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System was no different. The Assembly needed to ensure that the system was easy for both staff and Members to use.

One way in which it was addressed, along with the “fear” of moving away from paper, was to provide one-to-one training in the initial rollout stages, with expert in-house support available at all times. Other considerations were to ensure that Members’ personal devices could be facilitated by the new system and that robust contingency procedures were developed and implemented.

Utilizing the full potential of technology

With the Electronic Committee Pack system’s success, and with a “Digital First” Strategy in place, the Assembly is continuing to improve the amount of information that can be accessed by Members on their tablet devices. The Information Systems Office is currently enhancing the system to allow access to committee papers relating to Assembly legislation and committee inquiries.

Another project will provide Members with the ability to remotely table Motions and Amendments to Plenary debates. The new system, delivered on the tablet devices, will allow Members to table and track Assembly Questions and Answers and to submit their names for selection to ask Oral or Topical Questions. Members’ staff will have immediate electronic access to written answers and can receive automated alerts when answers are due or overdue.

While the Assembly’s Information Systems Office has been devising systems that will make it easier for Members to carry out their rules, they have not forgotten about the public and their important role in scrutinizing the devolved Legislature.

More people than ever are using computer/ tablet-based forms of communication with their elected representatives, including the use of social media. The Assembly has proactively encouraged this, both by using Assembly Facebook and Twitter accounts to communicate,

and by working with individual Committees to publicise their inquiries and Committee sponsored events. To facilitate this, the Information Systems Office has developed an online portal on the Assembly website to provide the public with access to Assembly procedural information in a user-friendly way.

The portal allows visitors to browse and search for a range of information on current and former Members, Plenary business, votes, Assembly questions and answers, Committees and their work, and a subject-based search facility.

The system also allows for easy access to real-time procedural information – for example voting results from Assembly Divisions are available to the public within six seconds of the result being announced in the Assembly Chamber. This service has received a very positive response from local journalists and media outlets. The portal also provides a vastly improved flexible search tool that allows people to search the AIMS subject index. This index is based on one inherited from the UK Parliament POLIS and PIMS systems and contains some 30,000 subject terms. Assembly Library staff have a dedicated team that looks at all procedural content on the AIMS system and tags items according to the standard terms contained within the AIMS index. This is specialized work, but the Assembly feels that although resource intensive, it offers an easy way for people to search across the entire range of Assembly procedural outputs.

Assembly Open Data project One project, in which the Northern Ireland Assembly is leading the way is the Assembly Open Data Project which was launched by the Speaker, Mr William Hay, MLA, in May 2012. The project allows data on the work of the Assembly and its Committees to be published in its raw form, increasing the ways in which the data can be used. Data can be accessed under the Open Northern Ireland Assembly Licence where both

190 | The Parliamentarian | 2014: Issue Three

individuals and organizations, such as charities, the media and political strategists, are free to copy, publish, distribute and transmit Assembly information. This information is updated and disseminated in real time.

Organizations can exploit the information commercially, for

would be meaningful and useful, the Assembly worked with a number of stakeholders when identifying the services that would be provided. Some of these stakeholders included Northern Ireland Executive Departments, parliamentary monitoring organizations, charitable sector groups and political strategists/

example, by combining it with other information, or by including it in their own products or applications. The Assembly used the UK Open Parliament Licence as the basis for developing its licence and had some very useful input from the National Archives, also involving the Assembly’s Legal Services Team and Information Standards Officer. In order to ensure that the data

lobbyists, as well as various interested bloggers. These groups continue to provide the Assembly with feedback so that the services can be improved. The Open Data service

increases the Assembly’s openness and transparency, which in turn reduces the number of Freedom of Information requests being received. In the future the Assembly plans to expand the data services

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