This post highlights some of the comments made by services about the methods they employ.
In a comment that illustrates a reality which we will return to later, one respondent noted sadly
“The main problem is the lack of interest of the members”.
This does not mean all Members, all of the time, but many if not all services must experience it with at least some Members and some of the time. The comments were, however, generally more optimistic in tone, picking out some methods that worked for particular services.
Get personal to get results
The Ugandan experience illustrates that personal contact is the best guarantee of success
“Face to face interactions with MPs through a platform like research week produces immediate results through increasing the number of research requests”
As one respondent noted:
“The more tailored to Members’ personal needs and to their and policy area(s) the more successful are promotional actions”.
Another highlighted that:
“direct engagement with members and their staff have proven to be successful in establishing and developing our relationships with members”
New Zealand has formalised the personal approach with a system of account managers:
“The 120 Members have been divided equally between the four Senior Library Service Advisors who aim to contact a Members office, in some way, three times a year. Each Senior Library Service Advisor has 30 Members that they are responsible for. This contact might be through a phone call or a personal visit and might be to the member themselves, someone in their on-site Parliament office, or someone in their electorate office. The contact will be tailored to fit the relationship we have with that office. It might be promoting a particular product or service, talking about some way we can help that office, or seeking feedback on the Library services we have provided in the last three months”.
In many parliaments there is an effort to contact Members at the start of their term, but the service in New Zealand also does this at mid-term:
“Midway through the Parliamentary term we contact Members’ offices and offer to visit them to show them how we can help them and to check whether their alerting services are working well for them”. The personal approach is applied also to staff working for Members – in this case, staff working remotely in constituency offices: “[we provide] a research service to all these offices, but unfortunately not everybody who works in them is aware that they can use us, or what we can do for them. Over the last two years we have been putting more effort into promoting our services to people who work in these offices. We have found that they like a personal approach, so we have been video calling or Zooming them and, in some cases, sharing our screens with them to show them some of the resources they can use”. Beyond individual Members and their staff, the research service has also targeted the staff in parliament of political parties through “a promotional project which we are calling: From research to policy and legislation. We plan to give this presentation to research staff in party leaders’ offices. The presentation will show the different skills within the Library that we can use to help Members investigate a policy area. For example, we can produce maps and charts, do historical research, do cross jurisdictional research, dig into government department data and do legal analysis”. Less formal approaches to target clients have proved effective in the New Zealand context: “[pre-COVID] we have held morning teas for Members’ staff who work on the Parliamentary precinct. These were held in the beautiful historic reading room of our Library building and are very well attended. We serve hot drinks and food, and it’s a way to make contact with these clients in a social setting”. Apparently informal discussions have also been used as a formal method to understand client ways of working and their satisfaction with the service: “Customer Voice sessions involve selected customers talking to Library staff about how they use our services. The customers are given a list of questions and topics before the session. The customers talk about what their work involves and how the Library helps them, and what we could do better”. [The ‘Library’ includes the research service in New Zealand].
Canada has created specialist roles for personal outreach to Members:
“Library ambassadors meet with parliamentary clients to explore how we can support them with their work, overviewing how to access our research publications, our specialized tools, and our customized research services. Library ambassadors are employees who are recruited from all areas of the organization and are trained to deliver clear, compelling briefings to clients. A program coordinator monitors the frequency and number of briefings delivered to clients, ensuring that the Library reaches out to all parliamentary offices at regular intervals throughout each Parliament”.
In Finland they have found one of the best ways to promote the service is training sessions for:
“individual Members, groups of Members, Member’s staff and parliamentary group officers”
The response from Israel indicated the multiple benefits of an in-person approach:
“Upon receiving a request for information or research from a MK [Member], the relevant Team Leader (and sometimes also the researcher) will meet with the MK (in person if possible) in order to coordinate expectations, i.e. to understand more clearly what the MK wants to find out and what he/she plans to do with the research in order to match the end product to the needs of the MK. Besides focusing the research on what the MK really needs, the RIC can also explain methodological difficulties, if relevant, and suggest other possible means of achieving similar results. Thus, with regard to raising awareness to the RIC [Research & Information Centre], these meetings allow the RIC to introduce the MKs to different types of products and services available to them from the RIC”. In addition, in “the past year we have launched a new venture aiming to receive better feedback from MKs and PAs regarding research prepared for them by the RIC. This project is based on oral conversations with MKs and PAs (instead of an automated online form which we had used in the past to receive feedback). These conversations follow a loose outline of questions on the research but also serve as an opportunity to suggest other types of RIC products and services available to the MK in the future”.
Reach Members at the start of their parliamentary career
Along with training sessions, the other method found to work well In Finland to promote the research service is
“direct messages to new Members when they start their work”
In Pakistan, they believe that
“Holding of New Members Orientation…[is one of] the most important way you assist MPs in their practical contribution for constituents and at the same time it helps you market your services”
Another respondent put the case for focusing on new Members:
“Our most active promotional periods are often at the commencement of a new Parliament, where our service aims to ensure new members are introduced to our research as soon as possible. This has consistently helped to [establish] effective working relationships…”
Be proactive in research (publication)
“providing proactive papers [increases] the demand for individual (tailor-made) requests….[Our] promotional letter on proactive papers very often [generates] a request for a paper of the same type on [a] different topic”.
Slovakia also reports an increase in demand following proactive papers. They publish proactive research in three versions – Comparative analysis, Information paper and Factsheet –
“that are distributed among all MPs and their assistants by email. Several hardcopies are also available in MPs’ saloon where MPs spent time during the plenary session breaks. These research papers are focused on topical issues discussed in the Parliament or in society (for example, comparative analysis relevant to a particular draft law)”
Go outside to have an impact inside
For several reasons, external communication of research work can (eventually) reach people inside the parliament who are not reached by internal communication. Impact externally can also enhance the message internally – adding credibility and value to research products. It can be a highly effective strategy. The research service in Israel reported four methods to reach external audiences as well as internal ones:
“For the past few years the RIC has been publishing a monthly newsletter edited by the Head of Information Services. The newsletter highlights a selection of recent documents prepared in the RIC in the past month and other items of interest, such as new types of products available from the RIC. It is sent to a wide ranging mailing list which includes all MKs, PAs, committee secretariats, government offices and many others in- and out-side the Knesset.
In the past year we have also launched a podcast (“Research in Three Readings”) in which researchers discuss specific papers which they prepared, their conclusions and lessons learned. Each new episode of the podcast is also sent to a wide audience (and can also be found on the RIC webpage and on all the leading podcast platforms).
There are also various other RIC products which are sent to a wide audience such as studies, briefings and special infographics prepared for special days in the Knesset (e.g. International Women’s Day, World Environment Day, Universal Children’s Day, International Day of Persons with Disabilities, etc.)
In 2018 the Knesset Administration decided to assign spokespersons to various Knesset units, as part of the Knesset’s continuing promotion of increased transparency. Thus, the RIC has a dedicated spokesperson who receives all new research produced by the RIC, and acts as a liaison between the RIC and various press representatives in order to facilitate media coverage of RIC research related to topics on the public agenda. This coverage is another means of exposing our research to other MKs. The RIC Spokesperson can also cooperate with MKs (and their PAs) in increasing media coverage of specific RIC research prepared at their request.”
The value of international relations
The Hungarian case illustrates one way in which international connections have a positive effect on service reputation:
“they are extremely useful for me, as a manager and for the whole service in service-development. In relation of effectiveness, as you defined (..more demand for it from Members) they affect indirectly, via the service development, based on the best practices we learned from others”. International engagement is also about giving advice and sharing experience, and that can be a process that develops the trainer as well as the trainee – as well as enhancing the reputation of the service.”
Slovakia gives an impression of activities of this kind:
“the Parliamentary Institute continuously maintains contacts with partner parliaments and since 2004, it has been involved in parliamentary development cooperation, especially for the Western Balkan countries, but also for other countries such as Lebanon, Iraq, Moldova, Kazakhstan, etc. It organizes various (mainly ad hoc) seminars, workshops, and study visits for the beneficiary parliaments to strengthen their institutional capacity and to assist in building legislative, information, analytical, library, and archival services in partner parliaments. These activities are funded either by the European Union, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), or through SlovakAid programs and activities, or other donors. Experts from the Department of the Parliamentary Institute provide consultations, lectures and make recommendations for streamlining the activities of partner parliaments and their administrations”.
Let the products do the talking
In Pakistan, they believe that service quality is the best promotion
“Timely delivery of products and research products with balanced, non partisan and independent analysis, builds trust of Hon Members of Parliament (MPs) who then go on to utilize the services as regular users/clients”.
The service in Slovakia made a similar point:
“When raising the profile of a parliamentary research service, the corner stone is to give information of high quality, which is accurate, evidence-based supported by various primary and secondary sources of information with references in footnotes, and provided in timely manner (either within the deadline specified in the request or before the plenary debate on the respective topic, in our case it is usually before the second reading).”
Classic methods: newsletters, emails and leaflets; intranet & internet
The classic promotional activities are newsletters, emails and leaflets and they are widely used. The service in Slovakia gave an example:
“Newsletter of the Department of Parliamentary Institute – biannually published overview bulletin, providing information on the activities of the Parliamentary Institute for the past period (usually half a year). See an example here: https://www.nrsr.sk/web/Dynamic/DocumentPreview.aspx?DocID=498146.”
The service in Canada also offers a description of some classic methods, including an intranet site. (Intranet and internet sites have been widely used for a decade and more – enough to be considered ‘classic’!).
“We send regular newsletter updates to parliamentarians with information on our products, programs, and services including announcements of new research resources and reminders of how to access our research services. Each time a new research publication is published, we distribute an email notification to clients who have subscribed with a link and a brief description of the new publication. We announce new and particularly timely research tools or publications series via communiqués to parliamentary clients. For example, we distributed a communiqué to announce the launch of a new series of research publications on topics related to COVID-19 at the beginning of the pandemic. At any time, parliamentary clients can learn about our research services and access our specialized research tools, including our catalogue, on our intranet for clients. At the beginning of the 44th Parliament, we created access points to specific research tools and publications, as well as a link to a page with more information about our research services, on our intranet homepage”. In Canada they also use digital banners, perhaps not so common in parliamentary websites: “We promote specific aspects of our research publications series using digital banners on our public website and intranet for clients, as well as on our media walls in Library branches”.
Partnership with library & information services
In Israel, the research service is partnered in the same unit with an information service which, amongst other roles, works to ensure that the research offer is known:
“The Head of Information Services in the RIC is in charge of day to day contact with the MKs [Members] and their Parliamentary Advisors (PAs). She meets with each new PA in order to make sure they are aware of the products and services available from the RIC, guidelines for requests, the RIC Service Charter, etc. She also is in charge of distributing various RIC products and other information to all MKs and PAs”.
Integrating research products with other forms of library and information content is probably widespread as a method of increasing use and awareness of the research function.
Be where the Members are
In New Zealand, library & research staff actively went out to the office and gathering places of Members and their staff:
“Following suggestions from clients, we undertook regular floor-walking visiting MP offices. We tried to link floor-walking to the launch of a specific product, or event, and found it worked well if we had something to give to our customers such as a brochure, invitation or chocolate to build the conversation around. We also trialled a library pop-up near the parliamentary café, promoting our collections and services, and have also staffed a central drop-in area called Ātea where all the teams supporting MPs and their staff are available to answer queries”.
The research service in Slovakia ensures its print publications are displayed in the lounge of the Members.
Social media – limited appetite
Although ‘going outside to have an impact inside’ is a tried and tested method, social media was not a frequent choice. In Hungary, for example:
“our MPs expressed [that they had] no need for social media…[in] the regular survey [of clients held] at the end of each parliamentary term”.
Social media are used in some places, and certainly is appreciated in some. The service in Canada is one user:
“We regularly provide information and updates about our research publications and services on our corporate Twitter account (@LibraryParlCA | @BiblioParlCA). We also draw attention to the work done by our research experts on our corporate LinkedIn account (Library of Parliament | Bibliothèque du Parlement)”.
Next in ‘Raising the Profile’:
Results in detail. Part 6 – Special activities for a new parliament