Parliaments play a crucial role in scrutinising the work of government and debating and passing laws. They also act as an important forum for public debate. Members of parliament (MPs) are increasingly required to handle issues of a highly technical nature and to keep track of modern developments in science and technology (S&T) to fulfil this role.
From 2008 to 2012, UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), ran a capacity building programme in the Parliament of Uganda with support from the Gatsby charitable foundation. The project aimed to help the Ugandan parliament find ways of improving its scrutiny of science & technology issues and to build up a body of knowledge which would guide other work in this area.
The project focused on the following areas:
- Conducting detailed research to understand what challenges the Parliament of Uganda faces when dealing with science and technology.
- Training parliamentary staff, to build their skills in providing reliable information on science and technology to their MPs.
- Building MPs' interest in science and technology, and strengthening their links with Ugandan scientists
INASP worked in close collaboration with POST and the Ugandan National Academy of Sciences to build capacity of parliamentary staff.
- A series of training workshops (in collaboration with other NGOs and civil society organisations) for parliamentary staff and MPs. Because of the high turnover of MPs in Ugandan elections, particular emphasis was placed on how to sustain the skills and knowledge within the parliament. Training covered areas such as how to find information on the internet, how to summarise information, and how to communicate information to policymakers. The training also tried to build awareness of the nature of the scientific process.
- An MP-scientist pairing scheme, designed to build links between parliament and Uganda’s scientific community. In the second round, in 2010, a particular effort was made to involve staff as well as MPs.
- Remote mentoring: POST trialled a scheme whereby parliamentary researchers were linked up with international experts drawn from research and policy, who mentored them through the production of a policy briefing aimed at Ugandan MPs. The scheme sought to build links with the research community, and deliver training to staff, without taking them away from the workplace.
Staff at the Parliament of Uganda pointed to an improvement in their ability to access to information on science and technology online and in accessing research information more generally.
According to one librarian, access to research information improved as a result of the partnership with INASP and connection with another of INASP’s PERI programme.
Well it has improved a lot, because we got in contact with [the INASP PERi programme] as a result of the POST programme... So that’s how we happened to get access to databases and journals, which we now subscribe to, and it has improved a lot, the access is very good.
The ability of Ugandan parliamentary staff to support MPs on issues related to S&T improved over the course of the programme:
Science was always thought of as something very technical and complicated ... but [POST’s] training was able to show that it can be … communicated easily and simply … in simpler terms for people, for all people to understand.
The S&T Committee is more active than before the programme started, and has a higher profile. Parliament is more open to discussing S&T and levels of interest in S&T have increased.
Engagements like ones with POST helped them appreciate that science is important and that there is need for something to be done at a policy level to address these.
An evaluation of the programme is available on the POST website