Parliamentary monitoring is an organized effort to scrutinize the functioning and performance of legislative bodies and the elected members. A parliamentary monitoring effort can be undertaken at the national, subnational or local level, as long as there is a directly elected body that has legislative powers.
Parliamentary monitoring can fulfill a variety of purposes that may vary depending on the country context and the monitoring organization’s objectives, interests and capacities. Generally, though, this type of monitoring is carried out to increase public transparency of parliamentary processes, help the institution function more effectively, and improve the accountability of members of parliament.
Issue-based groups may choose to monitor the legislative process through the lens of a specific issue or cause (e.g., healthcare reform) to ensure that the legislative work is focused on the public interest and done in a transparent and responsive manner. In contrast, impartial watchdog organizations may choose to monitor the entire proceedings with the aim to improve democratic practices and performance. Through sustained monitoring, these types of organizations, commonly known as parliamentary monitoring organizations (PMOs), can stimulate demand for improved parliamentary functioning and nurture a culture of openness and responsiveness.10 In more open political environments, PMOs can reinvigorate citizen engagement by developing new platforms for political expression and policy discussion.11 Groups can decide to be more or less aggressive in pushing legislative bodies to comply with national laws or international standards. For instance, a group might use litigation to compel a legislature to release information. PMOs can also feed issue-based organizations information and findings that help inform issue-based monitoring or advocacy initiatives.
Civic groups have conducted monitoring initiatives to achieve the following outcomes at national- and local-government levels:
- Increased citizen access to reliable information on the functioning of legislative processes;
- Increased citizen access to reliable information on the activity of individual legislators and political blocs;
- Constructive interaction between citizens and legislators;
- Improved legislature capacity to communicate about its work and cooperate with civil society; Increased individual legislators’ responsiveness to their constituents; and
- Greater legislative autonomy within the governing system.
Since 2009, Al Hayat Center for Civil Society Development has been collecting information and publishing scorecards on the activities of Jordanian members of parliament (MPs), legislative committees and political blocs.
With a focus on transparency, accessibility and inclusiveness, monitoring for openness relies on examining legislative bodies using an established set of principles. For example, in 2012, NDI and the World Bank Institute facilitated a conference of civic groups that resulted in the Open Parliament Declaration. The Declaration identifies 44 actions that signify parliamentary openness. More than 80 civic groups in 55 countries have signed on to the Open Parliament Declaration, and Open Parliament is now the second pillar of Open Government Partnership.12 Various civic groups have designed tracking mechanisms to follow the progress of their country’s legislature on implementing open parliament actions.
In general, legislatures have three roles crucial to a country’s progress and the lives of its citizens: making laws, overseeing executive institutions and representing citizens. Civic groups may adopt parliamentary monitoring techniques to improve a legislature’s functionality by monitoring how effective and efficient the institution functions in performing these roles: whether official rules and procedures are followed, oversight functions are performed, or efforts are made to engage citizens. Because legislatures are typically large institutions, it can be valuable to monitor the work of committees and other bodies as well as plenary sessions in order to present an accurate picture of the institution’s functionality. In such initiatives, civic groups monitor legislative procedures and practices, often as it relates to a set of legislative standards, and use their findings to work with legislators and parliamentary officials to improve weaknesses or to advocate for changes in the laws and regulations governing legislative processes.
Monitoring for MP Performance
Another reason that groups engage in parliamentary monitoring is to increase legislators’ performance and accountability to constituents. Publicizing a fair and objective review of a legislator’s performance can put additional pressure on them to account for their work and has the potential to encourage competition among legislators and political parties, which can, in turn, improve performance. It also gives citizens information they can use the next time they vote.
In Germany, a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization, known in English as Parliament Watch,13 aims to promote parliamentary openness, transparency and accountability as well as dialogue between citizens and elected representatives. Parliament Watch developed an online platform that publishes information about members of parliament and their activities and enables citizens to directly ask their members questions. Parliament Watch then tracks and monitors the member’s responsiveness to citizen queries.