The Idea

Co-founder and Ashoka fellow Gregor Hackmack explains Parliamentwatch.

Talking to your Reps in Parliament

Are we witnessing a revolution? Looks like it. The Web has changed a lot. Even the very nature of democracy. Not so long ago the men and women who represented you in parliament would speak to you, and you would listen. The speech was the quintessential form of communication. Now everybody can talk. Not only talk back. Ask questions. Follow up. Present own ideas. Chat. The World Wide Web makes it possible. We are seeing a rapid change from a one way communication to a true exchange. It is, at the same time, a big step from representative democracy to direct democracy. The change is so dramatic that it is no exaggeration to talk about a revolution.

Why is Parliamentwatch so important?

Still today, most democracies in the world have only a few elements of direct participation (if any) and decision-making can be opaque. Often times citizens do not even know his or her deputy sitting in the capital, in one of the regional capitals and/or in Brussels. This is where Parliament Watch comes in.

How does it work?

It is as easy as can be. With Parliament Watch voters, citizens, anybody can talk to their MP’s on line at any time. All they have to do is give their name and their e-mail address. You log on. You give your zip code. The voting precinct is found by the computer. You see a profile of your MP and fire away your question. Moderators make sure that certain rules are observed. They act on a codex of conduct which has rules, which the citizen and the MP have to abide to.

Code of conduct

The question has to be just that, a question, not a statement. It shall contain no insults. Whenever it gives quotes or factual information the sources must be named. There shall be no ridicule of victims of a reign of terror, of racisms, sexism, or political and religious persecution. Questions about the private life are also not allowed. The right to remain silent for professional reasons, i.e. the right of doctors or lawyers not to give information about their clients must be respected. There shall be no mass mails. MP’s must not be swamped with the same question. Only one follow up question. The Reps themselves and their employees must not pose questions to their colleagues.

Transparency is the name of the game

We are witnessing nothing less than the end of back room politics. Access to information is a key element of good governance and a constitutionally-guaranteed right. The Parliamentwatch Network is striving to achieve a more informed civil society through campaigning the respective parliaments for access to critical information, such as which lobbyists receive access passes to parliament or what the exact extra-earnings of parliamentarians are. The most recent TTIP talks have exacerbated the need for a mentality shift in politics towards greater transparency. Citizens have had enough of letting politicians decide over their heads. We want to be informed and we want to be heard.

How are the Parliamentwatch Network members financed?

The aims can only be reached, when the portal operator is itself completely independent. for example is financed by donations of its users. Sponsors are solicited. They donate regularly, at least € 5 per month. So far there more than 1,550 regulars, one hopes and works for more.

In addition, candidates may upgrade their profiles to include certain features. In return for a once-off payment up to € 200, candidates can add a picture, CV, political goals and an election campaign calendar to their profile.

These additional features are optional and there is no requirement whatsoever to avail of them. Basic details such as name, party, constituency, professional qualification and current occupation, as well as the interaction with voters, are available as standard and are completely free of charge. The type of funding mix depends ofcourse from country to country.

How did this all get started?

In 2004, there were two friends, a sociologist with his master’s fresh in his pocket and a computer crack, Gregor Hackmack(l.) and Boris Hekele(r.), who sat in a popular pub in Hamburg. During that time there was a referendum on a new election system. The typical question of the day among the voters in the north German port town was: “How can I vote for a certain person when I don’t even know who they are?” Gregor and Boris were having a beer when the idea for came up. They soon discussed it with all the parties in the Hamburg Bürgerschaft, the state parliament. Now if that German beer known for its purity wasn’t a good catalyst for democratic change.