This article is written to Apolitical.co, a global learning platform for government.
The Government innovation ecosystem, also known as GovTech, promotes heavy use of technology to improve the quality of public policies and deliver better public services to citizens.
There are public and private entrepreneurs pushing to reshape the relationship between citizens and government in order to deliver efficient public services, reform bureaucratic processes, and increase the quality of legislation and oversight of public policies.
But alongside the executive branch of government, a country’s legislature has an essential role in promoting new and innovative interactions with citizens. The field of legislative Innovation — which we call LegisTech — differs from GovTech ecosystem. In this article, we explore how the movement can develop relationships between entrepreneurs, public servants and the legislative houses.
The new LegisTech ecosystem is made up of initiatives from private and public entrepreneurs that provide solutions for the legislative branch of government, represented in Brazil by the Legislative Houses — City Councils, State Assemblies, and National Congress — and their MPs. Although the legislative branch differs from country to country, we think there’s enough commonality for this terminology to be relevant elsewhere.
LegisTech entrepreneurs can assist in improving the quality of legislative output, such as reports, laws and regulations. This ecosystem creates tools capable of assisting in processes so that legislative proposals have a higher technical quality.
They do this, for example, by increasing the opportunities for public scrutiny using data science and machine learning. LegisTech can also provide tools that allow MPs and committees to supervise the executive branch, or solutions that allow parties and other parliamentary groups to better manage their MPs in speeches, propositions and votes.
The impact of LegisTech is not restricted to actors within the legislature. It has the potential to improve efficiency in relations with other branches of the government, as well as other spheres, such as the relationship between municipalities and MPs at the state and federal level.
In Brazil, the discussion about how to innovate the legislative process has been fostered in large part through the work of LabHacker, an office composed of public servants in the lower house of Brazil’s congress, connecting MPs, public servants, civil society and entrepreneurs.
LabHacker is not only the first laboratory to foster the discussion of innovation in the legislative system, but it was also the first to start a conversation about public innovation as a whole in Brazil. It acts as a hub to make the legislative system more connected with new tools and new ways of thinking about the representatives’ daily challenges.
Recently LabHacker developed a platform called Parla that shows which topics are most debated by MPs on the floor of the House. Parla adds value by helping public servants such as parliamentary secretaries and MPs in their research. But mostly it exists for the public, so that citizens can follow what is being debated, and which MPs have talked about a particular subject matter.
The goal is to contribute to a culture of transparency and participation through public data management.
Another example, also from the lower house of Brazil’s congress, is Ulysses, an AI which is learning how to find keywords in legislative documents in order to improve search relevance, both through the House search engine and on platforms including Google, Yahoo and Bing.
The idea is to help the House to be more agile and accurate in delivering information to MPs, public servants, the House advisors and, to citizens.
And my own organisation, Bússola, is another example of a LegisTech organisation. We encourage entrepreneurs to help the legislative branch in their challenges.
Bússola was born with the objective of decreasing the distance between citizens and their democratic institutions, by helping them be more informed when voting.
Strengthening the connection between voters and the institutions through elections is an essential component of democracy, but it is also important to tackle the daily challenges of the legislative houses, whose experience in partnership with private and public entrepreneurs can support a new vision for a legislature.
Bússola supports the Legislative Houses in connecting with citizens, through a platform that promotes transparency and greater use of legislative data — the Bússola Parlamento.
During the development of the platform, we noticed that, in addition to the implementation of technology, public servants also wanted training in innovation. They wanted to learn both hard and soft skills as well as knowledge about the legislative process and local politics.
Challenges for LegisTech
LegisTech’s ecosystem faces similar challenges to others in the public innovation space. For example, the rules that guide procurement of innovation are still marked by apprehension from both private entrepreneurs and public servants, raising questions about business models and sustainability.
Similar to other public sector institutions, there is little room for entrepreneurs at a crucial time in the innovation process, the ability to test and to fail on smaller projects without the need for large-scale implementation.
But LegisTech also has a peculiarity that might boost public innovation in Brazil. Actors can have a decentralised relationship with the legislature, through MPs and party leaderships, instead of only dealing with the legislative house as an institution. Entrepreneurs and initiatives can be procured to implement specific services without the need to go through the rigorous screening that is in force in the public administration.
There is the advantage of being able to test methodologies and solutions within the public sphere, without the need for implementation at large scale. This offers entrepreneurs and public servants the opportunity to build a space to fail and to share their failed experience with others, an essential characteristic for any disruptive environment.
The legislative branch around the world is responsible for representing the plurality of society, through the decentralisation of dialogue with the citizens. Decentralisation and the need to build consensus are the essence of legislative institutions such as parliaments, which makes them a fundamental component of the public innovation universe.
Public and private entrepreneurs have in the legislative, through MPs and political parties, the opportunity to revolutionise what we see as public innovation. The Legislature naturally holds the leading role in the debate and implementation of public innovation, through the LegisTech ecosystem. — Luís Kimaid