The Future of Work, Digitisation for Legislatures

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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Ensuring democratic principles are upheld during crisis is vital and the tech sector has a role to play.

The global pandemic brought in-person meetings to a screeching halt. Businesses, schools and healthcare organisations were forced to quickly adapt to a digital reality. But what about the legislative bodies that play a vital role in leading our communities through this unprecedented challenge?

Almost overnight, parliaments were in search of ways to continue meeting, debating, legislating and voting.

Many were constitutionally bound to meet in person but no longer could.

And some of the quick solutions like voting by email and online meetings that rely on the right parties remembering to mute themselves, just aren’t meeting the moment – not for the legislative bodies tasked with leading us through this pandemic.

Across Europe and across the world, local, national and European lawmakers faced an unprecedented challenge.

As with so many other lessons of this remarkable year, it would take an innovative solution and a reliance on secure, collaboration technology.

At Cisco, we recognised that democracy could not pause for even one moment. Last spring, we quickly began working with lawmakers, their staffs and IT personnel to understand their unique needs.  We brought in a European partner, Irish firm Davra to help us build something truly innovative. And, together, we developed a cloud-based, first-in-the-industry collaboration solution —Webex Legislate.

Built with Webex’s industry-leading security and privacy, Webex Legislate meets the highly specialised requirements of European legislatures and allows lawmakers to work in a virtual environment that recreates the formal proceedings of the chamber, interchanges in committee meetings, and impromptu conversations between colleagues.  We’ve built customized voting features that allow legislative bodies to debate and vote with specialized options and real-time tallies.

Legislative bodies can customize Webex Legislate to facilitate virtual sessions that abide by their unique rules, procedures and roles. That means appropriate permissions, timers and detailed mute controls are given to committee chairs, speakers, legislators, staff and viewing participants like citizens and the press.

Simultaneous interpretation makes it easy for legislative sessions to be conducted in multiple languages and the Webex Legislate interface is already available in 16 languages.

Most importantly, security was built into Webex Legislate from the onset. For Cisco, as the largest security company in the world, security is foundational to everything we do, and it’s never a tradeoff for expediency.

Throughout the pandemic, parliaments have turned to our traditional Webex platform. For example, the Hauts-de-France Regional Council—one of 13 French regional parliaments—used Webex to hold virtual plenary sessions, just one example of legislative across Europe successfully adopted Cisco collaboration software that many of us use every day to work from home. It was through this use of Webex that Cisco’s government affairs and collaboration teams joined with Country Digital Acceleration (CDA) team to develop Webex Legislate, the only solution in the market built entirely for the special needs of lawmakers that will allow multinational bodies, legislatures, parliaments, councils, and others to embrace the future of work.

Technology has been key to keeping essential functions of civic life and democracy moving during global crises. COVID-19 has accelerated this transformation in our society, in commerce and also in governments.

As citizens, we must be able to trust that policymakers have the necessary tools to lead us through our public health and economic recovery. The ability of Europe to build a strong recovery, one focusing on digitisation and sustainability, relies on their ability to carry out their legislative functions properly.

In very little time, the digital sector has managed to support and reinforce our society’s resilience by rolling out existing technologies, but also by innovating and adapting to new, specific needs across the board. As an industry, it is our responsibility to always ensure people remain connected.

Let the one silver lining of this year be the embrace of technology that helps create a more inclusive future, bridges the digital divide and allows essential workers like legislatures to leap into the future with the tools they need to govern securely, safely and productively.



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