This is the beginning of a series of brief articles originally posted on LinkedIn that have been developed to highlight significant concepts and argumentation in relation to parliamentary development and governance matters. The articles have been jointly developed by Dr. Fotios Fitsilis and Bruce Philip Todd and are pieces of a larger mosaic soon to be put together in the form of a book covering the sector. The first article deals with knowledge management in the parliamentary context.

Knowledge, also in the parliamentary development regime, is accumulated at a staggering pace. At the same time, organisations worldwide are increasingly committed to principles of transparency and accountability. These well-known facts lead to the publication and accessibility of a wide knowledge base shedding light, among others, on the constitutional, functional and operational aspects of the parliaments of the world. With time, significant knowledge bases have been developed to facilitate this knowledge in a meaningful and structured form, such as the AGORA portal [1], a multilingual and diverse knowledge portal on parliaments, implemented by a multitude of international partners including the European Parliament Think Tank [2], the European Parliament Research Service (which contains, besides institutional issues, significant resources and background information on topical matters), as well as the knowledge base of the Congressional Research Service [3].

In addition, international or intergovernmental organisations such as the UN [4], OECD [5] and International IDEA [6], as well as national development Agencies [7] have developed knowledge bases in the form of web-based publicly accessible document repositories. Moreover, one may easily locate relevant scientific publications and reports from individual academics and parliamentary experts and practitioners. Indicatively, the content of the mentioned knowledge resources can be classified into a number of categories, such as:

  • Comparative studies;
  • Legal/constitutional assessment;
  • Interna corporis;
  • Parliamentary action on topical subjects;
  • Reports on the institutional/democratic state of play;
  • Parliamentary diplomacy and interparliamentary cooperation;

When it comes to the tools for parliamentary use, one may refer to the availability of legislative databases [8] and open source software such as the LEOS legislative editor [9] used, among others, by the European Parliament [10] and many more.

Existing knowledge on parliamentary development is paramount, i.e. for strategic planning, trend analysis and classification purposes. At this point, it needs to be underlined that existing approaches and solutions are not to be ruled out per se when developing novel, alternative, or perhaps high-tech options for representative institutions and their stakeholders. This is equally problematic as if using a one-size-fits-all approach, as it is unfortunately often the case in the parliamentary EU Twinning projects, or USAID’s good governance programmes. Such documented actions, as presented in the above classification, are beautifully suitable to extract and formulate good practice and lessons-learned, positive but more importantly negative, so as to avoid the same or similar mistakes and misdoings both on the strategic and the operational level [11]. Lessons-learned are also of importance in virtually any project management methodology, such as PRINCE2, PMP, or the newly developed EU platform, OpenPM2 [12].

However, the fact that there is widespread availability of knowledge and tools based on experience and data from decades of parliamentary development efforts could lead to false conclusions, either that further efforts are not necessary or that the most important aspects of parliamentary operations have already been covered by previous actions. Some of the reasons why this is not the case and thus new tools and further development efforts are necessary more than ever are presented below.

Evolving parliaments

Most established parliaments are traditional organisations, in the sense that they largely rely on parliamentary tradition. This originally applied to parliaments of western democracies[13] and implies that the underlying organisations, the administrative processes, the Members of Parliaments (MPs) and the staff are reluctant to change. On the other hand, we are witnessing the evolution of contemporary societies, partly due to the digital transformation exercises, migration and climate change, just to name a few prominent examples. Hence, parliamentary institutions, as well as any sort of representative bodies, need to respond adequately to on-going societal changes and the related technological challenges. Otherwise, they risk losing relevance within the institutional system, decouple or alienate themselves from the public, or may allow that the inevitable information gap between the Executive and the Legislative is further widened.

There is no existing knowledge or methodologies for parliaments to tackle these issues. In the example of Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, there exists no unified approach by parliaments on how to deal with the related challenges. Some parliaments are co-operating with the government in the development of local, regional or country-level strategic planning for achieving certain goals. Some have established dedicated working bodies for monitoring the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and others are co-operating with international stakeholders such as IPU and UNDP, for providing capacity building assistance to MPs [14].

In a similar way, as technologies change and new services are under development, parliaments will inevitably need a lot of support in the areas of (linked) open data and open legislative drafting. The necessary standardisation process has already begun in the relevant bodies [15], but as there are several approaches possible, such as open source software or proprietary solutions, in-house expert knowledge is often absent and there is therefore a lot of room for interested organisations to grasp this opportunity to advance as major players in transforming representative institutions to ‘smart’ parliaments. Special care needs to be placed on facilitating business process re-engineering, since the ‘digital-first’ approach in parliamentary operation is inevitably linked to significant changes in the interna corporis.


While its necessity is generally understood and widely acknowledged, major entities involved in international parliamentary development often do little to achieve sustainability of their actions. Sustainability is context-related but in the case of parliamentary assistance it is also linked to the continuity of support. In this sense, to interrupt parliamentary assistance would mean that project sustainability is endangered. Particularly in countries where the political environment is fluid, one cannot rely only on previous knowledge and assessments. ‘Boots on the ground’ are normally required long-term, in terms of such technical assistance. To mention a practical issue often encountered when conducting trainings for the capacity building of MPs, one needs to take into consideration that following elections several of the participants trained are likely not to be re-elected. Hence, another training cycle needs to be organised for the new Members. Conversely, a non-dedicated or non-stable expert team, or inconsistency or a lack of momentum from the donor side, can also lead to similarly unsustainable results.

New parliaments and stakeholders

One of the strongest arguments for why technical assistance in parliamentary development is still needed after all these years of support, in developing countries for example, is that new parliaments and stakeholders have emerged. Thus, ‘old-school’ approaches that might have been fine if used in established parliaments are highly questionable in terms of whether or not they would work in new parliamentary regimes. This is the case in young or new democracies and in transition countries. Such situations are present in the MENA region following uprisings and other forms of instability in recent years and in the Western Balkan region, where significant EU and other donor funds have been applied to electoral and parliamentary reforms. This becomes even more evident when dealing with hybrid / authoritarian regimes, whereas no ‘off-the-shelf’ solutions can be applied and every intervention is to be designed from scratch. New stakeholders that are on the rise in parliamentary systems worldwide include parliamentary research services; parliamentary libraries and parliamentary budget offices. Although guidelines for developing such services have been developed [16], they still require specialised and highly focused technical support to fulfil their critical role as in-house consultants to committees, individual MPs and other parliamentary units.

Concluding remarks

Parliaments can benefit from decades of accumulated knowledge, but this knowledge needs to be preserved, assessed and properly logged and structured. A multitude of recently developed concepts and technologies may help towards this goal. At the same time, this ‘old’ knowledge may be misleading and traditional stakeholders, such as public agencies, international organisations, or bilateral assistance forums, may not be fit for purpose. As new parliamentary actors emerge, the choice of the right development mix becomes even more critical.


[1]; the portal is currently undergoing massive restructuring led by the EU-funded INTER PARES project.



[4] Mainly, but not exclusively, through the United Nations Development Programme

[5] Short for Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; The OECD is particularly active in monitoring budgetary aspects, e.g. through the establishment of Parliamentary Budget Offices


[7] See for instance the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD)

[8] In the European context see EUR-Lex,

[9] More information on the editor can be found here:

[10] The editor relies on the Akoma-Ntoso technical standard based on a UN initiative that is increasingly used for legislative drafting in several parliaments; See

[11] The fact that, for instance, International IDEA acknowledges such lessons-learned from the previous five-year cycle in its new strategy 2018-2022 is certainly significant

[12] For the OpenPM2 see

[13] On the contrary, several parliaments of new EU Member States, particularly those in its eastern borders, some Latin-American, e.g. Brazil and Chile, and a few African ones, e.g. Kenya and South Africa, have displayed a remarkable adaptation to new conditions and challenges.

[14] See Fitsilis, Fotios and De Vrieze, Franklin, How Parliaments Monitor Sustainable Development Goals – A Ground for Application of Post Legislative Scrutiny. The Journal of Legislative Studies. In press.

[15] See OASIS LegalDocumentML (LegalDocML) Technical Committee:

[16] See the IFLA and IPU guidelines for the case of parliamentary research services:


  • Dr. Fotios Fitsilis, Head of Department for Scientific Documentation and Supervision, Scientific Service, Hellenic Parliament. Professor, National School of Public Administration and Local Government, Athens
  • Bruce Philip Todd, Consultant in Justice and Home Affairs policy, strategy, programming and parliamentary development.  Consultant, EU and UN projects

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