Remote Deliberations in the Novo Hamburgo City Council (Brazil)

Read Maria Carolina Hagen’s text from City Council of Novo Hamburgo (Brazil)

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My name is Maria Carolina Hagen. I am the Director of the school of the legislative in the City Council of Novo Hamburgo and I will present our experience with the remote deliberations.

 

In the southern region of Brazil, the pandemic arrived a little later. As of May 2020, the state government adopted the controlled social distancing model. The State of Rio Grande do Sul adopted a model of flags. As of May 2020, the Novo Hamburgo region had the yellow and orange flags, which allowed a limit of 50% of workers in the physical space.

 

The House oscillated at times when the sessions and work were suspended and with the holding of sporadic sessions to deal with more relevant proposals, but still in person. In June 2020, with the worsening of the pandemic in the southern region and in the region of Novo Hamburgo it changed to the red flag, which means high risk, therefore we needed to adopt a different strategy from the one that had been adopted with sporadic sessions to work remotely. The IT director had already conducted tests for a new product for remote deliberations.

 

In order to respond to legal requirements, a legislative act of the governing council to adopt the remote deliberation system was instituted. Since 2008, the House has adopted the support system for the legislative process (SAPL) provided by the Interlegis program of the Brazilian Senate House, something that has made it easier. Work at the Novo Hamburgo House never stopped due to the use of the SAPL system, used by the House for 12 years. The House also has the sessions broadcast on TV Câmara and our YouTube channel.

 

The sessions were already broadcast live before the pandemic. The House has been conducting electronic voting by SAPL since 2019, something that facilitated the remote deliberation process. In May 2020, even with some in-person sessions, the system of participation of municipal secretaries in the sessions by videoconference was adopted. The IT Director made the necessary adjustments so that the municipal secretaries could provide clarifications in the plenary session.

 

In April 2020, the House conducted the first remote deliberation test with the governing council, using the Brazilian Senate House tool, SAPL-R. The House, through its school of the legislative, carried out the training of civil servants in partnership with the Interlegis program of the Brazilian Senate House. Councilors received a video prepared for parliamentarians on how to use the Jitsi Meet application, which is integrated with SAPL, thus forming SAPL-R.

 

Many councilors had never used any virtual meeting application. On July 20, 2020, the first meeting with the remote deliberation system was scheduled and an hour before the session, a final training session was held with the councilors. At the scheduled time for the session, the councilors went to their offices to participate using the remote deliberation solution. It was defined that the session participation would be by cell phone.

 

The in-person session was held only with the Speaker, the Clerk, and the First Secretary. The second session was held a week later and started remotely. Many councilors continued to hold the remote session from their office and others stayed at their homes. The IT team approved the use of Jitsi Meet, because it is free to use, highly integrated with SAPL and because it has no user limit and duration of meetings.

 

The first challenge in the use of new technologies is cultural and has a great impact, since many had never used videoconferencing, however it was well accepted and the councilors were very open to change. I believe that a longer adaptation time is recommended to get used to the change, since there are major changes in the political dynamics.

 

The House does not yet have digitisation in all processes and does not yet have an electronic signature on all documents. The technological structure and the training of civil servants to carry out the sessions will not only be used in the pandemic, but can be used in the future as a way of strengthening transparency and saving public resources.

 

It is essential to think about a cultural change with a focus on technology, the structuring of long-term planning to enable ways to incorporate in the technological infrastructure the digitisation of documents, electronic signatures, always in order to strengthen collaboration and performance in networks.

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