Apia, Samoa – In a first for the region, representatives of 11 Pacific parliaments responsible for citizen engagement, education and outreach gathered in Samoa for a workshop aimed at enhancing their public engagement so that citizens can better interact with their parliaments.
Given the challenge of low levels of regular and sustained citizen engagement in respective parliaments and in recognition of the need to also build the capacity of public outreach teams to be effective in their role, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Pacific Office convened a Regional Parliamentary Outreach and Citizen Engagement Workshop to allow parliamentary staff to interact in a peer to peer workshop where they learn from one another.
Some of the areas covered in the workshop include: increasing citizen knowledge about participating in parliamentary democracy, demystifying parliament and making it interactive, creating an interest in parliament for children and youth, unlocking the potential of social media to promote outreach, opportunities for public participation (role of committees in engagement), digital and media engagement / tools.
In addition, and as one of the outcomes of the workshop, participants have endorsed a community of practice which will allow continued interaction and learning.
Participants represented the parliaments of Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu.
The three-day workshop was coordinated by the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji in partnership with the Legislative Assembly of Samoa while the facilitators for the training were provided by the Parliament of Victoria and the New Zealand Parliament.
In his opening address, the Deputy Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Samoa, Honourable Nafoitoa Tala'imanu Keti highlighted that the regional forum was an excellent platform for colleagues working in outreach, education and public engagement to share best practice that will help them in their respective roles.
“This regional training is a unique opportunity to extend your network, build relationships and enhance your knowledge on key issues around media, citizen engagement, public outreach, as well as an opportunity to meet peers and friends from across the Pacific”, said Hon. Keti.
“Effective communications contribute to avoiding disconnect between voters and the legislature.”
He added, “Such activities are crucial for citizens to better understand the mandate of the parliament and what it is capable and incapable of accomplishing. However, a parliament, its committees and MPs must also be in constant dialogue with their citizens to ensure their work reflects the needs and concerns of the people for whom they work for.”
In the Pacific context, only a handful of Pacific parliaments have public engagement and/or public outreach units, and these include Fiji, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Samoa.
The New Zealand High Commissioner to Samoa, Dr Trevor Matheson highlighted to participants that as a collective, they can strengthen Pacific outreach and media networks to make parliaments more accessible to the people.
“One of the key pillars of New Zealand’s Pacific Reset is enhancing collaboration and partnership between Pacific countries, and between the people and agencies of those countries. I am pleased to see that we can, through fora such as this, work closely together on issues that matter to deliver the best outcomes for all,” said Dr Matheson.
“Parliamentary outreach and increasing citizen engagement are gaining increased momentum, particularly with the impacts of technology and the wave of interested and passionate voices on issues including human rights, and the inclusion of women and youth in all aspects of society.”
The global concept of ‘outreach’ is now recognized as key to effective citizen engagement, whereby citizens are actively engaged where they are, including in remote and isolated areas, on their terms and of course on issues which are of concern to them, and in a language that makes sense to them.
The Resident Representative for UNDP Samoa, Jorn Sorensen stressed the importance of active citizen engagement to building strong democracies. He also highlighted the need to support staff capacity building opportunities, including in the area of public engagement.
“Making Parliaments more open and accessible to citizens is a generally accepted principle, supported by international initiatives such as the open parliaments, open government partnership, open data, and transparency movements,” said Sorensen.
He added, “The number and capacity of Parliamentary staff are critical to the institution’s effectiveness. A key focus of the UNDP Pacific Office’s Parliamentary Development team is to support capacity building opportunities for staff so that you can effectively carry out your roles.”
The workshop was made possible through the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji funding through three of its parliamentary development projects under the Effective Governance programme namely, the Strengthening Legislatures in the Pacific Island Countries Project (SLIP) Project funded by the Government of Japan, the Pacific Parliamentary Effectiveness Initiative (PPEI) II, funded by the Government of New Zealand and the Fiji Parliament Support Project (FPSP) II jointly funded by the Governments of Japan, New Zealand and Australia.
For more information:
Jone Tuiipelehaki Raqauqau, Effective Governance – Communications Associate, UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji. E: firstname.lastname@example.org, tel: 3227 552