Concepts and issues – introduction to the category

The texts in the ’Concepts and issues’ category are reflections on some neglected and emerging issues in parliamentary library & research service.

The topics so far in the ‘Concepts and issues’ category’ are linked, and indeed the main papers highlighted in the category were built in sequence and overlap in their content:

  1. The historic and present relation of the services to Member decision-making;
  2. The concept of value in these services and how to increase value;
  3. The management of ignorance;
  4. The significance of ‘evidence-based policymaking’ and the contribution to the UN SDGs. (Not yet a full paper)

The thread running through these papers and presentations is a challenge to the way parliamentary library & research services have traditionally presented themselves – and their key clients, the Members.

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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 infoiflaparl@gmail.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).

‘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: http://www.danj.org/conf2013.html

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.

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Parline – Inter-Parliamentary Union

The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) new version of the Parline database is a treasure-trove of information about parliaments worldwide. It allows searches by categories such as region and provides some very nice visualisation tools to present the data.

It is a good source of practical information – this search, for example, gives a list of all the parliamentary websites worldwide.

Parline is based mainly on survey of parliamentary administrations, which is both a strength and weakness. The strength is in the accuracy, currency and authority of the data. (For an example of a weakness, try this Data Explorer search on basic salaries of parliamentarians in Europe )

Unfortunately, so far as I can find, there is no data on library and research services. Perhaps a question could be included in future?

There is more background information below, and a communication to IFLAPARL about the new database is here. The database was presented at the IFLAPARL conference in Athens in August 2019.

About Parline

“New Parline is the IPU’s open data platform on national parliaments. It allows you to consult and compare data on national parliaments including information on structures, working methods, gender parity, women’s caucuses, youth and MPs’ human rights.

The platform is aimed at parliamentarians, academics, international and civil society organizations and the general public.

Some of the data goes back several years allowing you to see evolutions and trends over time. Much of the data is unique and only available on New Parline.

Generally, the information on the platform comes from national parliaments directly. It is updated regularly to take into account any changes that result from elections. The data covers a wide range of themes; for example, the number of chambers, the number of women MPs, the number of laws initiated by parliament and the average age of MPs.

New Parline allows you not only to find information on national parliaments but also to compare the data for all parliaments or a particular region. You can download this data in different formats, including charts and maps, and share it according to the Terms of Use. You cannot use the data for commercial purposes.”

https://data.ipu.org/content/about-open-data-platform
Data can be visualised by topic and by region

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.

Call for papers – IFLAPARL 2020 conference session: “Evidence-based policy’ and parliamentary library & research service practice: what works?”

IFLAPARL has published a call for papers on the theme of Evidence-Based Policymaking (EBPM). It will host an open session on this theme during the 2020 World Library and Information Congress (WLIC) in Dublin, Ireland. The WLIC will take place from 15-21 August, 2020. The date of the IFLAPARL session is yet to be confirmed.

The call states:

“Parliamentary library and research services have as a core function the provision of ‘evidence’ for representatives to undertake their work on policy. This is achieved by library and information services and products, and through research services, if offered. Provision is, however, one thing, while actual use may be something else. What does ‘evidence-based policy’ mean in a parliamentary context?

Given that parliamentary library and research services operate in a strictly non-partisan manner, explicit support for a UN SDG may not, in some contexts, be considered neutral. Work around ‘evidence’ however, can arguably make an impact on the objectives of the UN SDGs, whether as an intended outcome or not. The impact of the services would be most marked for UN Sustainable Development Goal 16 which in part concerns an aim to ‘build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions’ but other SDGs are also relevant.

Issues addressed in the session might include:

  • How can science be effectively communicated to the parliamentary audience?;
  • The application of gender-based information and analysis in parliaments (SDG 16 on quality of governance + SDG 5: ‘Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’)
  • How do parliamentarians actually use evidence? – in particular, as information/documentation and library resources, or as research services/products;
  • How parliamentarians can be supported in their use of evidence? (e.g. by training, innovative products/services);
  • Can communication of evidence to parliamentarians be successfully re-used to inform citizens?
  • What insights does the academic study of ‘evidence-based policy’ provide for our practice?
  • What has been the experience of parliamentary services – notably some in Africa – that have consciously applied an ‘evidence-based policy’ approach?
  • What insights can we offer to those studying ‘evidence-based policy’?

The aim of the session is to share knowledge on how services support the use of ‘evidence’ and to critically examine academic study of ‘evidence-based policy’ in a parliamentary context. The academic studies may yield insights into how we can improve our practice; equally our practical experience may have something to add to the academic studies.

IFLAPARL is looking for substantive papers of 4-6 pages taking a critical approach to these issues, with relevant cases from library and research services, including analyses of projects and initiatives of general interest to Section members.”

Full details of the call for papers are on the IFLA site.

2020 WLIC in Dublin.