- Ari Hershowitz
Happy #WorldParliamentDay !
In celebration, I'll kick off my series of three case studies (Canada, Brazil and Israel) of Parliamentary innovation in action.
The keys to successful Parliamentary innovation are simple and repeatable from country to country: people and focus.
People, or the 'who' of innovation are dedicated staff with deep knowledge of the institution and the resources to make change. Focus, or the 'what' of innovation, includes internal changes that can easily translate into more external public transparency.
In this post, I'll highlight the work of Christopher Henry and Benoit Dicaire at the Canadian House of Commons, the first of three case studies from the Legistech Americas conference in Brazil earlier this year. There are similar cases worldwide and I hope to highlight some of them in future posts. In each of these institutions, there are a team of people who work together to make change across different national organizations, usually including the equivalent of the House and Senate. For these posts, I'll focus on one or two individuals in each place and a few representative programs or approaches that they have championed.
Canadian House of Commons
- Christopher Henry, Director of Business IT Programs
Chris has worked for more than 20 years in the House of Commons, starting as a software engineer developing Parliament's core legislative data platform (Prism), and moving into all aspects of operations. You can see his presentations on how the House of Commons transformed its service platforms here.
- Benoit Dicaire, Senior Director, IT Operations & Services
Ben and Chris began their work at the House of Commons at about the same time; I'll leave it to them to clarify who got there first. Ben manages major IT infrastructure throughout the House of Commons, from video production and call centers to building services for thousands of clients.
I met both at LegisTech Americas, and, as discussed below, their work includes close collaboration with the Senate and other institutions; in fact, the House, as the larger institution, provides much of the core IT infrastructure for all of Parliament.
The Canadian Parliament is unusual in its integrated approach to innovation. The approach includes:
- Service-oriented operations and integrated services
- Business needs define and drive innovation
- Strong internal IT staff
- Collaboration and information sharing across the institution and with international peers
All operations are focused on service: to the members of Parliament as well as members of the public. This professionalism is on display from the gift shop to the in-house legislative data platform (Prism) and other aspects throughout the organization. The staff is friendly and helpful (ok, yes, they are Canadian after all), and technology systems are in place to support personalized, knowledgeable service. More than fourteen call centers have been combined into one, with integrated systems providing information to a front-desk about anything from special events and office space to computer support. All processes are maintained in a common Service Now ticketing system, which itself is integrated with the House's identity management (so an individual's requests can be tracked) and other information platforms. This close integration of systems -- from cafeteria and gift-shop to legislative data -- sets the Canadian House of Commons apart from other legislatures I've worked with. It also means that IT -- which is integrated with building management and other services -- is not an afterthought of the overall operations.
Business needs define and drive innovation
While there is a great deal of innovation happening, it's grounded in the business needs of the members of Parliament. For example, AI systems are being tested to support the work of transcription and translation, core functions of the House of Commons in producing the Hansards (legislative record). The LLM voice-to-text and translation systems will supplement, not replace, the expertise of people who review and correct the transcripts so that members can have the digital equivalent of Blue Pages (transcriptions of their spoken interventions) on their (virtual) desk, on the same or the next day.
While the terminology of "Customer Experience" is not as prevalent in the Canadian government as it has become in the U.S. federal government, the principles are being implemented through having open channels of communication with members, committees and staff.
Strong internal IT staff
Another key aspect of the House of Commons operations is their large and capable IT staff. In this, legislatures vary dramatically, with some institutions relying on just a handful of overworked staff to handle everything. Others, including Brazil and California's legislature have invested in larger in-house IT facilities and staff. The House of Commons has a relatively large IT staff, and they are focused on integration: both internal, and integration with external systems such as Azure, Service Now and others. The focus on integration allows them to maintain consistency in their IT systems, provide expertise to evaluate new technologies (like LLMs), and bring in new capabilities by integrating off-the-shelf or built-to-order software.
Collaboration and information sharing across the institution and with international peers
Canada has made collaboration -- with experts across institutions and across the globe -- an integral component of their work. The presence and presentations of Chris and Benoit at the LegisTech conference and in other discussions of Parliamentary technology are helping other countries learn about Canada's integrated service appproach. They are also bringing back knowledge and novel approaches to Parliament, allowing them to learn what has worked elsewhere and what hasn't, and to adopt tested technologies and approaches faster. I look forward to continued collaboration, particularly with U.S. Congress, and to other opportunities to learn from Canada's modernization work.