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Westminster – not as unique as we might think

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Collaboration culture, Community, Continuous iteration, Experts in what we do
Caroline in the Speaker's Chair
Caroline in the Speaker's Chair

I was lucky enough to attend the recent ANZPIT forum in Tasmania, Australia. ANZPIT is the annual gathering of parliamentary IT people from the Australian and New Zealand Parliaments. It was the first time since 2009 that someone from the UK Parliament attended so I was feeling pretty privileged to be there.

After a mere 28 hours of travel and, strangely, three breakfasts, I landed and was raring to go. I was particularly intrigued to know what our colleagues across the Pacific were working on, what their priorities were, whether the issues we face in PDS were the same or unique to Westminster (as we often assume).

Sharing what we’ve done

Caroline presenting at the conference

Turns out there was a lot that was reassuringly similar. Rolling out Office 365 and all that entails, cyber security, revamping parliamentary websites, and the move to mobile device management strategies was all very familiar. In fact, there were a few areas in particular where we could share our expertise.

Two state parliaments had committees looking at end of life care and had been inundated with evidence. We recently developed a new online process for hybrid bills and we’re now applying this to committees so I shared what we’d done and what had worked for us. Having been open and transparent about the process on this blog made this very easy.

Similarly, developing measures and key performance indicators that reflect the customer experience and perception is something we’ve worked on and continue to work on so I could also share some knowledge. I’m not saying we had the right answers but could say where we were and what we had tried in the past.

I had also taken over a bag full of merchandise from our various cyber security campaigns and these proved popular with some delegates asking if they could repurpose and reuse the "you wouldn't share your toothbrush" slogan in their own state legislatures.

Bringing something back

Equally there were things I can bring back here.

The innovative approach to AV in the Tasmanian Parliament where user control of the system is iPad-based.

One of the conference attendees was writing the digital strategy for the Australian Federal Parliament and had some very clear ideas on how to produce a measurable roadmap. I was able to introduce him, electronically at least, to our very own Rosie Hatton, strategy delivery lead.

Some jurisdictions have also moved away from printing Hansard and it’s now only available online.

Size and scale

In other areas, we had very different experiences to other conference attendees, and this mainly relates to size. For instance, many of the state legislatives are relatively small, particularly compared to Westminster with its 650 MPs, over 800 Lords, and hundreds of staff who work for them. This makes our communications and member engagement more complex.

In contrast, the Tasmanian Parliament has 25 in the House of Assembly (13 women, 12 men) and 15 in the Legislative Council and members tend not to employ staff. Similarly, the New Zealand Parliament has 120 members. I’m not saying this makes anything easy, just that the scale is vastly different.

On a related note, I met with Dan Crutchfield before I flew out to talk about his team and their plans to visit all constituencies in the UK, with 200 done already. I could see that replicating Dan’s role would be infinitely more tricky and time consuming in Australia.

Someone from Western Australia described visiting a constituency office which involved a five hour flight plus a three hour drive, and a boat trip. It was beginning to sound like an epic journey from Greek mythology or maybe Tolkien.

How to eat a tim tam and other nuggets

Delegates were also interested in the UK bigger political picture so Brexit, restoration and renewal, and last year’s snap general election also got some airtime. This was interesting to me as I wasn’t sure what coverage UK politics had 12,000 miles away.

For a self-confessed political nerd, it was also intriguing to see what electoral systems are in operation across Australia and New Zealand.

n Tassie (see I speak the lingo now), the House of Assembly relies on a form of single transferable vote called the Hare-Clark system. It's a kind of proportional representation that manages to give precedence to individuals not parties.

In the Legislative Council (the second chamber), elections are staggered so there’s always continuity and members generally sit for six years. Interestingly it’s a non-partisan House with only about a third of members affiliated to a party. New Zealand abolished its Upper House in 1950 and is now unicameral. I would get out more often but this is what happens when I do.

Other nuggets I unearthed include:

  • the correct way to eat a tim tam is to bite the ends off and use the remainder as a straw through which to take the beverage of your choice. I was told this by a relatively senior clerk so it must be true
  • we must be at peace and in harmony with snakes, even the ones that might kill you
  • Tasmanians refer to other Australians as “mainlanders”

Overall, I met some great people at ANZPIT and learned a lot in a short space of time. A lot about IT, a lot about Australian and New Zealand Parliaments, and a lot about me. For someone who doesn’t like giving presentations much, I found having everyone’s undivided attention, for the best part of an hour, fabulous!

Read more posts about the technology work we do at PDS

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  1. Comment by Martin Casey posted on

    Very informative and useful write up Caroline, thanks for sharing. But I must correct your Tim Tam information - the correct way to eat it is icy cold from the fridge, nothing compares. What the Clerk described is the optional (and not to everyone's taste) "Tim Tam Slam".

    • Replies to Martin Casey>

      Comment by Caroline Auty posted on

      Well on the basis of this important new evidence I feel obliged to do more research. I’ll report back..

  2. Comment by Stewart posted on

    Excellent, easy to read account of your time in Tasmania. Marie Hunter said you would always return to writing, and here it is, proof that she was right, all those years ago she recognised your communication skills. I like the observation about Mainlanders too. Well done!

  3. Comment by Srephanie posted on

    Interesting overview of what going on elsewhere, and how our challenges compare. Well done

  4. Comment by Paul posted on

    Very informative, thank you for writing about your trip.