Parliaments around the world are making unprecedented use of social media and mobile technologies to facilitate MPs work and increase citizens’ engagement, according to the latest data analysed in the World e-Parliament Report 2012.
The report, a joint initiative of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the United Nations, used information provided by 156 parliaments around the world on their use of ICT and analysed the data against two previous polls in 2007 and 2009.
For the first time, social media is among the top ten communication methods used by parliaments to engage with citizens, the report shows. Social networks such as Facebook and MySpace ranked fifth with 31 per cent of parliaments using them in 2012, from only 13 per cent in 2009. Twitter ranked seventh with 29 per cent of parliaments using it, against 12 per cent in 2009. In total, 85 per cent of the world’s parliaments use some kind of social media, the highest level being in Europe with 98 per cent and Latin America with 95 per cent.
“Parliaments face challenges in keeping abreast of the rapid changes in society and the use of technology. But new advances such as social media, mobile broadband and cloud computing offer invaluable tools to support MPs work and reinforce the democratic values of transparency, accountability and accessibility,” the report states.
Parliaments’ use of mobile technology is also booming. More than 50 per cent of them now provide smartphones or tablets to MPs. The experience of the Dutch Senate, the first to become officially paperless, shows that mobile technologies are well within reach of many parliaments and are an effective method of cutting costs and reducing infrastructure constraints. For the price of one year of printing and courier services, all Dutch senators are now equipped with a tablet for all meeting documents.
In another positive finding, the World e-Parliament Report notes that despite the huge challenges faced, the gap in ICT use between parliaments in low income countries and the rest of the world has dropped by over 25 per cent in the past three years. All 156 parliaments now have internet access, 83 per cent of them via a wireless network, up from 77 in 2009.
While significant progress has been made on communicating with citizens, a 10.6 per cent improvement from 2009, this area is still lagging behind compared with other uses of ICT. Although 90 per cent of parliaments have their own website, only 16 per cent of the institutions have a system to retain messages from citizens. The use of emails and websites by MPs has stagnated or even decreased over the past 3 years, the report shows.
The World e-Parliament Report finds that overall, financial and staff constraints remain the two greatest obstacles to fully reaping the benefits of information and communications technology (ICT) in all countries.