Social media – its value to parliamentary research services

The concept of the ‘policy network’

Social media offers some strategic advantages to parliamentary research services, although many services and colleagues are nervous about its use. Others do not see how social media can be relevant to a ‘serious’ research service, or consider it too time-consuming. Based on experience, however, a selective and targeted approach can bring great value. The attached presentation summarises the case for using social media.

The approach described proved successful for both the former Library of the European Parliament (methods still in use by EPRS) and for a separate research service of the European Parliament. It is based on using Twitter and a WordPress blog. Experience with Facebook and LinkedIn, there and elsewhere, has not appeared very successful.

Twitter is notable for its widespread adoption across policy networks – professionals in academia, think-tanks, institutes, NGOs, politics and government, focused on a policy area. There is active exchange of professional/policy information going on in these networks through Twitter, largely isolated from the froth and politicised debate that rages on the same social media platform. A parliamentary research service can be part of that professional exchange and benefit greatly from it.

Professional use of Twitter is widespread in Europe – although not in every country or language – and wherever English is used as the main or professional language. Many policy specialist individuals and institutions worldwide can be found on Twitter. Critically for a parliamentary research service, however, the Members and government policy specialists are absent in some countries and regions. The network, in that case, is incomplete on Twitter. In those places it may be necessary to use Facebook or another platform, and it would be interesting to hear of experience using such strategies.

It is often imagined that a social media strategy is about promotion – broadcast – and therefore something only for public relations staff. In reality, perhaps the most valuable aspect of social media for a parliamentary research service is listening. The policy network on social media reveals new research and new policy debates perhaps faster than anywhere else. Members and others in politics may be engaged – research services can be awake to upcoming demands for policy briefings and sources of information before any formal request comes through. Social media can also provide expert feedback on research service products.

The blog is important as a place where the research service can present its products and communicate with clients directly, with far more flexibility and speed than is usual with corporate web sites, and more depth than is possible on Twitter (or Facebook, or LinkedIn). The blog provides a base – Twitter communications can refer people to the blog to find out more. Running a professional-looking blog does not require specialist IT staff. (It does require someone with technical, visual and communications flair, however).

One of the main benefits of this strategy is that by becoming more visible to the wider policy network, a parliamentary research service will also become more visible, and credible, inside the house.

Parliamentary library & research services on Twitter

Twitter is used by some services as a way to connect with clients (directly or indirectly), with citizens and with expert communities. It is not used at all by other services, partly due to fear of political accidents or controversies, partly due to culture or language, and partly due to lack of awareness. There are misconceptions as to the value of social media and the time required to exploit it.

This is a list of Twitter accounts I am aware of in the sector – I hope to add to it over time. The link will show a stream of the most recent tweets from the accounts on the list. To see who is on the list, click on ‘members’.

List of Twitter accounts of people and organisations in and around parliamentary library & research services

Library and Research Services for Parliaments Virtual Event: ‘Innovation and inspiration during a global pandemic’

This online event, conducted on the Zoom platform, is open to anyone interested in parliamentary library and research services. It will take place in two sessions on the 2nd and 9th of December 2020. Registration for the event is via this page. It is intended to record most of the presentations and retain them for future viewing.

Parliamentary library & research services have had specific challenges to meet in the course of the pandemic. According to the results of a survey conducted by IFLAPARL, they have shown resilience, determination and creativity in meeting those challenges. The pandemic has also accelerated existing trends, notably a shift to digital services, and highlighted some key issues and strategic choices for the future. The full text of the report in PDF is available here.

The survey was conducted anonymously, to encourage disclosure of useful problems, but now some of the respondents (and others) will give in-person accounts of their service’s experience of the pandemic.

As Chair of IFLAPARL I conducted the survey and wrote the report; I will present a brief summary at the two events. The report is strictly descriptive of the returns recieved – the services speak for themselves. A deeper interpretation and analysis is for others and for other occasions – including posts on this blog.

The Association of Parliamentary Librarians of Asia and the Pacific (APLAP) also conducted a survey of its members, with results that broadly mirror those found by IFLAPARL. The APLAP survey will be presented at the 9th December session of the IFLAPARL event.

Coronavirus & COVID-19 – the response of parliamentary libraries and research services

IFLAPARL has created a closed discussion group to share experience in dealing with the crisis and information resources. Contact to join.

Parliamentary research service publications on COVID-19 and Coronavirus

This link
will run a search for publications on Covid-19/Coronavirus by the parliamentary research services of the European Parliament, USA, UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Ghana. The link can be used any time and will give the latest result.  Change the result sorting to  ‘Date’ to see the most recent.

(The search runs on a topical search engine which can be used for any subject covered by selected parliamentary research services publishing in English. This site has search engines for other services also (English and German language), and worldwide guides to sources of the publications in English and German if you want to go direct to check the sites for yourself).

‘International documentation and libraries – trends & speculations’ (2013)

Documents Association of New Jersey, Fall Conference

Global Information, Local Access

Friend Center, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ
Friday, November 1, 2013

Keynote Speaker

Iain Watt, Chief, Dag Hammarskjöld Library, United Nations

Presentation slides and video:

The challenge of managing libraries of International Government Organisations (IGOs), reflections after twelve years managing the Library of the European Parliament and six months managing the Dag Hammarskjöld Library of the United Nations (the headquarters library, also considered a parliamentary library). The two libraries were quite different – in particular here, the library of the UN had responsibility for millions of official documents from decades past while the Library of the European Parliament had no responsibility for official documents. But there were also points in common – and with other libraries.

Some key points

  • IGO documents and information more in demand, both externally and internally, but libraries had reducing capacity to respond – partly loss of status & resources, partly the need to maintain old systems of work while developing new systems of work.
  • The model of a unique document publication flow which could be managed by the library was being superseded by multiple flows in different media from many sources
  • The status of the library as signifier of knowledge-based decision-making had diminished, and the reality of fast & frugal decision-making become accepted
  • Libraries need to adapt to real-life decision-making, abandon volume (giving as much information as possible, reaching as many people as possible, satisfying everyone, measuring the number of transactions) and instead focus on strong relations with key clients, supporting fast and frugal decision making by being, well, fast and frugal in delivery.
  • Many IGOs are relatively recent creations (c. 70 years or less) and could rely on first or second-hand human memory to manage their knowledge. (The ability of Dag Hammarskjöld Library staff to find information in a mountain of documents was extraordinary – but there were very few of them, very few new people joining them, and no-one else could do it. What happens if…). As scale, complexity and time have increased, the IGOs need a more systematic approach to managing their knowledge and documents. IT services are always ready to offer ‘solutions’ but they are not grounded in real knowledge of the content or of information users. If libraries and archives do not address the topic – and get support and get increased human resources to safeguard memory – then no-one will do it effectively.
  • For the future:
    • Abandon the struggle to manage all documents and instead provide consultancy on document management to the creating units and provide knowledge for the document management systems
    • Shift from role as guardians of all documents to providing selected external information in support of decision-making, and adding value to internal and external information.

Do parliamentary research services do “policy analysis” or do they do “analysis of policy”?

“If the clients understand what ‘policy analysis’ should be, a parliamentary research service which promises to do it is creating an expectation that cannot or should not be fulfilled”

Do parliamentary research services do “policy analysis”? I was asked that recently and my answer was “no” and if both question and answer seem strange, I agree. My answer would have been different a few years ago – we even created posts titled ‘Policy Analyst’ in my then service. So what’s going on?

Firstly, there is no disagreement that parliamentary researchers analyse policy. But, strictly, that is not the same as “policy analysis”. Saying analysis of policy is not the same as policy analysis may sound very like the “Yes, Minster” official making the difference between the policy of administration and the administration of policy. It is, though, an important distinction.


Blogging for research services – London School of Economics (LSE) practical advice

The LSE has been a highly-effective user of social media and these three articles provide some good reasons for a parliamentary research service to set up its own blog and Twitter account(s), and some excellent practical advice on how to do so.

‘Account managers’ in parliamentary library & research services?

The concept of ‘account manager’ is well established in business – a role that gives the client a single point of contact with the organisation. Focusing communications allows a relationship to develop and the account manager can, therefore, calibrate service delivery to the needs of the particular client. For the client, the service has a more friendly face and a direct line of contact, in person or remotely. In a parliamentary setting, clients may be unaware of the full range of service offers and, depending on the structure, may find it daunting to work out what they can get from whom – so may look for apparently ‘quick and easy’ solutions elsewhere. An account manager can simplify the process of connecting the client with the relevant service offer, and so make it more likely that service will be requested and used.