After deciding what dimensions of the parliamentary process to monitor, an initial preparatory step involves determining what type of information is needed and whether the information is accessible. One consideration, for instance, is whether parliamentary sessions are open to the public and can be observed. Another is whether there is a timely record of official parliamentary proceedings available in print or digital form.
Based on decisions about what to monitor and the information to collect, a next step entails developing the appropriate monitoring tools. When it is time to pick a tool, conducting an ecosystem analysis — for example, of what information is already available and what is missing, as well as of what the target audience’s needs and motivations are — is a critical step toward choosing the right type of tool and developing effective targeted questions and indicators of analysis. More information on how to develop clear and effective monitoring objectives and methodology can be found in Section II of this guide.
During the preparation stage, groups frequently seek legislator support for monitoring initiatives by meeting with ranking members and sending out formal letters describing anticipated monitoring activities. Groups are less likely to experience push-back during the data collection stage if legislators are aware of the initiative from the beginning of the process and do not feel that they are being attacked unfairly. The letters and meetings are preliminary measures to gain the respect and buy-in of legislators; they should not be used to collect information for the initiative. The legislator interview forms should be applied later in the process during the data collection stage.
Al Hayat Center for Civil Society Development in Jordan laid the groundwork for its parliamentary monitoring initiative early in the process. After publicizing the initiative among Jordanian MPs, Al Hayat Center strategically engaged the Speaker and Deputy of the House to explain the initiative’s objectives and how it could benefit his work by helping to improve the overall functioning of parliament and the professionalism of MPs. Al Hayat Center secured the Speaker’s support and commitment to help resolve any issues that might arise with legislators, as well as access to information. Al Hayat Center also organizes and facilitates capacity-building sessions for MPs.
Common Monitoring Tools
Groups have created petitions or questionnaires to collect information on citizen priorities and perceptions of political parties, individual legislators and legislative bodies. These can be developed either as interviews or as forms to be filled out individually. Though the response rate is higher for forms completed during an interview, individual forms require less staff and volunteer time. For issue-based groups, petitions are also a great way to demonstrate broad support for a particular issue or piece of legislation. Paired to a Contact Management System like CiviCRM14 or MailChimp15, petitions and surveys can also serve to build a list of supporters that can be targeted with further communication, such as the release of a monitoring report. Surveys do have, however, important limitations; for details, see the Surveys and Selection Bias sidebar in the Types of Political Process Monitoring section.
Organizations commonly develop parliamentary monitoring forms that volunteers and staff use to capture information on legislative processes or legislators’ performance during legislative assembly and committee sessions. Depending on their capacity for monitoring and the purpose of the monitoring, groups have designed the forms as checklists, questions to be answered with written narratives, or a mixture of both.
Groups also use legislator interview forms to capture legislator perspectives on their responsibilities and performance. Such forms can be administered by monitors or filled out individually by legislators. Once all the tools are complete, groups conduct training for volunteers and staff to learn how to administer the tools while observing legislative sessions and interviewing legislators.
Data Collection Stage
Groups can collect data at national and local levels depending on the monitoring purpose and strategy. When groups monitor to increase citizen access to information, improve legislator performance, or reduce corruption, data is primarily collected through examining public documents and direct observations of legislative sessions and committees. This examination can provide monitoring groups with a better understanding of legislative processes and official government positions on issues and policies. It also allows groups to supplement, and sometimes validate, the data collected through observations.
Through direct observation of legislative sessions and committees, monitoring group staff and volunteers can collect information such as:
- Legislator attendance;
- Legislator participation;
- Legislation or amendments introduced;
- Responsiveness to formal CSO and citizen requests;
- Amount of time devoted to meetings with citizens;
- Communication between legislators and citizens;
- Number of requests for information received by legislators and how the requests are handled;
- Accessibility of public information;
- Legislature and committee functions;
- The role of the opposition;
- How CSO and citizen initiatives are conveyed to the assembly;
- Follow-through on campaign platforms and promises; and
- Debate issues.
When the purpose of the monitoring is focused on accountability and increasing direct interactions between citizens, legislators and political parties, groups tend to also use questionnaires or surveys, which helps capture citizen and legislator perspectives. When groups use interviews and questionnaires to interact directly with MPs and assembly members, they get a more nuanced sense of the opportunities and challenges legislators face when attempting to fulfill their responsibilities.
Monitoring Communications Stage
Tools and strategies commonly used to communicate the findings and recommendations with the relevant target audiences include:
- Monitoring reports that outline findings and issue recommendations for improvement;
- Scorecards that outline the performance of MPs;
- Websites or mobile applications that regularly publish information about parliamentary proceedings and performance and provide a space for citizen queries to MPs;
- Infographics that make findings from monitoring digestible to the wider public;
- Social media pages that regularly report on parliament proceedings;
- Public town hall meetings and roundtables informed by the monitoring reports and scorecards; and
- Awareness-raising and advocacy campaigns based on the monitoring reports and findings.
Recommendations for Program Implementers
- Involve legislators from the beginning of the parliamentary monitoring project so that they understand the project and do not feel threatened by monitoring. Legislators will then be more likely to give their support and cooperate more fully during project activities.
- When seeking legislators’ buy-in to monitoring initiatives, provide them with an incentive for participation, such as recognition for good governance.
- Ensure that citizens have physical access to legislative sessions and committees. Parliamentary monitoring is most successful when formal and informal mechanisms create enough political space for citizens to collect the necessary information.
- Identify areas where the legislature is making progress, so that the monitoring is not only about finding out what is not working or what is not open to the public.
- Much of the changes for openness and functionality of a legislature are in the hands of administrators who are civil servants. Civil servants also run the logistics and much of the access to the parliament. Thus, developing a good relationship with committee support staff is important for monitoring activities.