses both on elected members of parliament, particularly in their capacity as members of parliamentary committees, and on the staff of parliament secretariats. This is based on a partnership between this project, which is a three years project funded with 5 million Euro with a certain number of countries with which a partnership is established. Currently there are seven parliaments which are involved in this project funded by the EU: Britain, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Panama, Gambia, and Trinidad and Tobago.


In the context of Interpares, we also had exchanges with the Centre for Innovation in Parliament. It’s also a place where people want to exchange, want to benefit from the experience of others and do not want to reinvent the wheel dominantly. Sometimes in some domains, for example IT governance, there is already an established IT governance hub and gets a little bit redundant to recreate something or not to benefit from everything that has already been established, since its creation.


In this context, we also have exchanges and bridges between the Interpares project, which is currently supervised by the European Commission, and the European Parliament with the IT governance hub, in cooperation with the Centre for Innovation in Parliaments. And this leads also to discover new parliaments that we do not necessarily very frequently work with, but which are a huge source of knowledge and innovation opportunities.


And we have the case with Bhutan. We made jointly with Interpares colleagues and a support in the domain of IT governance, at the end of 2019 and this was extraordinary. First because it’s not that often whether we work with Bhutan, and then because we found colleagues that were really willing to develop simple things and really committed to facilitate and empower the members from the Bhutan Parliament.


Bhutan is a place where you have a lot of mountains, and it’s not that easy to have a network so that you can have mobile devices. It’s not like many countries in the world when you have a huge spread of 4G, 5G, or wi-fi endpoints a little bit everywhere. Even if members are coming from all over the country, they have to be extremely inventive and be very open to using specific devices to start to build, buy or open source some information systems that they could find from the market to support their development.


They really did something extraordinary in terms of innovation and in terms of development, where they started really from far compared to other parliaments. They did not have the weight of the past, so they could innovate completely using all technology facilities that may have endorsed them. This is a case that was really showing that in order to grow in your development you do not need to follow the path of the others; you do not need to repeat the same development iterations that other parliaments may have done in order to move from one step to another of maturity. You can start from something completely different taking full benefit, mainly in IT from the technology opportunities that you may have in order to develop yourself and sometimes you may develop yourself faster than bigger parliaments, just because you do not have the weight of the past, and you are open enough to integrate innovations into your working methods. So, the case of Bhutan was extremely interesting.


Sometimes, when we propose frameworks which are established and build and independently from the parliament to whom you will address, even if you try to define some sizable method, if you have less than nine staff then your capacity is extremely small so this is what you could do in terms of establishing your key governance and developing your maturity in some domains.


If you’re less than 49 staff maybe you could develop a little bit more and if you are more than 49 maybe you could have a full-scale development of your IT governance because for instance talking about IT efficiency. If you are more than 50 staff then you can start to talk about efficiency, IT efficiency how you use it if there are the resources used in the most efficient way.


Even if you try to size your methodology to take into consideration the resources from the parliament, well sometimes you may benefit from technological revolutions and that could completely change the way that the parliament works. And of course, there was in the case of Bhutan, an extremely important work, performed by the colleagues from the European Commission in charge of supporting this peer-to-peer.


What did I get from these three experiences, over the last 15 years?


The first one was the Centre Innovation in Parliament, the second one with the European Center for Parliamentary Research and Documentation, and the last one with the Interpares program.

The first one is that the wish to collaborate is worldwide. There’s no specific country saying that we have to cooperate and we have to isolate ourselves from the other one or we do not want to collaborate with the other one. It’s really worldwide, on all the parliaments I’ve seen, all of them as staff who wanted to share their experience who were willing to provide some requests in order to have support from all the parliaments that could help them.


It could be as simple as a request that we had from a parliament asking if we have some documents that describe the etiquette you have to apply if they want to have some remote meetings. They had to write a document about what are the best practices for running a meeting in a virtual mode or what is the etiquette and instead of writing them from scratch by themselves they just said “okay I go to the network in this case it was a network related to the Centre Innovation in Parliament and said well let’s raise the question as limited document already written about this point and then let’s reuse it, let’s avoid to reinvent the wheel”. And we had a steering committee from the Centre for Innovation in Parliament and there was 26 participants in the steering committee and it was worldwide. There were representatives from New Zealand, from Chile, from Spain, from the European Parliament, from Kenya, from Zambia. It’s really a perspective which is shared by many parliaments considering the resources that we have to make best use of them and to try to benefit from the experiences of the other ones.


The second point is that innovation is not always radical. When we are talking about innovation in parliament. Very often people think about artificial intelligence, robotics and everything, which is extremely fancy and everything which is related to the buzzwords but, innovation is not always radical it could be simply incremental, it could be just a small improvement inside all your services, your processes, your products, your organisation.


It may be something extremely small, but something that will deliver a high level of value. And we are seeing that through peer-to-peer support with parliament that sometimes it could be something extremely simple it could be just as harmonizing templates between committees. Just harmonising these types of templates is something which is extremely simple. It is purely product-based, is something that you can do in a couple of hours but something that could simplify the work of many people inside your organisation.


Innovation could be sometimes extremely simple. Things that you you could just do after a very small analysis, whatever business analysis method you choose and whether it’s a “double-diamond” or “user-experience”, or “defining the path”, so whatever methods you’re using in the end you may result in identifying much more incremental innovations rather than radical innovation and these implementations could already improve a lot the activities from the Parliament.


The third one is that based on the experience of Bhutan. You do not need to follow the path of the others to operate your own transformation. You may learn from the others but you may benefit from opportunities that were not existing when the other ones took on their own tasks and that you could benefit from your own home.


Let me give an example, which is not necessarily related to parliamentary activities, let’s imagine that you have two big cities and take the case Brazil. Why not have between São Paulo and Brasília, a big highway with twice four lanes and there’s so many cars driving on these things that we’ll have to extend the highway. We have to extend the highway because we know that we will have more and more people moving from one of the city to the other one and that’s the way we did it, and we always did that when you have more people going through a way. You have two options: The first one is to enable people to accelerate, because if you want to have more people going through a limited number of paths, and fixing the condition of this path, you just have to authorise people to drive faster and that is the vortex effect. If you don’t want that because it’s not that much secure, in this case you just have to add another lane or several other lanes, to have more people driving through the highway, but this was the old fashion to do things.


Now that we have new opportunities, maybe why not use transportation with a “taxi that could fly” in the air. Of course as a question of distance there we are in the context well several hundred kilometers and it’s more easy to do with airplanes rather than cars, but in this context why not using the technology that could be used by airplanes or smaller airplanes or smaller autonomous vehicles that could fly or any other opportunities such as a tube by having a train, but benefiting from the current technology and what you foresee in the future and not necessarily based on the good solutions that were running in the past.


And the last one is related to the hot topics that we are currently discussing: cooperate. There’s a huge number of levels as you have seen, I’ve just highlighted three of them but there’s many other ones that are involved in inter-parliamentary activities. Sometimes, they are related to the sharing of a common language. Sometimes it’s regional, sometimes it’s thematic, so you’ve got really several layers of organisation by which we have inter-parliamentary cooperation, but the hot topic is something that is almost shared by all these layers.


The one that’s currently addressing is digital strategies, resilience and business continuity, digital innovation, legislation change, and cybersecurity, so these are the domains which are the centre of the exchanges right now by which parliament wants to gain understanding on what are the opportunities, what are the challenges, what are the pros and cons, what could we do in which time scale, what has already been used, and what are the lessons range from various experiments. That has been made by parliaments within this domain. These are really the hot topics that we are currently addressing.


To conclude, I initiated by a quote from President Obama, and I will conclude by the same. President Obama wrote in his last book that our history has always been the sum of the choices made, and the actions taken individually by each man and woman and it has always depended on us therefore is inter-parliamentary cooperation.

[header image source: unsplash] 

Share with your colleagues: