An SLLG member reports on the SWOP event which took place this week.
This week I attended my first SWOP event. The Scottish Working forum on Official Publications, but prefer to be known as simply SWOP, is a free to join networking membership group for all those with an interest in official publications. They host 3 events a year (at the cost of a small donation for intermission biscuits) as well maintaining member contacts through an online discussion board, Twitter account and SWOP Forum website.
The event held on the premises of the Faculty of Advocates was two talks involving processes of the Scottish Parliament: Information Delivery and the Work of Scottish Parliamentary Committees.
The following is from the notes and what I picked up from the event.
Changes to information delivery at the Scottish Parliament, Edna Stirrat
The Scottish Parliament has always been “digital first” with their resources and information. The strategic direction has always meant strong investment in the latest digital working possibilities in the Parliament. The most recent embodiment of this is the Digital Parliament Programme.
The Digital Parliament Programme is set to be a “one stop” for all Scottish parliamentary resources, publications and information for MSPs, researchers and public. It aims to provide the correct information, at the correct time, pitched to the correct level, in the correct format for each individual user.
The programme intends to support the evolving methods of how parliamentary work is undertaken. Information increasingly is expected to be accessed over a range of devices, often mobile, and then used in more versatile ways.
Secondary benefits of the programme includes:
- Increased choice of access
- Improved user experience
- Improved digital literacy for Parliamentary members and staff
- Continued improvement in regulatory compliance of digital environment
The Digital Parliament is underwritten by a new database of records to link access to the materials online. This is the heart of how data is stored and shared across all parliament systems, products and services.
Records are standardised. A basic example is using a single authorised name for an MSP across all the data in which they are mentioned or involved. It means materials will be retrieved with confidence. The consistent records further prevent orphan data or missed deletions.
Capabilities for creating, searching and collaborating, storing and disposing of documents have been greatly improved in this new digital environment.
Data can be combined, too, in more innovative and uniquely valuable ways for personal research through this added metadata to the materials.
For MSPs, the digital programme has also included some perhaps unexpected tactile aspects. Digital meeting facilities have been refitted in terms of room acoustics and lighting as well as technology. A secure print system now means papers can be printed with more confidentiality and the process has reduced printing as members tend to consider their printing needs more carefully.
The programme is continuing beyond this also.
Open data is being introduced with more interactive input from the public over multi-platforms (Twitter, Instagram). Ways of parliament business publishing and distribution online is being re-designed. Increased efficiency in the creation of digital packs for MSP’s working days is being built-in.
Upgrading the records and core software means sharing, editing, search and access in all aspects of the materials is being improved, with the culmination in a new app-friendly public facing website to be launched.
A point was raised that if the new system required MSP and staff training, wouldn’t it also require training for the public user? This was acknowledged and online training modules are in development.
On a personal note, I wish I had asked how transient the materials are in the digital environment. At what version or stage something is deemed published, and on what terms would something be disposed of from the database.
Your Scottish Parliament, Wendy Kenyon
This was a stripped down talk from a more comprehensive workshop Wendy constructed for some members of SWOP previously.
Focussing on the work of Scottish Parliament Committees, Wendy explained their vital role in the legislative process of the government.
Wendy stressed that the Scottish Parliament is not the Scottish Government. The Parliament, made up of all elected parties, has the job of ensuring good legislation is created as part of committees, in which the Government will often not have the outright MSP majority.
They debate: scrutinise, fact and detail check, edit and vote on any proposed bill to allow it to be then voted on in the parliament chamber at various stages until the final assent into law. This was neatly demonstrated with a short game using shuffled cards which, thanks to the SWOP members being expert, I was able to help place in the right order.
Committees are influenced by MSPs making amendments and suggestions to them, who are in turn influenced by their constituents and public organisations talking to them. This makes the public role vital in much of the legislation process in Scotland.
Wendy explained the public are able to keep informed of parliamentary committees through each committee’s official twitter account and the parliament website. The public can also contact their MSP to take their opinion to the committee responsible.
Wendy also handed out literature on the workings of the Scottish Parliament and the Committees in particular.
When asked if the Parliament’s digital direction is leaving a large minority of Scots who have no internet access excluded from the democratic system, Wendy acknowledged this was part of a broader problem. There is a technology gap but also an awareness gap, education gap and apathy surrounding the importance of political engagement which must be tackled, often best at school-age, often best in a medium that school-agers relate to.
SWOP Business meeting
I will not go into the details of the SWOP business after the talks. Suffice to say the meeting was in depth about the current and future projects of SWOP. The group are enthusiastic about a number of official publication themed event possibilities and, as I am personal testament, welcoming of new members who may like to join them.
Many thanks for the report about the SWOP event. If any member from SWOP would like to know more about the SLLG or attend an SLLG event, please contact a member of the committee.