The following methods have been identified from professional experience and from detailed returns by several parliamentary research services. The original list of 40 items used in the ongoing survey is being added to. (They are marked ‘new’ in the list below)
Further information, including results from the survey, will be added progressively, including pages on particular methods.
Intranet site/pages dedicated to the research service
One of the main causes of project failure is a lack of reflection and agreement on the content and approach at the very beginning. Many problems arise because
people are working to different objectives, priorities and timetables;
the risks to the project were not anticipated until they occurred;
there is unexpected resistance;
there are different expectations as to what the project will achieve.
Before you start, it is critical to be clear, for yourself and for all the stakeholders, on
why you are doing the project
what the project will achieve
how it will be delivered
who will deliver it
when it will be done
If those things are clear to everyone in advance, many problems will be avoided during and after the project.
Almost any development or objective in work can be considered as a project. You can choose to use project management methods or not. The methods are proven to be effective. They can, however, be fantastically bureaucratic and I have even seen them used deliberately to obstruct progress. The one thing that is, in my experience, always worth doing is the writing of a ‘project proposal’ before a project is launched.
The guidance in this template [downloads Word document] will help you create a simplified version of a ‘Project Initiation Document’ as used in formal project management methodology. The guidance is based on practical experience of projects in library, information and research services, over 25 years, which included reference to published methodologies. Versions of this template have proved sufficient for small and relatively informal projects. For very large and formal projects, other contexts, and in case of doubt – refer to published project management methods.
In addition to the fundamentals of the project – why, what, how, who and when? – the template suggests you consider some supporting actions:
what could wrong and what can we do about it?
how do you ensure quality?
who is going to be interested in the project and how do you communicate with them?
final clarification, just in case: what is the exact scope of the project, what is specifically excluded from the project, and is there anything that the project depends on?
All this information should be captured in a single document and explicitly agreed by the team working on the project and by the decision-making person or body that has requested the project take place.
The concept of a ‘research week’ was pioneered in parliamentary research services by Uganda in 2016. It has since been taken up by the parliaments of Ghana, Zimbabwe and the United Kingdom. The generic concept of ‘research week’ was not, however, invented in Uganda or for parliaments but creatively borrowed from the wider world of science communications (‘SciComm’).
According to the ‘White Book on Science Communications Events in Europe’, a ‘research week’ in SciComm might typically be used to:
promote awareness of science research activities to a wider public;
encourage dialogue between science and society;
foster a ‘scientific culture’ – public understanding of science;
develop interest in scientific careers.
It is generally intended to be a positive marketing effort rather than an occasion for critical scrutiny and debate.
The ‘White Book’ [PDF download], is a 2005 overview by EUSCEA – the European Science Engagement Association – of SciComm events which were then taking off across Europe. Today, ‘research weeks’ are widespread around the world, held by universities, academic societies, cities, regions – and parliaments.
The primary purposes of a ‘research week’ in a parliamentary context appear to be to connect the national research community with Members, to raise the profile of scientific evidence in policymaking and to ease the transmission of scientific content to the policy process. It is not ostensibly about raising the profile of the parliamentary research service with Members, even if in the Ugandan case, at least, this was the primary motivation. This post will consider ‘research weeks’ in terms of their impact with Members and on the profile of the parliamentary research service – rather than the effect on relations with the scientific community.
The Ugandan experience
Based on publicly available documents and on interviews with John Bagonza, Director of the Research Service, Parliament of Uganda and Emily Hayter, Programme Manager for INASP. Thanks to John and Emily for their assistance. Any errors or omissions are my responsibility.
The parliamentary research service in Uganda had concerns about their profile with Members and tried various measures to improve it, which had all failed. These methods included displays in the library and in the parliament restaurant, presentations to Members and individual meetings with Members and staff. The service still had ‘just a few clients’ and many Members did not know about the service or that it was free to use. The service also felt it was relatively unknown to the wider research community and even to government departments.
The service discovered the concept of ‘research week’ and wanted to use it as a big breakthrough event to raise their profile but were unable to proceed with it until offered external financial support through the VakaYiko project. (The project was UK government funded and implemented by a consortium led by by INASP (the International Network for Availability of Scientific Publications) – a UK-based NGO).
The first parliamentary Research Week was held on 23-26th August, 2016, with the theme “Using evidence to strengthen Parliament”. The aim of the research week was to showcase the research products provided to Members of Parliament (MPs) by the Department of Research Services (DRS); and also to to present other research organizations and academia as complementary sources of evidence for policy. For its first three days there were information stalls and presentations just outside the entrance to the Parliament of Uganda; and it concluded on the fourth day with an off-site symposium. The event was organised jointly by DRS, Uganda National Academy of Sciences (UNAS) and INASP.
The key targets for the research week were the MPs and staff members of parliament, and they were reached in significant numbers – 242 Members (of 427 at the time) and more than 100 staffers. High profile visitors included the Prime Minister and the Deputy Speaker as well as other office-holders of parliament. The event also attracted around 50 students and members of the general public.
Eighteen research organisations were represented at the event.
The DRS produced a report on the event in November 2016 (three months after it took place) and a paper for a meeting in London in April 2017.
The event generated 81 new research requests from Members and the level of research requests broadly increased throughout the remainder of the parliamentary term, as reflected in the graph of outputs below. The relative decline in the most recent two years can be ascribed to the the pandemic.
The profile of the research service was raised with Members and also with the parliamentary administration. The notion of using evidence from external research bodies was publicised and those bodies increased their understanding of what Members required and of how to cooperate with the parliamentary research service. The various institutions are reported to have had more contact after the event.
The research service had hoped that the success of the event would lead to additional parliamentary funding to continue running ‘research weeks’, possibly even on an annual basis. That funding has not materialised and there have been no further research weeks held. The new parliament elected in 2021 has 60% new Members and the research service is again facing a problem with its profile.
The research service did obtain a ‘small’ increase in its regular budget and it found it easier to obtain support from international collaborators after the event.
INASP brought in people from research services in Ghana and Zimbabwe to observe the exercise. Both parliaments went on to hold some form of ‘research week’.
Organising the event
The research service had virtually all 35 staff working full-time to prepare the event for two months, although the total staff input was not measured. The Director feels this timeline was very short and that 3-4 months would be optimal. The time was needed not only to organise the event but to prepare content, including audio and video, as promotional material. In addition, the external institutions needed much more time than they were given, to adapt their content to a parliamentary audience. They had to learn how to work in a parliamentary context; as the parliament had to learn how to work with them. There were issues of unmet expectations and the consequences of a crowded programme. Seven expected institutions (of 25) did not show up, in part apparently because of these issues. Overall, there was enthusiasm to be involved, to be given access to parliament.
The conception of event and its realisation was mostly the work of the parliamentary research service. INASP provided some review of plans and technical advice, only. It is an event that could, then, in principle be managed by a research service with sufficient staff and resources.
There were some challenges during the event, notably in the different cultures, interests and expectations of the main participant groups – Members, academics and parliamentary researchers. The Members did not much attend the presentations that were held as side events to the exhibition, and the report on the symposium mentions an issue with their engagement. One of the key differences of interest was the Members’ focus on constituency matters – evidence about issues, needs and features of their constituency – and the academic interest in generic scientific and national policy issues.
Some risks did not materialise but are learning points for a future event. The combination of novelty, ambition and tight timetable put some pressure on planning and delivery. In addition, busy and motivated Members’ difficulty in sticking to a planned timetable and agenda can be an issue in any parliamentary event, anywhere, and can disrupt even the best planned programme.
Budget figures are not available but there were some significant costs – marquee hire, conference facilities in a hotel, branded clothing and other giveaways, speaker fees/expenses, professional printing, purchase of press coverage. Interestingly, to the extent that this was funded by INASP it was done through the Ugandan National Academy of Sciences (UNAS) and not through the parliamentary research service. The remit of INASP prohibited direct funding of parliamentary services. INASP found UNAS an invaluable partner, partly because it is an individual membership organisation and so ‘neutral’ in a landscape of research bodies each with an institutional interest. This neutral local partner was critical to connecting with the national research system. UNAS was also helpful through being able to make quick financial decisions. The parliamentary research service reported that it did not use much of its own budget and that the exhibitors were self-funding, in addition to the INASP contribution.
The INASP Programme Manager noted that the high-cost items were possibly not all functionally necessary but apparently had the desired effect in terms of attracting the target audience – the DRS knew its audience.
The large number of new requests in one week, on the one hand, was a successful result, and on the other, became a serious problem. It exceeded the capacity of the service to deliver in a reasonable time. Any service organising a ‘big-bang’ event needs to consider the reputational risk from raising, then not meeting. expectations. There is no report of long-term damage in this case.
For the Director of the research service, these were the three key lessons for anyone else organising a ‘research week”:
Have enough time to prepare the event and plan it thoroughly
Engage the other institutions in good time, bearing in mind their need to adapt
Don’t go into it without adequate (money) resources, including budget for promotion
For the INASP coordinator, the involvement of a local research partner – external to the parliament and any research vested interest – was critical.
Based on correspondence with Mr Mohammed Hardi Nyagsi, former Director of Research at the Parliament of Ghana, and a report supplied by him. Any errors or omissions are my responsibility
The ‘research week’ in Ghana had a different origin and purpose to that in Uganda. In the context of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), the Parliament of Ghana established the Inter-Departmental Research and Information Group (IDRIG)
“which commenced on a pilot basis in June 2016 [consisting of six] Departments, namely Research, Library, Hansard, Committees, ICT and Public Affairs Departments. These departments hitherto, were operating in silos with a significant amount of turf protections and inter-departmental rivalry being the norm. This led to duplication of information storage systems and a lack of clarity on the roles of the departments among their primary clients – the Members of Parliament”
IDRIG organised two types of event in the ‘research week’ style – an ‘Induction Exhibition’ and a ‘Research and Information’ week – they are described in the extract below. Both appear to be more focused on the in-house research service than the exercise in Uganda, or as suggested by the general ‘research week’ concept.
Extract from ‘The IDRIG Concept’:
The then Director of Research led three (annual) ‘Research and Information’ weeks from 2017.
As reported by WFD in October 2020 when its support programme ended, “[that] the IDRIG has since received funding from the African Development Bank to provide a digital research and information service to MPs is testament to the success and promise of the initiative”.
More recently, in 2021 the Parliament of Ghana held a ‘Data Fair’ which drew on principles and approaches from the ‘research week’ model. The Fair was part of the ‘Data for Accountability’ project led by the African Centre for Parliamentary Affairs/ACEPA, with the participation of the Ghana Statistical Service and INASP. The project is funded by Hewlett Foundation. A video on the Fair illustrates very well its similarity to a ‘research week’. (The link below starts at 01:49 with an introduction by Omar Seidu of the Ghana Statistical Service)
[No information currently]
United Kingdom experience
The UK parliament has run a form of research week annually since 2018, under the title ‘Evidence Week’. Interestingly, this also uses a ‘neutral’ external partner (Sense about Science) to connect the parliamentary research services with the national research network. Sense about Science has published an overview of ‘Evidence Week’ – and there is more detail on the event below.
As far as can be understood from published material, this event is much more about raising the profile of external research than about the profile of parliamentary research services.
[Awaiting result of contacts with organisers.]
2021 Evidence Week
Three main parts:
“1. Opening event (online). The opening event will be held online Monday 1 November, via zoom. The format will consist of constituents and community groups asking questions to MPs and committee chairs on how parliament is using or scrutinising evidence on subjects that matter to them. MPs and experts will respond, with additional comments from information providers and analysts.
This is a fantastic opportunity to bring together MPs, researchers, and constituents, engaging with cutting edge research on policy decisions that the public have questions about.
2. 3 minute speed briefings and meetings with leading researchers (online and in person). Evidence Week will be hosting a series of virtual and in-person speed briefings from our research partners covering topics including, Net Zero, Health, and Data and AI. Face to Face briefings will run in Westminster, room TBC, on Tuesday 2 and Wednesday 3 November, with pods set up as a live exhibition. MPs, peers, and parliamentary staff can drop in any time and discuss the evidence and briefings presented. MPs and parliamentary staff will also be able to book individual online meetings with researchers to discuss in more detail their work and how evidence can be used in policy making decisions, throughout the entirety of the week.
3. Training for parliamentary staff on using and understanding data in their work on 5th November 1pm-3.30pm (online…)
A researcher from Imperial College has written a blog post on the experience in 2021.
“On the day in parliament, I hosted an exhibition ‘pod’ to share insights and resources with MPs and peers and answered questions. I had on average three minutes to share research findings with each visitor to my pod. MPs, peers, and their staff were very receptive to my research findings, and some of them booked a one-to-one to discuss further. It was a good experience for me, and the interactions were greatly appreciated by both sides. MPs, peers and their staff had a positive attitude towards input from scientists, which I found really encouraging.”
Previous Evidence Weeks
The first ‘Evidence week’ event in 2018 looked at how evidence could be used in policy, both in general and in relation to specific topics. These were covered in multiple 1-2 hour events over four days.
The second ‘Evidence week’ in 2019 took a different format. After a one-hour opening event there were “two days of 3-minute briefings at interactive ‘Evidence Pods’ in the Upper Waiting Hall, with more than 20 partners, on different facets of interrogating evidence, from drones to the census”. Although the first year was described as ‘successful’ it appears that a more rapid-fire format was either seen as more accessible and/or more deliverable.
As reported by the main external partner, ‘Sense about Science’, the ‘Evidence week’ in 2020 was forced into a virtual format by the pandemic. The same concept of three-minute presentations – with the option of more in-depth discussion – was retained.
“In 2020, we were unable to hold a physical event in Upper Waiting hall where constituents and researchers can meet MPs to discuss urgent policy issues. With our communications partners, POST, the UK Statistics Authority, Office for Statistics Regulation, and Ipsos MORI, we created an innovative new way of replicating this experience online. From 16th- 20th November, Evidence Week in Westminster looked at evidence on a range of issues including Covid-19, AI, and climate, that Parliamentary committees, constituents and researchers are grappling with.”
“Through the online platform, MPs, Peers and parliamentary staff were able to hear 3-minute video briefings and jump into meeting rooms with the researchers themselves to instantly discuss emerging evidence and potential strategies for tackling complex policy problems.”
The University of Southampton published a blog post on their researchers’ experience of the event, including screen shots of MPs and their staff being briefed on Zoom.
Sense about Science published an interesting assessment of the 2020 event with data on attendance. This states that 34 Members of Parliament (of 650) and 10 members of the second chamber (of 783) engaged with the event. It is not clear if this statistic includes the impressive participation of 13 Committee Chairs in the opening event. In addition, 47 staff of MPs took part; it is reported that altogether 78 MPs or their offices participated. Twenty parliamentary and government officials also attended. The University of Southampton refers to 100 Members of the two chambers of Parliament being involved in the event in 2019, suggesting that engagement reduced in 2020 – due to the virtual format and/or for other reasons.
In its origin, and in its application in one case – the United Kingdom parliament – a ‘research week’ is a marketing tool for science in general, not the promotion of a parliamentary research service. In the UK the number of Members reached appears modest – around 5% directly involved in 2020, for example – and the content apparently does not include the parliamentary research services own material.
The Uganda case demonstrates, however, that a research week can act for service promotion. It becomes then a multipurpose tool – connecting up the national research network; promoting science to Members; shaping science communication to meet Member needs; and raising the profile of the parliamentary research service. It is a ‘big-bang’ solution that reaches Members and cuts through multiple problems. It allows a set of institutions and services to combine their promotional capacity into a single powerful campaign. Issues remain: is it the optimal tool for the purpose of service promotion; is it cost effective in that purpose; with multiple objectives comes dispersion of effort and complexity, and so risk. Conceived in that way, a research week needs substantial resources and time to plan and implement; the results in Uganda were largely limited to one parliamentary term and they cannot afford to re-run the research week in the format they want in the new term. In that case it was not sustainable and it might be difficult for a parliament without significant external support to emulate it.
The Ghana example shows a smaller scope and an internal focus; it may not be comparable with the research weeks in Uganda or the UK. It appears more attainable and sustainable but it is not known if an event has happened since the WFD project ended.
The interim conclusion, pending more research, is that for raising the profile of a parliamentary research service a ‘research week’ has potential benefits but also potentially serious costs, challenges and risks. This is particularly the case if there are additional objectives of connecting the wider world of research to parliament. The search is on for a model with that scope which is sustainable by a parliament with limited resources.
EUSCEA provides an interesting set of current resources for organisers of science events. One link in the resources is to a ‘Science Communications Toolbox’ (in English, created by two Swedish organisations).
To take the Twitter accounts of a range of services worldwide, they largely do not follow each other. As the table below shows, in a sample of eight services worldwide, all active on Twitter, there were 56 potential ‘following’ relations but only 15 of these relations actually exist as of August 2021 (27% of potential).
This quick research did not examine how rich the 15 Twitter relationships are. Anecdotally, from several years of intermittently intense scrutiny of the parliamentary library & research Twitter accounts, there is very little – even no – active mutual support, even when services follow each other. Services do not retweet or like from other services, in general, even if they retweet/like from other sources.
Practical experience on Twitter
The data very much confirms practical experience with Information@Work in this blog and on Twitter. Sustained periods of tweeting/retweeting information about parliamentary library & research services (e.g. new research papers published and tweeted by a service) produced almost zero response from the Twitter accounts of services. There may be several reasons for this but the evidence above supports the conclusion that there is, for some reason, a lack of mutual interest and support. The use of Twitter by IFLAPARL (including a previous Twitter account) also delivered a disappointing response, so far.
One possible explanation for this pattern is that Twitter is being used more for broadcast than for listening or interaction. In other words, services are perhaps using Twitter more to promote their own material and are less interested in following, picking up and/or retweeting information from external sources. In some cases, it is possible that ‘following’ and/or retweeting external sources is limited, or even prohibited, by a policy set at a higher level. It is also possible that the accounts are used with a strictly local market in mind, and that any non-local services are followed only passively on Twitter. Information – e.g. a new research report by an external service – might be used but without retweeting/liking on Twitter. The absence of mutual support between institutional accounts is, incidentally, not compensated by activity from accounts held by individual officials – they are also largely silent on the work of their peers in other services.
Potential benefits of mutual support
The ‘strange absence’ is of mutual support and interest. It is strange because there are some clear benefits to mutual support and interest.
Following a service provides intelligence on their activities and products – there may be useful information, indications of emerging topics also relevant in the home jurisdiction, news of service innovations;
Following provides a small boost to the profile of the service being followed, and possibly vice versa. It raises the collective profile of the sector – the benefit may be intangible but it can help all services achieve their professional objectives. Services could work together to create and support a common profile for the sector;
Retweeting or liking items of interest from other services is potentially a service to clients, who might be interested in other perspectives. It also is an act of solidarity and a statement that we belong to a common professional network.
Retweeting or liking items of interest from IFLAPARL and other independent sources in and around the sector is a way of building a professional network and a professional dialogue. That has practical benefits and, again, benefits for the profile of the sector.
Services that act like islands are themselves losing out, and it is (arguably) costing the entire sector. There is surely another perspective – it would be interesting to see it presented.
The services in the table are from four different continents but all are working at least partly in the English language, and use Twitter in English, so there is no language barrier. They are from parliaments with some affinities in terms of policy/law – quite strong in some cases. There are two ‘regional’ parliaments in the sample and one specialist research service within a parliament. These three last cases are generally less well connected than what might be termed ‘first-level’ parliamentary services, but it is a national-level service that is the least-connected in the sample.
I recently had the honour of being invited keynote speaker at the conference of the Association of Parliamentary Libraries of Asia and the Pacific. It was an invitation as Chair of IFLAPARL, and the conference was open to all interested worldwide – two very welcome gestures at a time when regional associations might benefit from closer links between themselves and with IFLAPARL at global level.
Although invited as Chair of IFLAPARL, the request was to give a personal view – sharing my “knowledge, experiences, and insights on library and research services that are responsive to the needs of parliaments and parliamentarians in winning challenges during times of crisis and the corollary human resource management and information access issues.
The presentation slides are attached here but recordings of the full conference will be available online, as will the same presentation file [links to be added when available].
This post provides a directory of organisations involved or interested in parliamentary strengthening in relation to library and research services. This is intended to assist colleagues seeking such support and to facilitate cooperation and information sharing. The information was gathered for a review of the issue offered in support of work by IFLAPARL, the global body for parliamentary library and research services.
The directory is also available as a Twitter list – the majority of the organisations are on that platform – which also includes other bodies in the field of parliaments and democracy promotion. (A Twitter list for organisations and people in the specific field of parliamentary libraries and research is also available).
Following the end of the Cold War there was an upsurge in democracy and significant investment in developing parliamentary library and research services in many countries worldwide. IFLAPARL as a body and individual members of IFLAPARL were heavily involved. In the last ten years there appears to have been a decline in calls on IFLAPARL for such involvement – is that because activity has declined or because other sources of expertise are being used? We have been aware of high-cost projects where IFLAPARL might have helped but other actors were used. Equally, there is a perception that democracy support might have a lower priority than 10-20 years ago, and that support for library & research services in particular might be a lower priority now. As voluntary work for IFLAPARL, this desk research project has sought to review information on the main players in parliamentary strengthening, focusing on those known or believed to have an interest in library & research services. Personal knowledge within IFLAPARL, as well as documentary sources, was used to identify an initial list of organisations.
The present research discovered almost 60 bodies believed to have an interest in the field of parliamentary library & research services, of which almost half had some trace in their public information of activity or content relevant to parliamentary library & research services – albeit not always very substantial or recent. This listing may be only a fraction of the bodies actually involved. Amongst the sixty there is not only overlap but also many inter-connections – through partnerships and sources of funding. (As just one example, in the EU-JDID project (pictured) the European Partnership for Democracy (EPD) is listed as a participant; three of the four other participating providers are themselves constituent members of the EPD). As a study on parliamentary strengthening noted in 2015, over “the past fifteen years, there has been a proliferation in the number and types of players that support parliamentary reform, among them international, governmental, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), national governments, parliaments, and academic institutions”. (Global mapping and analysis of parliamentary strengthening programs‘ study for SDC by Democracy Reporting International, p. 4). It is hard to say if support for strengthening parliamentary library & research services has reduced or if it is only IFLAPARL’s involvement that has declined. Many of the organisations that IFLAPARL had contacts with in the past seem no longer active in our field, while many organisations have joined the field without contact with IFLAPARL. In this complex and rapidly changing landscape it is not altogether surprising that IFLAPARL is unknown to some of the new players.
Support to parliamentary library & research services is going on without effective sharing of expertise and experience. This is not a question of bad intentions but lack of awareness and of satisfactory mechanisms. More transparency and information sharing might avoid duplication of effort, allow the wider professional community to add value (and help avoid pitfalls) and increase learning all-round. There are efforts to address the issue of coordination for parliamentary strengthening as a whole e.g. the Agora project (see below) provides a platform for information sharing, and the IPU Common Principles for Support to Parliaments are an attempt to standardise approaches to parliamentary strengthening. My recommendation to IFLAPARL will be to engage more with the parliamentary strengthening community, to try to build links with them and between them around the concerns of parliamentary library & research services.
What the directory covers
It is not part of this review, but an additional (large) part of parliamentary strengthening activity is carried on peer-to-peer, with a parliament providing direct assistance to another parliament, sometimes with the support of a foreign ministry, development agency or one of the specialist organisations listed below. Some parliaments have internal agencies for such outreach work. This peer-to-peer activity is not always visible or reported beyond the participating institutions. I have not attempted to list the parliaments active in strengthening library & research services. Similarly, many countries have development aid agencies and these might have parliamentary projects. I have looked only at those known to be major players in this particular field: the USA, UK, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden and Belgium. (France is also active but works mainly through its own parliament). And in addition to this individual peer-to-peer parliamentary strengthening, there is the ‘mutual aid’ of collective self-help in IFLAPARL and the regional associations.
The lists below provide the name of the organisation, the country of its HQ and a link to its website. The first list – organisations for which some activity or content was found in relation to library and research services – also includes an example of evidence for that activity/content.
Thanks to Ellie Valentine for her invaluable assistance with the initial identification of organisations. She is not responsible for any errors or omissions here.
Disclaimer: Best efforts have been made to identify relevant organisations and activity/content. The information is provided as an indication only, was as found online in February 2021 and Information@Work declines all responsibility for errors and omissions. Please contact us if you are aware of any error or omission or update required and the list will be revised accordingly.This is not an IFLAPARL publication and it has no responsibility for this content.
Directoryof parliamentary strengthening and democracy promoting organisations relevant to parliamentary library & research services
1. Organisations with activity/content related to library & research services as of February 2021
“From its launch in 2010, the AGORA Portal for Parliamentary Development has played a leading role in the parliamentary development community as a knowledge and learning hub for parliamentarians, parliamentary staff, development partners and academia” Main current partners: UNDP, Inter Pares & WFD.
Current version, relaunched Nov 2020, has, so far, little of interest for library/research. First version (2010-) had content on library & research – some of it still listed
The global association of parliamentary library & research services. Publishes professional guidance; runs capacity-building events sometimes in cooperation with other bodies in this list; individual members may work on parliamentary strengthening events/projects (usually with the support of their parliament).
Co-published with IFLAPARL the Guidelines for research services; World e-Parliament Report has library & research element; co-sponsored conference with IFLAPARL; IPU also provides direct support to e.g. parliamentary research services but not visible online?
Study in 2015 noted that NORAD was third largest bilateral funder of parliamentary strengthening 1999-2009, after US and UK. Its role now seems concerned with evaluation of work done. “Most of the Norwegian development aid is managed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Norwegian embassies abroad” (NORAD website 2021)
Co-publishes Global Parliamentary Report with IPU. One of the founders of Agora and its managers
Active, provides “support to 60 parliaments” though not clear if directly supports library/research service development. Provides info e.g. handbook for parliamentary implementation of SDGs makes several references to research services. Manages Agora which has some library/research content
“Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA) was established in 1978 in Washington, D.C., by a group of concerned parliamentarians from around the world to take collective, coordinated and cohesive actions on global problems, which could not be successfully addressed by any one government or parliament acting alone.”
Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)
Thirty parliamentary library and research services worldwide responded to an IFLAPARL survey between May to August 2020, describing their responses to the pandemic. The survey was followed in December by an online event sharing experience in person. Some key points from the survey are highlighted in Part 1 of this post. Full details on the survey and its follow-up can be seen on the IFLA website.* The survey report was deliberately neutral, intended to report what respondents had said without editorial comment. In Part 2 of this post I add some reflections that could not be included in the formal report.
Part 1 – Key points from the IFLAPARL survey
Impact of the pandemic
As an overview of the impact of the pandemic, around one-third of services said they had been affected ‘a great deal’ – but for two-thirds the impact was judged only moderate or small. This frankly surprised me but probably reflects the degree to which services were already working digitally and remotely.
Opinions varied as to whether the pandemic represented a decisive shift towards digital service and new ways of working – some saw it as a parenthesis, others an acceleration of existing trends, while a few saw it as a transformational moment – even an opportunity to accelerate radical changes that were anyway happening. This is one of the most interesting questions and a strategic choice that service managers are making.
Specific issues for parliamentary library & research services
The pandemic raised many generic issues for all kinds of organisations. For parliamentary library & research services a few specific features stood out:-
They were still needed in the pandemic and could not go dormant
In-person contacts is more or less the default way of working in parliaments and that had to be rethought
Boutique, in-person, services had to be translated to online
Services depending on extended integrated service production had to translate that to remote-working – or find new methods.
Adaptation had to be made at short notice
Four key issues stand out from the survey responses: digital services; working from home; innovation; business continuity planning.
Context is all – impact depended on how far digital services were already established in the institution and in the country at large:-
To what extent were digital services accepted and already used?
Even if not necessarily much used before the pandemic, was it already feasible for services to be used digitally, and delivered by staff working remotely?
Was there capacity available to make rapid adaptations? (Capacity meaning people with skills, IT equipment and any necessary IT support, with a will to change IT systems and access)
Negative impacts could be reduced by creativity in many services – they found ways to work and to design staff tasks to match capabilities.
Working from home
Impact varied according to:-
Past experience of home-working. Some services had done it routinely as an occasional activity and found it easier to adapt to long-term use.
Environment – e.g. typical domestic arrangements such as the possibility of a ‘home office’, ownership of IT equipment and capacity of internet connection
Resources/adaptability – e.g. some services had resources to provide IT equipment and even office furniture at home, and the IT support to adapt work processes
New ways of managing – communication, isolation, family pressures,
Gender issue – often with a largely female workforce, the general tendency for e.g. home-schooling responsibilities to fall on women was an additional source of stress for the staff.
There were many individual stories of innovation reported in the survey forms and presented at the virtual event. Parliamentary library and research services found ways to keep on delivering.
There were two notable areas that appeared repeatedly:-
Services responded to the need for more scientific information/advice in the pandemic, and for comparative information on what other countries and other parliaments were doing.
Re-using pandemic-related content, created to inform Members, to inform citizens
Business continuity planning
While ‘Business Continuity Planning’ (BCP) has been a widespread interest of public administrations worldwide – notably since the events of September 2001 – in this survey only one service had an already established plan which they actively implemented and found useful. Some services had plans but found they were not complete solutions. The issue can be that such plans focus on past events – known risks – and not enough on future risks (many and uncertain). Or that they focus on some corporate functions and do not take account of specialist services like library/research – which may nevertheless have a role to play in a crisis, as the pandemic has demonstrated.
Some library and research colleagues were unaware of the concept of BCP. That being said, aware or not, many improvised a plan and found it satisfactory. A pandemic is a slower-moving crisis than some, and so improvised responses were feasible.
There are several issues with BCP – what it is, how useful it is, how to do it – and it might be a topic for to explore at a future IFLAPARL conference.
Concerns for the future
Several colleagues expressed concerns about the future of their services. These concerns fell in four main areas:
An exceptional effort had been made and expectations were now too high – services cannot go on indefinitely at this level of effort
Despite recognised success, pressure on public finances will lead to resource reductions. Onsite office and library space may be questioned.
Established teams are a form of social capital and that capital will be depleted by isolation and by inevitable staff turnover.
Existing staff, managers and clients do not all adapt well to this new environment – how can this be managed?
Part 2 – Reflections
Three dimensions affecting pandemic response
The report refers to events of 2020. While the level of impact varied and there has been some resumption of normal business in places, there has been no return to normal in many parliaments and a full return looks unlikely in 2021. The impact on library and research services depends on three main elements: the capacity to work digitally and remotely (including the readiness of Members and support staff to be served digitally/remotely); the degree of control of the pandemic at national level; and the long-term positioning of library/research in the parliament. Best- and worst-case scenarios for the three dimensions are summarised below.
Digital & remote service capacity
Library/research already operating digitally / remotely or with the resources to develop that capacity Members and support staff fully equipped and skilled for digital/remote work Widespread fast internet connections and tech knowledge
Library/research not equipped for digital/remote service and lacking resources to develop that capacity Members and support staff lacking equipment and skills for digital/remote work Limited/no access to fast internet connections and limited tech knowledge
Control of pandemic
Control and/or vaccination permits resumption of normal services
Pandemic not under control – in-person/onsite services cannot resume
Positioning of library/research
High-profile and embedded in the working practices of most Members, support staff and parliamentary bodies
Lack of recognition, marginal/absent to working practices of many Members, support staff and parliamentary bodies
Services with at least two of the dimensions towards the ‘best-case’ end of the spectrum can expect business to continue, even thrive; those with two or more dimensions towards the worst-case end of the spectrum are potentially facing a crisis. Some services see this as the moment as the time to decisively break out from past models and establish a genuinely digital-first service. They are probably right. But there already was a large gap between the long-established and well-resourced services and the rest; this risks to become a chasm. The situation of those in the ‘worst-case’ also threatens to become a downward spiral: a perceived inability to deliver sufficient value while the pandemic puts pressure on budgets makes those services vulnerable to cuts, re-assignment of accommodation and further loss of status. This matters for the quality of parliamentary decision-making, the authority of parliamentary decisions and, in some cases, the quality of policy information and analysis available to citizens. In short, the quality of democracy is at stake.
What can be done?
First, an ongoing review of parliamentary strengthening support indicates a shift away from aid to parliamentary library and research functions. While in the 1990’s and 2000’s the spread of democratic regimes was accompanied by many actions to develop parliamentary library and research services, in the last ten years that support seems to have become sporadic. There may be a belief the job is done, there may be a sense that there is greater value or urgent need elsewhere. The many ways in which a high-quality information/research service can facilitate parliamentary operations are perhaps not fully appreciated. It would be worth engaging with the parliamentary strengthening community to promote targeted support for parliamentary library and research services hit badly by the pandemic.
Second, can the professional community do more itself to close the gaps? The sharing of experience through IFLAPARL is one way to spread coping and success strategies. Regional associations are also doing this, at least in some cases. Two of the dimensions give opportunities for the better-placed services to assist their colleagues: technical know-how and marketing strategies to raise the profile of the service. Why should they invest in such assistance? Because ultimately, as with the pandemic, we are not islands. A malfunctioning democracy has an impact on other democracies. A further reason is that the services which are struggling with a difficult strategic situation may develop interesting and low-cost innovations. Taking an old example, African parliaments pioneered the use of SMS in enquiry services before any ‘first-world’ parliament. They did this partly because of gaps in infrastructure but turned a weakness into a strength. Learning will be two-way if there is engagement.
One challenge which all services share is adaptation from an environment in which in-person contacts and knowledge sharing were critical – with many opportunities for serendipitous making of new contacts and exchanges – to a largely-digital environment. In the digital environment the chances to influence, to learn, to share information and to build alliances, appear to be reduced. This affects internal team operations – from simple examples like inducting a new staff member to project coordination and product innovation – but also external connections – notably with Members and support staff. If the service already had a weak personal connection to Members then it is unlikely to strengthen in the digital world. How to make that personal connection and establish interest and confidence, in a digital environment, is a key question. Are there technologies which work well for this? Are there successful strategies in use?
Several managers highlighted issues of staff mental health in the pandemic – driven by the various impacts of working at home; isolation and issues around communication, teamwork and team spirit; the obvious domestic stresses, concerns and fears in the pandemic. Several respondents mentioned that some staff (also managers?) did not have the skills for the ‘new ways of working’ and had difficulty in adapting – this might be more than a training issue and another source of stress for the individual and the team. Mental health in the workplace was already a sometimes neglected concern of parliaments; the pandemic should put it high on the agenda of people management issues.
There are clear indications that more scientific and social scientific specialist information and analysis has been in demand in the pandemic. Those research services which rely largely on staff with legal and political science backgrounds may have found this challenging. Some have responded by finding expertise externally. A very few parliaments have regularly used contracted experts for research (e.g. the European Parliament ‘Policy Departments’; the Netherlands); a few more have used voluntary inputs by experts (e.g. POST in the UK). It is not necessarily simple and straightforward to use external experts to deliver research in parliaments. There is scope for the experience in management of contracts and external expertise to be shared.
Many services highlighted the re-purposing of parliamentary research/information materials, developed to serve parliament, as information sources for the public. Several services were already actively promoting this secondary use but the pandemic has given the citizen information role a much higher profile. This is another area where experience could very usefully be shared.
It feels like a faint light on the horizon, but there is also a question of how services make the most of the return to normal. When it is again possible to have in-person services and events, how can library and research services make the greatest impact on re-launch?
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.
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’.
IFLAPARL has created a closed discussion group to share experience in dealing with the crisis and information resources. Contact email@example.com to join.
Parliamentary research service publications on COVID-19 and Coronavirus
This link http://bit.ly/2WYxmV7 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).