One of the major challenges for our elected representatives is to stay on top of the increasing amounts of information they are required to process and, at the same time, maintain contact with the people who elected them.
Members of parliament (MPs) are very often ‘on the move’ – participating in official functions, meetings and debates, and having to travel between parliaments and their constituencies. At the same time, they are required to keep abreast of issues being debated and to contribute positively to these debates. New information and communication tools, managed effectively, could make a significant contribution to facilitating their task.
A European consortium, including five elected assemblies, has developed and carried out initial testing of a ‘virtual desktop’ which integrates state-of-the-art information management, mobile technologies and security systems to provide personalised, remote access to information databases, and facilitate information sharing and collaborative working.
Towards the ‘virtual’ committee
The EU-funded eRepresentative project focused on developing a tool to facilitate committee work, a central feature of most elected assemblies. Representatives from three national parliaments (Netherlands, Hungary, Lithuania), one regional parliament (Catalonia) and a local county council (Westmeath, Ireland), tested the platform over a period of three to four months.
“Elected officials are required to deal with increasing amounts of information, often having to work on multiple issues at the same time and to work on those subjects in collaboration with their colleagues through committees,” says project representative, Evika Karamagioli.
“eRepresentative provides a very user-friendly application to help MPs carry out this work remotely and it can be easily incorporated into the work of elected assemblies as is,” she adds.
The core user requirements established included: improved access to background documents; regular updates on the progress of an issue; facilitation of online collaboration; the sharing of documents and views; and even remote participation in decision-making.
Over 70% of representatives involved in the project confirmed that eRepresentative was easy to use, allowed trouble-free retrieval and sharing of documents and that the secure discussion space helped them feel better prepared for committee meetings.
“Discussions are currently underway with several of the participating partners, as well as other elected assemblies, with a view to formally introducing the application at institutional level in the near future,” confirms Karamagioli.
The project also welcomes contacts from any other elected assemblies interested in implementing this tool, particularly given that a longer-term objective of the project partners is to ensure interoperability of parliaments across Europe.
No MP left behind
eRepresentative addresses the need for secure communication between elected representatives, but the principles of the tool can also be applied more generally to improve communication with citizens themselves, and to provide them with a means of contributing to debates.
Generally speaking, studies have revealed a rather patchy uptake of ICTs within elected assemblies so far, with initiatives in this direction being taken on an individual rather than an organisational level. Some have even suggested that this could lead to a marginalisation of the role of the elected representative in governance as they get left behind in the networked society.
By closely involving end-users in both the establishment of user requirements and the evaluation of the application itself, the eRepresentative project provides a promising example of a tool that could facilitate the adoption of effective ICT solutions on an organisational rather than an individual basis.
eRepresentative was co-funded under the EU’s Sixth Framework Programme for research and development, as part of the specific IST (Information Society Technologies) programme.
Information from eRepresentative is now being taken to the next level in the Demos@Work project, which involves many of the same partners. This project involves both MPs and citizens, however it focuses specifically on the issue of public health and smoking.
Christian Nielsen | alfa
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