Recognizing that interaction between citizens and their representatives enhances the work of parliament, many parliaments are seeking to institutionalize citizen participation both through development of new platforms for citizen parliamentary work and through integration of social media. The Global Centre for ICT in Parliament (2010) recommends that parliaments employ “all available tools, including new media and mobile technologies, to provide citizens with improved access to the work of parliament and means of participation in the political dialogue.”
The methods that parliaments are adopting to improve parliamentary consultation of citizens are varied, but many parliaments are adopting the use of digital technologies as low-cost ways to reach citizens in various geographic locations or who lack the means to participate in-person. As noted by the Secretary General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in the preface to the its Social Media Guidelines for Parliament, “One lesson that parliaments have learned from their efforts to engage citizens is the following: you cannot wait for the people to come to parliament; you need to go where the people are. In 2013, the people are on social media. More than one billion to date and the number continues to grow exponentially.” (Williamson, 2013). These tools are most effective when integrated with the parliament’s workflow. For instance, many parliaments and PMOs are finding that new technologies can complement in-person interaction between citizens and representatives by allowing citizens to provide comments or annotations in the text of draft legislation, or by providing citizens the opportunity to submit letters or questions to representatives in a public forum.
Actions that countries have taken include:
- Develop a robust institutional social media presence, drawing on the principles contained in the IPU’s Social Media Guidelines for Parliaments. While individual parliamentarians oftentimes use social media to engage with citizens, social media provides an opportunity for the institution of parliament to reach out to citizens and build interest in their work.
- Create an e-petition website with low barriers to participation. Websites that allow citizens to propose and vote on legislation to come before parliament are gaining traction in a number of countries. In some instances, they raise debate on issues that might otherwise not be tabled.
- Create a platform for citizens to contribute ideas in the mark-up of draft legislation.