Remote Deliberation at the Marabá City Council. The remote deliberation experience in the Brazilian Amazon

Read Gabriela Pereira da Silva’s from Marabá City Council (Brazil) article

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I am director of the School of the Legislative in the City Council of Marabá, in the southeast of the State of Pará, in the Brazilian Amazon. I will share our experience to maintain activities during the pandemic. There were great challenges when we learned about the pandemic and we had to isolate all the civil servants and suspend in-person activities.

 

We were in the middle of several in-person activities, such as voting on several important projects for the city, but it was suddenly suspended. The greatest challenge was to keep the legislature open and activities in operation, providing answers to the community.

 

The City Council of Marabá already had the habit of broadcasting the sessions via Facebook, but the sessions were held in-person. The first big challenge we had was the remote work and communication between departments. What we did was create a WhatsApp group for us to talk about how the activities would move forward. Once communication was reestablished, we planned which actions to develop so that the City Council Marabá would not stop, since we are a reference to the region, many other City Councils depend on the actions of our House.

 

Citizens began to question on social media about the role of the legislature in the face of a crisis as serious as Covid-19. The governing council and the department directors met and then decided that they should resume the sessions in a virtual way. It was then that we had contact with the Interlegis program of the Brazilian Senate House, which recommended a virtual system for remote sessions to take place. Our IT director was involved and we started a training process with civil servants from the protocol, the sound, the IT, and the legislative process departments.

 

The House already worked with the digital system, with all the legislative proposals digitalised, similar to the voting and marking system of the Senate House and House of Representatives of Brazil.

 

A panel was installed for the sessions in the House two years ago. Therefore, the House was already working with this system. Our question was: how to use this system now in a situation where people would have to participate remotely?

 

All councilors have a notebook and tablet. The Jitsi Meet started to be installed on computers and the entire team of councilors started receiving training through WhatsApp, on how the system would work. We held a meeting on the virtual platform to show in practice how the Jitsi Meet would work. In this way, the remote sessions returned to work in the House.

 

During isolation and quarantine, people participated much more in the sessions, asking more questions on social media because they wanted answers. Committee meetings and sessions started to be broadcasted on social networks and are held by the Jitsi Meet.

 

The challenge was to train civil servants to use these technologies and councilors, who did not yet know how to use these platforms. At the beginning, we had a lot of trouble with the microphone and camera control and members speaking out of order.

 

The poor internet quality in the residences of the parliamentarians meant that the councilors went to their offices. Another training challenge was something that surprised us, since some servers had difficulties using e-mail.

 

A legislative act was made that established remote deliberation in the City Council, defining which actions could be performed remotely. Therefore, all documentation started to be broadcasted through institutional email up to 24 hours in advance.

 

The Speaker of the House, the School of the Legislative, the communication department already used it, but the parliamentary offices did not use institutional e-mail, so we realised that the civil servants had difficulty using e-mail. With the emergence of Covid-19 and the need for remote work, we realised that it is urgent to train civil servants to use simple technologies. The House started using all SAPL tools from the Brazilian Federal Senate’s Interlegis to process legislative proposals and legislative reports.

 

We noticed some improvements, such as the civil servants getting more cooperative and the speed in the activities. The advances we had in the dialogue between the leaders of the house were significant, in a way that encouraged civil servants to seek new skills and new ways of managing public administration.

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