A comprehensive solution for the remote deliberation during the pandemic: The case of the first Country to remote deliberate

Read Patricia Almeida’s text from Brazilian House of Representatives about remote sessions due to the crisis of Covid-19

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

 

The Brazilian House of Representatives had to provide means for remote sessions due to the crisis of Covid-19 and to ensure the continuity of the legislative process. The legal regulation was the resolution approved by the parliamentarians, which determined that all 513 members would  be in a position to fully exercise their mandate in a plenary session, having only a smartphone and a telephone line. This was the first challenge. 

 

Taking this and some details of the resolution into account, we designed our virtual plenary architecture in 3 components: the videoconferencing platform, the Infoleg (our application) and a set of legislative systems. The configuration of the Zoom was done separately from those of the internal systems. The Infoleg had been launched in 2016 with an enormous amount of information available to citizens, including everything that happens in the committees meetings and plenary sessions, the proposals and the laws. For virtual sessions we had to add some features and they would only be available to parliamentarians. This was our first challenge, how to put features that make these virtual sessions as close as possible to the dynamics of a real session?

 

We tried several features, here I bring some of them. The first is the list of members to be granted the floor. In reality, there were several lists associated with different moments within the dynamic of a plenary session. They are open two hours before parliamentarians can register. A list of previous announcements was created, which was opened one hour before and with a lot of competition to speak. 

 

Before voting, the parliamentarian can consult the voting guidance of its party leadership. During all the time in the session it is possible to follow the parliamentarians present and afterwards during the voting period, with results displayed on the panel not only in the application, but also on the large screens available within the plenary. We also had to implement secret ballots, because there was an internal election. It was necessary to replace two parliamentarians, one was moved to be a minister in the executive branch and another parliamentarian sadly died. They were part of the governing council of the house and, according to the bylaws, this replacement should be for an election with all 513 members. We carried out everything that was foreseen in an election also by Infoleg. 

 

The second challenge was the security. There were several layers of authentication, specially in Infoleg that had to be studied, starting with the internal code registration of the members’ smartphones. The codes were being sent during the sessions and the keys were created to establish a secure cryptographic channel for data traffic. We also offered a complementary option for all those steps without removing any of them, the possibility for the parliamentarian to use the biometric recognition functionalities of his smartphone. So, the parliamentarian can use facial, iris or digital recognition, and thus easily recover the password. 

 

The challenge was to try to cover the legislative process in its different stages and not to be restricted only at the time of the plenary session. We made available to parliamentarians in the system the possibility to validly submit proposals from anywhere and receive digital authentication. In the case of multiple authors and amendments, this application also happens and the flow goes on to be voted in the session, to be made available by the open data channel. 

 

The last challenge was one of the richest experiences, the engagement of more than 500 parliamentarians. The first two weeks were very difficult for all of us and it involved a large task force. Analysing some indicators comparing the same period 2019 with 2020, which goes from March 25th, 2020 (the first session) to September, 2020, we found that, despite 2019 having a greater number of plenary sessions, in 2020 we had the largest number of approved proposals. Regarding the size and the duration of the sessions, it is practically the same, which means that we have created good channels of communication. In terms of frequency, in 2020 we had the largest number of members who participated in plenary meetings, exceeding 98% on average. We observed the same behavior in relation to voting since it was the largest number of members who voted in these sessions.

 

In 2020, after more than 73 virtual sessions held only in the House of Representatives, without counting those from the joint sessions of Congress, we found two great enablers of this change. First, it is a set of decisions taken in the past, most of which are associated with our strategy, such as the decision to build an application that would provide information about the legislative process. 

 

The decision to build a proposal submission system in a way that was born digital made the system ready and to be launched in the pandemic. The decision of the IT team to adopt agile methodologies in the construction of systems was very important. Our systems are all built with the purpose to be distributed in small spaces of time. 

 

In 2019, the decision to start a digital legislative process project, when we had a lot of time to discuss what could be reused and what would need to be discontinued between the systems that we have. Another enabler, the largest task force that I had never seen, most of them working remotely. We didn’t even realise that we were remote. We created a call centre specifically for parliamentarians in remote sessions with great support from the Secretary-General of the Board and the Speaker of the House. There were a set of practices to adjust them not only to technology but to the processes.

 

From a technological point of view, the solution for the remote committees was ready in 2020, to be approved and implemented in a similar way to what I presented here. It is a hybrid model, which uses the same conference software, in our case Zoom. In the case of the vote, it will be Infoleg. Everything in order to be extremely comfortable so that there is no impact for the parliamentarians, with the possibility of the committees that already have the participation of voting representatives. And here we have the beginning of a transformation that is not the end, it is the beginning of the possibility of using this whole structure in different post-pandemic situations.

The Brazilian House of Representatives had to provide means for remote sessions due to the crisis of Covid-19 and to ensure the continuity of the legislative process. The legal regulation was the resolution approved by the parliamentarians, which determined that all 513 members would be in a position to fully exercise their mandate in a plenary session, having only a smartphone and a telephone line. This was the first challenge. 

 

Taking this and some details of the resolution into account, we designed our virtual plenary architecture in 3 components: the videoconferencing platform, the Infoleg (our application) and a set of legislative systems. The configuration of the Zoom was done separately from those of the internal systems. The Infoleg had been launched in 2016 with an enormous amount of information available to citizens, including everything that happens in the committees’ meetings and plenary sessions, the proposals, and the laws. For virtual sessions, we had to add some features and they would only be available to parliamentarians. This was our first challenge, how to put features that make these virtual sessions as close as possible to the dynamics of a real session?

 

We tried several features, here I bring some of them. The first is the list of members to be granted the floor. In reality, there were several lists associated with different moments within the dynamic of a plenary session. They are open two hours before parliamentarians can register. A list of previous announcements was created, which was opened one hour before and with a lot of competition to speak. 

 

Before voting, the parliamentarian can consult the voting guidance of its party leadership. During all the time in the session, it is possible to follow the parliamentarians present and afterward during the voting period, with results displayed on the panel not only in the application, but also on the large screens available within the plenary. We also had to implement secret ballots, because there was an internal election. It was necessary to replace two parliamentarians, one was moved to be a minister in the executive branch and another parliamentarian sadly died. They were part of the governing council of the house and, according to the bylaws, this replacement should be for an election with all 513 members. We carried out everything that was foreseen in an election also by Infoleg. 

 

The second challenge was security. There were several layers of authentication, specially in Infoleg that had to be studied, starting with the internal code registration of the members’ smartphones. The codes were being sent during the sessions and the keys were created to establish a secure cryptographic channel for data traffic. We also offered a complementary option for all those steps without removing any of them, the possibility for the parliamentarian to use the biometric recognition functionalities of his smartphone. So, the parliamentarian can use facial, iris or digital recognition, and thus easily recover the password. 

 

The challenge was to try to cover the legislative process in its different stages and not to be restricted only at the time of the plenary session. We made available to parliamentarians in the system the possibility to validly submit proposals from anywhere and receive digital authentication. In the case of multiple authors and amendments, this application also happens and the flow goes on to be voted in the session, to be made available by the open data channel. 

 

The last challenge was one of the richest experiences, the engagement of more than 500 parliamentarians. The first two weeks were very difficult for all of us and it involved a large task force. Analysing some indicators comparing the same period 2019 with 2020, which goes from March 25th, 2020 (the first session) to September, 2020, we found that, despite 2019 having a greater number of plenary sessions, in 2020 we had the largest number of approved proposals. Regarding the size and the duration of the sessions, it is practically the same, which means that we have created good channels of communication. In terms of frequency, in 2020 we had the largest number of members who participated in plenary meetings, exceeding 98% on average. We observed the same behavior in relation to voting, since it was the largest number of members who voted in these sessions.

 

In 2020, after more than 73 virtual sessions held only in the House of Representatives, without counting those from the joint sessions of Congress, we found two great enablers of this change. First, it is a set of decisions taken in the past, most of which are associated with our strategy, such as the decision to build an application that would provide information about the legislative process. 

 

The decision to build a proposal submission system in a way that was born digital made the system ready and to be launched in the pandemic. The decision of the IT team to adopt agile methodologies in the construction of systems was very important. Our systems are all built with the purpose to be distributed in small spaces of time. 

 

In 2019, the decision to start a digital legislative process project, when we had a lot of time to discuss what could be reused and what would need to be discontinued between the systems that we have. Another enabler, the largest task force that I had never seen, most of them working remotely. We didn’t even realise that we were remote. We created a call centre specifically for parliamentarians in remote sessions with great support from the Secretary-General of the Board and the Speaker of the House. There were a set of practices to adjust them not only to technology but to the processes.

 

From a technological point of view, the solution for the remote committees was ready in 2020, to be approved and implemented in a similar way to what I presented here. It is a hybrid model, which uses the same conference software, in our case Zoom. In the case of the vote it will be Infoleg. Everything in order to be extremely comfortable so that there is no impact for the parliamentarians, with the possibility of the committees that already have participation of voting representatives. And here we have the beginning of a transformation that is not the end, it is the beginning of the possibility of using this whole structure in different post-pandemic situations.

[header image source: unsplash] 

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