Democratic parliaments need to inform citizens about their work, both to young people as a part of civic education, as well as to provide citizens with information necessary to make decisions on political activism and voting. However, in a modern society, citizens access information through increasingly diverse channels. Benchmarks on democratic standards suggest that parliaments have a role to play in ensuring that parliamentary information is widely available to citizens irrespective of their proximity to parliament, their access to technology, or other social or cultural factors. The Declaration on Parliamentary Openness summarizes this idea when it states: “Parliament shall provide access to information about its work through multiple channels; including first-person observation, print media, radio and television broadcasts, and Internet and mobile device technology.” Since it is impossible for parliaments to anticipate all of the ways that citizens would want to use parliamentary information, parliaments should seek to disseminate information in a variety of formats, seeking citizen feedback throughout the process. In this way, parliaments can give effect to the principle that parliamentary information should be available “to the widest range of users for the widest range of purposes” (Tauberer, 2012).
While most parliaments agree on the need to minimize barriers in accessing parliamentary information, it is also recognized that there is a difference between accessing information and being able to interpret and understand this information effectively. As a result, parliaments are also increasingly providing the context needed to help reduce barriers in understanding parliamentary information. Put bluntly by the former President of the European Parliament Josep Borrell Fontelles, “There is no point in putting a report adopted in plenary online if no effort is made to explain it.” The World Parliament Report 2012 notes that “Because proposed legislation often deals with current statuses and, if passes, must be incorporated into the existing bodies of law, it is usually drafted in legal language that can be difficult to understand. A number of parliaments have begun to recognize the importance of providing explanations of bills and legislative actions in language understandable to citizens.”
- Provide contextual information on draft laws. Many parliaments provide parliamentarians with resources such as plain language summaries, analyses of economic or environmental impact, testimony and reports, committee reports and other information aimed at helping them to make informed decisions. Citizens should also have access to this
information to enable them to fully engage in the legislative process.
- Provide resources for civic education. Many parliaments provide educational resources targeting specific groups, including high school and middle school students, aimed at enabling non-experts to explore parliamentary work and voice their legislative preferences.
- Support broader media coverage. Many parliaments seek to encourage media coverage of parliamentary activities by providing in-house press facilities, such as parliamentary recording studios and media offices. Others have in-house media or information teams that are charged with communicating parliamentary information to media outlets and helping to ease the reporting process.
- Provide multiple channels of access for parliamentary information. The best means of communication of parliamentary information depends on the audience and the nature of its interest in the information provided. Many parliaments provide written transcripts of debate, which form a permanent record that is also essential for ensuring the accuracy of the public debate. This information can be useful, particularly if it is made available immediately after
the debate takes place and is in a format that is easily searchable and downloadable. To reach a different and broader audience, many parliaments are making this information available by broadcast plenary and committee sessions on television, radio and through live and/or on-demand webstreaming as means of broaden the reach of parliamentary debate to audiences beyond the capital.
- Create a parliamentary information or visitor’s centre. Providing physical access to the plenary not only is a method of providing information about the session, but carries important symbolic value in communicating the openness of the parliament. Many parliaments create information and visitor’s centres to enable citizens to observe parliament at work, view the seat of the legislative branch of government, and retrieve parliamentary information from its source.