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One Year of Monitoring the World's Parliaments

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It has been just over a year since the PMO Leaders Conference convened an ever-growing community of activists working to open up their national and local parliaments. It has been a year since numerous individuals and groups participated in drafting the Declaration on Parliamentary Openness. It has been a year full of promise and success for the PMO community, but that’s not to say that we couldn’t do more to work together.

In May, the Sunlight Foundation, the National Democratic Institute, and the Latin American Legislative Transparency Network put together a survey that addressed the current condition of the PMO community, the biggest challenges facing PMOs, and opportunities for further collaboration and community strengthening. The survey, which can be viewed here, garnered the attention of much of the PMO community, receiving nearly 50 total responses from over 40 PMOs working in 35 countries around the world.

Despite the geographic and cultural diversity of participants, there was a high degree of consensus on a number of issues. When asked what aspects of the PMO network were the most valuable, an overwhelming number of respondents identified the sharing of anecdotes, best practices, and techniques to most effectively open up parliament. As David Cabo of Spain’s Fundacion Ciudadana Civio stated in his response, “I’d like to know what worked and what didn’t in other countries.” This sentiment was echoed by the vast majority of respondents, suggesting that greater sharing would improve the efforts of individual actors while also strengthening the community as a whole.

There were some innovative ideas presented in the survey to encourage peer to peer exchange among PMOs. For example, Francis Oppong of the Ghana Center for Democratic Development suggested that we create a “matrix detailing the areas of expertise of all members.” Such a repository of information would certainly encourage one on one consultation between members of the community. Only once such creative solutions are acted upon will the PMO community reach its potential and achieve the type of change it is striving to create.

The second most valuable aspect that the community identified was the potential of global networking to connect organizations with funders and funding opportunities. Locating sources of funding and understanding financial sustainability are critical to the success of all organizations--and PMOs are no exception. Sharing funding opportunities and sources as well as providing advice regarding financial sustainability should be a central goal for the community.

In relation to the problem of limited resources, many individuals expressed interest in reusing open-source tech tools developed by other community members. In cases where financial resources are limited, reusing tech tools developed by other PMOs could be an efficient way to strengthen monitoring and cut costs simultaneously.

Also of interest to PMOs was the prospect of a global survey that analyzed the status of parliamentary transparency around the world. Several individuals, including Dinara Oshurakhunova of Kyrgyzstan’s Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society and Victoria Anderica of Access Info Europe, called for the creation of a monitoring method to analyze global adherence to the Declaration. The creation of a monitoring tool would also inform the advocacy efforts of individual organizations when lobbying parliament to open up.

PMOs also face many of the same problems, with a number of respondents citing similar or identical problems as the largest facing their organization. Limited resources were cited by nearly 15 individuals as their organization’s biggest operational challenge. The second most frequently cited challenge was public outreach and engagement. Public interest in and engagement with the work of parliament is tantamount to the mission of PMOs, and a number of individuals stated that their organization struggles to effectively engage the public. Finding new communities in which PMO work would be of interest was especially challenging.

There is clearly space for improvement in the PMO community. Over the next few weeks, the Sunlight Foundation, the National Democratic Institute, and the Latin American Legislative Transparency Network, in conjunction with the PMO community, will begin the discussion on a number of topics addressed above. Keep your eyes open for new tools that will improve your work in monitoring and opening up parliaments. As always, we cannot do this alone, and your contributions will be as valued as always. While the last year may have been promising, we’re hoping to make the next one even more successful.