Key functions of parliament: representation
In fulfilling the functions of lawmaking and oversight, a parliament represents those that elected them to parliament. For a parliament to maintain legitimacy, it is critical that accountability to voters should take place systematically throughout the parliamentary term, rather than just at election time. It is important that the people should have ample opportunities to provide feedback on the work of the parliament and of individual parliamentarians.
- Constituency Office: A physical location with office space is a visible symbol of a MPs commitment to a constituency and a place for the MP to meet individual constituents and groups. The space can also be used to support nascent or ad hoc groups who need a place to meet and organize their activities. For more information on constituency offices, please click here.
- Dialogue Tools: The culture and customs of each country will dictate how an MP engages citizens in a dialogue; the key is for MPs to provide active and passive opportunities for citizens to engage and to voice their opinions. For more information on dialogue tools, please click here.
- Constituency Development Funds (CDFs): There is a growing trend for MPs to be provided with a small but significant amount of funds to use for development in their constituency. These funds are most common in commonwealth countries (where constituencies are also more common) and are controversial for a number of reasons, but are likely to remain and may even proliferate in the coming years. For more information on CDFs, please click here.
- Broadcast of Proceedings: Either though television, radio or, more recently, online, the broadcasting of plenary proceedings (and, in some cases, committee hearings) is an important means of allowing citizens who may never visit parliament to observe how it operates and what their MP is doing. In countries that have recently transitioned to democracy the broadcasts are wildly popular and seen as an important symbol of the new transparency of the parliament.
- Website: Almost all parliaments now have websites to explain their activities and provide basic information about the institution. However, there is a growing trend to have more interactive websites that provide a significant amount of information about all MPs, the work of the committees and the laws that are currently being debated.
- Publications: The use of written material to explain the role of parliament is still an important aspect of parliamentary outreach. These materials can range from the formal, such as the notification of laws and regulations (known as a Gazette in many countries) and the transcripts of plenary proceedings (e.g. - Hansard or the Congressional Record), to the more promotional.
- Children and Youth: Many parliaments have developed materials specifically to educate children about their parliament. These are often delivered to schools to be used as part of an educational program. Youth parliaments allow young adults to select their representatives who then attend in the parliament to hold mock debates. Some parliaments have provided materials online, such as interactive games, to encourage children to learn more about their parliament.
- Mobile Parliament: In parts of Africa and Australia parliaments have left the capital to hold plenary sessions in different parts of the country or state. These are official and legal sessions that bring an opportunity for local citizens that may never visit the parliament to observe it in action.
- Open Parliament: Many parliaments host an open house at least once a year to promote access to the institution. This may coincide with another celebration, depending on local custom, but the general idea is to provide an opportunity for citizens to tour the building(s) of parliament, ask questions and meet parliamentary staff.
Of course there are other types of outreach and parliaments are becoming more innovative in how they promote their activities.