Thank you, senator and members of the joint committee, for inviting me to join you again today. As you remember, at the last meeting I presented our strategic outlook as well as our business and expenditure plan for next year.
Together, they provide a vision for Library services over the next several years. I thank the members of the Committee for their interest and support.
During the course of our time together, I also outlined some of the ways the library would like to serve you better in the years ahead. The Parliament 2020 project you will hear about today was undertaken to assist us in our forward planning, to help us take the decisions today that will position us to continue meeting the needs of Parliament in the 21st century.
This project was developed during discussions that I had with John Pullinger, my colleague in the U.K. House of Commons. We discussed ways that parliaments are using or might use new and emergent technologies to effectively transform their processes and their relationship with the public. We wanted to hear from three distinct sets of stakeholders: parliamentarians themselves, first-time voters, and parliamentary administrations.
Several other parliamentary libraries immediately expressed an interest in participating along with Canada and the U.K., including those of Australia, New Zealand, and Chile. The Hansard Society in the U.K., an independent, non-partisan, political research and education association, is coordinating the five-nation project, with each participating library and research service contributing its own study based on a common methodology.
ln our case, following a competitive process, we retained Nanos Research to conduct the Canadian study. Many of you were consulted as part of this project, and your insight and ideas have helped shape this report.
Today you will have the opportunity to hear from Nik Nanos on the findings of his independent research, which highlights the need for better communications between Parliament and Canadians and the importance of engaging the public, of speaking to Canadians in terms they understand, and of doing so in a timely way.
All of this is aimed at looking at ways to enhance both an understanding of the parliamentary system and the promotion of Canadians' interest in it, goals that are central to our work at the library.
Moreover, the Nanos Parliament 2020 report provides important insights into the priorities I outlined at our last meeting, connecting Parliament, people, and information, as well as into the importance of investing in our people and infrastructure.
Equally important, the report identifies opportunities for improvement.
I welcome this input not only as contributing to strengthening our own parliamentary and library operations here in Canada but as adding to the catalogue of best practices that the Parliament 2020 project is designed to build.
It gives me great pleasure, then, to introduce the president and CEO of Nanos Research, Nik Nanos.
Thank you for that introduction.
Mr. Young, Mr. Chair, members of the Standing Joint Committee on the Library of Parliament, my name is Nik Nanos. I am the president of Nanos Research, a research associate professor at the State University of New York in Buffalo, and a fellow of the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association.
I was the lead researcher on the Parliament 2020 project and oversaw all elements of the research, including the methodology, design, and reporting. Today I will be briefing the committee on the key findings of the research completed on the “Parliament 2020: Visioning the Future of Parliament” project, and then I'd be happy to answer any questions. That would be what I'm interested in most: answering question in the dialogue after my presentation.
In terms of the methodology, in December 2009, using a discussion guide that was very similar to the one used in the United Kingdom, we began interviewing parliamentarians. An initial e-mail introducing the project and its aims was sent by the Parliamentary Librarian to all parliamentarians in both the House of Commons and the Senate. Nanos Research then followed up with an e-mail requesting that those interested in participating in the interviews confirm their availability with a Nanos researcher. Interviews were scheduled and conducted in person or over the phone by pairs of Nanos analysts. Parliamentarians could be interviewed in the official language of their choice.
Our original target was to complete 15 interviews with parliamentarians, but owing to the level of interest, the number of interviews was expanded. In total, 30 interviews were completed with parliamentarians, with 40% being senators and 60% being members of Parliament.
Using the same line of questioning from the parliamentarian interviews, Nanos Research then facilitated a group discussion among parliamentary staff. Fifteen senior Canadian parliamentary staff from the House of Commons, the Senate, and the Library of Parliament participated in this discussion on December 4 , 2009. The discussion was conducted in a bilingual manner; participants expressed their views in the official language of their choice, and the moderator asked all questions in both languages.
To get insight into the perspective of young Canadians, Nanos Research conducted four focus group discussions with first-time voters on December 7 and December 8, 2009, in Montreal and Ottawa respectively. First-time voters were defined as young people who had never voted in a federal election, but who intended to vote in the next election. Participants were 18- to 25-year-olds, and groups were an equal mix of males and females. Two groups in Montreal were conducted in French, while the two groups in Ottawa were conducted in English.
I would now like to review the executive summary. Please note that each point is not meant to be prescriptive, but to summarize the consistent types of feedback that were received underneath each of the thematic pillars, such as communications, engagement, and so forth. Please also note--and this is very important--that this report is based on the views of stakeholders at the time of the research, which was about a year ago.
In terms of the executive summary, what follows are the key takeaways from the three portions of the research related to the topics of communication, engagement, information needs, resources and culture, and transparency and accountability.
In the communication section, we asked for ways in which Parliament communicates well with the public and for some ways in which it communicates poorly, we asked how parliamentary processes and procedures impact Parliament's ability to communicate with the public, and we asked if there were specific things that could be done to improve the way Parliament communicates with the public.
Here are the findings.
First, Parliament should use understandable language and digestible policy information when communicating with the public.
Second, parliamentarians would benefit from learning how to best apply new technologies in a non-partisan way. Overtly partisan messages had an adverse effect, particularly on youth, although parliamentarians and parliamentary staff also expressed concern that partisan communication negatively affected all of Parliament.
Third, two-way communication could be improved, both online and off-line. Further work should be done to discern the most effective ways to collect input from the public on the types of information they commonly expect to find when contacting their MPs and senators or when visiting the parliamentary website, as well as the best ways to disseminate information to the public using new technologies. There were a number of opportunities identified by participants to gather user-generated intelligence through the parliamentary website.
Fourth, the parliamentary website should be more user-friendly to the average visitor. Participants in all three groups indicated that it would be difficult to navigate the website without knowing in advance what to look for and where to find it.
Fifth, Parliament should be more proactive in communicating using new media.
Parliamentarians consider media coverage as the primary way that Canadians learned about their activities, and they placed more value on CPAC, the cable public affairs channel, as a key vehicle for communicating with the public, as it provided an unfiltered, though selective, view of their work. Some parliamentarians acknowledged that CPAC's viewership is representative only of those who were already politically engaged. Consultations with first-time voters confirmed that a reliance on the traditional media channels, such as CPAC, was not sufficient in terms of making younger Canadians aware of Parliament's activities, as they placed a high value on the ability to choose from a multitude of sources.
In the engagement section, we asked what could be done to encourage greater understanding by the public of how Parliament works and what impact people thought digital technologies could have on civic engagement.
We discovered that developing a more robust civics school curriculum would positively affect engagement. The Canadian public's general lack of engagement in the political process was seen as endemic and symptomatic of a low priority placed on educating the public on civic affairs at the primary and secondary school levels. Also, Parliament should continue to assist educators and the public in understanding parliamentary processes and procedures by conducting interactive presentations and developing stimulating informational materials.
As well, the parliamentary website is a major opportunity for trust-building with the Canadian public. The website should use new media tools to gauge the information needs of members of the public who visit the site, as well as strengthen its positioning as a steward for up-to-date, reliable parliamentary information. Also, parliamentarians, youth, and parliamentary staff were cautiously optimistic about the ability of mobile devices to positively affect democratic participation. While the appeal lay in the ability to have a variety of voices engaging in a dialogue, all three groups felt there were risks involved when relying on these technologies. Participants in the three groups were generally concerned about the reliability of the information.
In terms of information, questions in this section were asked only of parliamentarians and staff. We asked how the information needs of members and staff were changing and how they were likely to change in the future. As well, we prompted for ideas on how Parliament could better support these changing needs.
Many parliamentarians felt that there was a time lag between committee meetings and publishing of committee proceedings. The time lag and difficulty in finding information were highlighted. Parliamentarians also articulated a desire for self-serve applications targeted at both parliamentarians and the public whereby all recordings from proceedings would be easily accessible and archived on the parliamentary website, with playback and download capabilities.
E-mail notifications that alert parliamentarians and members of the public about new legislation, votes, or amendments to bills would be considered valuable. All records available through the parliamentary website should be searchable and indexed thematically throughout the entire document, with tags by broad topics, people, and dates. Parliament could invest in video technology to support members' communications with constituents and organizations in order to decrease travel costs.
Also, paper and digital records must coexist and be equally integrated. Both formats were viewed as important. Digitizing documents can support information organization and easy transfer, while paper records are valuable for archiving purposes.
In the resources and culture section we asked questions related to the effect of social media and about expectations regarding speed of response from Parliament, how receptive Parliament is to change and the take-up of new technologies, and what the staff and resource implications of increasing the use of digital technologies would be for Parliament.
Parliament should assess what can be done to meet public expectations related to the speed of response and intimacy from elected representatives. Those consulted acknowledged that a new era in technological sophistication and online engagement presented a challenge to Parliament to meet this demand. While a number of parliamentarians and parliamentary staff felt that the legislative process and the research needed on issues could not be accelerated by technology, newer digital technologies allow Parliament to inform the public faster than ever before.
Also, Parliament should be a leader in adopting new technologies. While several of the participants felt that Parliament did a reasonably good job at adopting new digital technologies, there was agreement that the institution was more reactive than proactive in its approach to new technologies.
In addition, resources should be allocated to support and train parliamentarians and staff to properly employ digital technologies in a consistent manner.
In the transparency and accountability section we asked about bilingual communications and whether the participants had any thoughts on whether digital technology will make Parliament more transparent and accountable in the future. This particular pillar was added. It was not included in the U.K. study, but it was considered extra content that we thought was important to cover off in Canada.
In this particular thematic pillar, we found that bilingual messages were nearly unanimously viewed as crucial when communicating through social media. Also, multilingual communications were viewed by many participants as growing in importance. Several youth participants and parliamentarians felt that changing demographics would necessitate additional translation capabilities in Parliament.
Also, transparency and accountability are contingent on the attitude towards these ideals. Many felt that if information were readily accessible in the public domain, this would hypothetically make Parliament more accountable; however, the consensus was that technology was not the deciding factor: accountability and transparency depend on the political will to be accountable and transparent.
These are the key findings that summarize the common threads from each discussion topic. Each of the groups consulted represents a variety of stakeholder perspectives and possesses different needs; however, there are compatible viewpoints that link each of the groups. Parliamentarians, parliamentary officials, and first-time voters were in agreement on the level of importance attributed to the following ideas: educating the public and outreach, access to information, understandable language, transparency and accountability, and interactive communication.
The issue now is to find the best path in order to move forward with a common sense of purpose.
I'd be happy now to answer any questions about this project.
Thank you for that question.
Actually, based on the research we've done for the Library of Parliament, and other research we've done--if I could add a nuance in terms of fewer and fewer younger people being interested in politics--my interpretation of what is happening is that fewer and fewer young people are interested in engaging in traditional ways in democracy.
I think that's the critical issue here. For younger people democratic engagement is taking place on Facebook and Twitter and on blogs. Let's rewind to 50 years ago: democratic engagement took place through traditional mechanisms. You joined a political party, maybe you helped on a local campaign; you talked to your parents about it and you became active through your school. From my perspective, those are relatively traditional mechanisms to be involved in the democratic process.
I would say the problem is the disconnect between our traditional institutions and young people. I believe young people are democratically engaged, but not through our traditional institutions. That's the key thing to discuss at this table: how our democratic institutions can engage young people in the way they want to be engaged.
If I can use an example from the private sector, with the onslaught of the Internet, private sector companies initially dealt with the web as something to manage their reputation and what their customers were saying. But we've discovered in our research that the most cutting-edge corporations have taken dissent--consumer and client dissent--and internalized it by providing a platform for that dissent.
If we look at a company like Dell, it has a website called IdeaStorm. That's a place for customers to complain. They realized it was better to have customers complain in a platform they could be involved in where they could respond to them, as opposed to trying to interact and engage their customers along the whole web.
I think that particular paradigm, the whole idea that if younger Canadians--and I would say more Canadians in general--are engaging online and outside of traditional democratic institutions, we have to figure out how those democratic institutions can become a platform for engagement.
We might not like it. I can tell you it will be more risky and it is a completely different paradigm shift. But I think if we don't, then we're going to deal with the problem you just talked about, that more and more young people will be democratically engaged but not through the institutions.
I think it's important to keep that link as strong as possible.
Mr. Chairman, I have a few questions.
I wanted to ask, of all the recommendations that are there--and this follows up on what Carolyn was just asking--which top two or three the library or Mr. Nanos would suggest we pursue first.
Second, I take great comfort in number 18 of the results, or the constatation that “bilingual messages were nearly unanimously viewed as crucial when communicating through social media”. I'd like to know the cost and time implications of that, because social media demands immediacy, yet if you're going to translate things, you have to have a delay. So I'd like to get some sense of that.
Finally, I have more of a broad question. My mentor in politics, Monsieur Jean-Luc Pépin, used to use five words to describe our system of government. I'll go quickly: it's monarchical or a monarchy; it's responsible, in the sense that whoever is the government has to be responsible to the House of Commons to keep the confidence; it's bicameral--we're the only bicameral committee; it's parliamentary, as opposed to presidential, if you will; and finally, it's representative.
My question is with regard to that fifth word. I think I understand what representative democracy in the parliamentary system is all about. You run a general election, or by-elections, on a platform that is supposedly based on a set of principles, and people make a choice, and you are then sent to Ottawa and Parliament to represent them.
But we seem to be going in another direction entirely, which is participatory. To what extent is our parliamentary system prepared and equipped to go the participatory route? I look at your recommendation 15: “Parliament should assess what can be done to meet the public's expectations related to the speed of response and intimacy from elected representatives.” What does that mean?
I use the phone. I'm an old fudgee, I use the phone a lot. It's very direct and intimate and immediate. Face to face is even better. I don't use a whole lot of social media. Does that mean that I'm totally out of sync with what's going on out there? I somehow don't think so, not completely anyway. I'm just wondering--where does “representative” stop being representative and become participatory? I'm not saying one is better than the other. I just need to know the frame of reference we're all supposed to be working under.