Nearly all of the world’s parliaments have websites, enabling citizens to access parliamentary information wherever Internet access is available. Even in countries where Internet penetration may be low, putting information online makes information available to civil society organizations, the media and citizens, who all play an important role in transmitting parliamentary information. While the Global Centre for ICT in Parliament reports that more than 93% of parliamentary websites in a recent survey included information on their composition and function, many parliaments do not provide public access to a variety of critical legislative documents that are necessary for citizens to be able to influence decision-making processes. Even when this information is publicly available, it may not be available in a fashion that enables broad participation. According to a World Bank Institute report, “international provisions make clear that, in addition to having numerous benefits for public bodies and for members of the public, proactive disclosure is an obligation that is part of the right of access to information” (Darbishire, 2013). The Declaration on Parliamentary Openness (section 2, provisions 13-26) contains a comprehensive list of information that parliaments should make available, as does the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s Guidelines for Parliamentary Websites.
- Establish requirements for the proactive publication of parliamentary information including:
- Information about parliament’s roles and functions;
- Legislative process information: proposed legislation and amendments, laws enacted, the legislative workflow, preparatory analysis, reports and background documents, and historical information;
- Agenda and meeting information: advance notice of plenary and committee meetings;
- Member information: Basic information about members, their backgrounds and activities, including votes and transcripts, their assets and expenses, and sufficient information for citizens to make informed judgments regarding their integrity and probity;
- Parliamentary institution and committee information: their powers and functions, management and administration of parliamentary, parliamentary staff, and detailed budget data.
- Consider the quality of the information provided, as well as any barriers to use of his information by citizens. The Declaration on Parliamentary Openness highlights a number of principles that contribute to helping parliaments meet this end, including:
- Accuracy: Parliamentary information should be authoritative and accurate.
- Timeliness: Parliamentary information should be provided as close to real time as possible and at minimum in time for citizens to influence the legislative process.
- Completeness: Parliaments should strive to make the full body of information categories available to citizens (for example;. not just some draft legislation or votes, but all draft legislation and votes).
- Seek to minimize other restrictions and burdens on citizen access to use of parliamentary information. For example, parliaments should consider taking steps to:
- Allow for simple and complex searches using persistent URLs so that documents remain at their same web address over time.
- Eliminate any fees associated with accessing or searching laws and subsidiary legal requirements, as well as applying copyright or similar tools to limit sharing or publication of laws, which should be viewed as belonging to the public.
- Eliminate provisions that compromise the privacy of users of parliamentary information.
- Avoid the use of unnecessary use of legalese and technologically complex language, which can also serve as a barrier to citizens and consider regular use of “plain language summaries.”
- Eliminate the release of information in formats that can only be viewed using proprietary software.
- Reduce difficulties in finding parliamentary information due to poor website organization or limits on searchability.