MPs are expected to ask questions of government ministers to get information on the work, policy, and activities of government departments on behalf of their constituents.
A week ago we launched the brand new MemberHub, a digital service for MPs and their staff. The first function on the hub is designed to help them manage those questions simply and more efficiently.
Out with the old, in with the new
There’s been a system in place for submitting Parliamentary Questions electronically to the Table Office for a while, but it didn’t meet the standard expected for digital services for a modern Parliament.
We knew MPs and their staff needed a simple step-by-step process that was more secure than the current one. The Table Office wanted to improve their processes too.
This was a great opportunity to build a service that would improve the accuracy of questions (as it removes the need to manually transcribe them) and reduce the time taken to notify MPs if there's a problem they need to act on (as they’re kept updated at every stage).
We’ll be able to report the extent of the overall time saved once the service has been operational for a month.
Build the most important features first
We worked closely with the Table Office, MPs and their staff to develop the MemberHub. With their help we:
- held ten user research sessions with MPs and their staff to inform the design of the front-end
- did three usability tests with Table Office staff on their interface
- showed the service to around 150 MPs before launch
- talked regularly with the Procedure Committee
The feature that was part of the recent release allows users to easily submit questions online (we're calling it 'eQuestions'). It’s the first of many easy-to-use features that we'll be adding to the MemberHub.
The new service - optimised for tablet and mobile - allows MPs and their authorised staff to:
- submit oral or written Parliamentary Questions using their own secure logins
- search questions and track their progress
- receive automatic alerts that keep them informed of the status of a question (for example, if it wins the shuffle)
- draft questions and ask colleagues to review before submitting for accuracy
- check what questions you've submitted at a glance and see when questions that have been successful in the shuffle will be asked
- quickly update it if circumstances change
MPs can also change staff access levels and tailor them as they wish. This means the account is both secure and effective as the right people can start submitting questions immediately.
Behind the scenes benefits
It’s not only about improving the service for MPs, it was really important for us to make things work better for staff working behind the scenes in the Table Office too.
In the past, staff used to take the information submitted via the old eTabling system and then manually re-enter it into the back-end system. This new service connects the procedural side with the MP-facing side of things in a single, joined-up process.
When the team reviews Oral Question times this is now done electronically when before it was done on paper.
This all means it’s now much easier to manage the Table Office workflow for reviewing and publishing questions. In fact, publication can all be done directly from the new system.
Encouraging digital take-up
We're encouraging all MPs and their staff to use MemberHub as it's the simplest, most efficient way to submit a question. The step-by-step user journey means that MPs should find it easy to navigate and initial testing suggests we’ve succeeded in this.
That said, it’s really important for us to support our colleagues with the rollout of any new digital service. So we’ve produced a user guide, created an online tour for first-time users, and offered training sessions too.
Eventually we’re hoping to see the vast majority of MPs and their staff adopt the service.
The service isn’t perfect yet. We'll iterate and improve eQuestions and the MemberHub based on user feedback. For the next step, we'd like to add motions to the MemberHub. This feature would allow users to submit and add names to Early Day Motions digitally through the MemberHub.
Read about our digital strategy and what it means for Parliament.