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PARLIAMENTARY PERFORMANCE AND EMERGING TECHNOLOGY


BENCHMARKING 2.0: IMPROVINGPARLIAMENTARY PERFORMANCE IN ATECH- ENABLED WORLD


A Study Group Meeting of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, including Commonwealth Representatives of the OpeningParliament.org Community, was held from 6 – 8 May 2013 in London. It provided participants the opportunity to share regional perspectives on the Benchmarks and to review their own institutional performance.


Introduction


The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) issued Recommendations for Transparent Governance in 2004 and Recommended Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures in 2006. Since these recommendations were made, many other parliamentary associations have adopted their own sets of benchmarks, drawing heavily on the CPA Benchmarks. These include the Assemblée Parlementaire de la Francophonie, the Southern African Development Community – Parliamentary Forum and the Confederation of Parliaments of the Americas. Within the CPA, a series of seminars have been held to share regional perspectives on the Benchmarks. Several Parliaments have used the CPA Benchmarks to review their own institutional performance.


In addition, an increasing


number of parliamentary monitoring organizations (PMOs) around the world are actively engaged in monitoring the work of Parliaments, using the Benchmarks and other tools. PMOs have also taken an


active role in developing their own benchmarks and standards, most notably through the adoption of the Declaration on Parliamentary Openness. The Declaration drew on the CPA Benchmarks and on the recommendations of earlier CPA Study Groups, among other sources. The Declaration is currently supported by more than 120 PMOs from over 74 countries, as well as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly. Further, citizens are


increasingly using information and communications technologies (ICTs) – including mobile and social media – in their daily lives. Parliaments, Parliamentarians and PMOs are harnessing innovative ICTs to enhance the ability of citizens to provide input into parliamentary work. As the Declaration on Parliamentary Openness states “the onset of the digital era has altered fundamentally the context for public usage of parliamentary information and the expectations of citizens for good governance…. Emerging technology is empowering analysis and reuse


206 | The Parliamentarian | 2013: Issue Three


of parliamentary information with enormous promise to build shared knowledge and inform representative democracy”. The increasing use of ICTs in the digital age has presented new opportunities and challenges for Parliaments. While social media has become a vital tool for Parliaments to reach out and engage citizens, it has also in some cases been used to rapidly disseminate isolated incidences of wrongdoing by individual Parliamentarians, often negatively affecting public perception of Parliament more broadly. Overlapping these developments, many Parliaments have had to respond to actual or possible security risks to those working in and visiting parliamentary precincts by erecting physical barriers at Parliament, thus reducing the ease of access by citizens to parliamentary Chambers and the like compared to earlier times. To evaluate and to explore opportunities to refine the CPA Benchmarks to reflect developments since 2006, the CPA convened a Study Group, in partnership with the National Democratic Institute (NDI), bringing together Parliamentarians


and representatives of the


Commonwealth PMO community. As CPA Secretary-General Dr William F. Shija stated in his opening remarks “this Study Group is designed to build upon the work already conducted and to seek ways in which parliamentary openness can be increased, and also develop strong benchmarks for individual parliamentary conduct, ethics and behaviour in a world where information communications technology has revolutionized the world we live in and in which democracy is practised”. The Benchmarks remain an important tool for the CPA to reflect the aspirational goals of its Members. They also provide an opportunity to share perspectives on what is the “right thing for Parliaments to do”, while also recognizing that Parliaments operate in a wide range of circumstances and social conditions and that not all Recommended Benchmarks may be appropriate for all Parliaments at any one particular time. Parliaments face a host of challenges in finding politically feasible compromises. Politics, it has been noted, is the art of the possible.


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