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More grip on digitisation

05 October 2020
An international comparison of parliamentary working methods
digitalisation International comparison Parliament

Photo: Shutterstock

Meer grip op digitalisering
At the request of the Temporary Committee on the Digital Future of the Dutch House of Representatives, the Rathenau Instituut has mapped out how parliaments in other countries organise themselves around digitisation. We zoomed in on recent developments in the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Denmark, and Norway.




The Temporary Committee on the Digital Future (Tijdelijke Commissie Digitale Toekomst, TCDT) of the Dutch House of Representatives has asked the Rathenau Instituut to conduct an international comparative study into how other parliaments deal with digitisation issues and what working methods they use. With this study, the TCDT wants to examine how the Dutch House of Representatives can strengthen its knowledge position in the field of digitisation and get a better grip on the desired and undesirable developments associated with digitisation.


The research carried out by the Rathenau Instituut consisted of two phases. In phase I, a quick scan was made of the various working methods used by ten parliaments to address digitisation: Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Finland, France, Norway, United Kingdom, United States and Switzerland. For each working method, we described - mainly on the basis of desk research - the function and positioning of the working method, the approach, and the digitisation issues dealt with.

In phase II, a selection of five countries with working methods that seemed most relevant and promising for the Dutch situation was further investigated. These were Germany (with three different interesting working methods and a parliamentary system somewhat similar to the Dutch one), the United Kingdom (with many different working methods and results that have received international recognition, including on disinformation and AI), the United States (with standing committees that have many and various forms of support), Denmark (with an interesting working method that has a coordinating function for the entire parliament), and Norway (with an interesting accessible method for informing all members of parliament). In phase II, the functioning of the various working methods in practice was also explicitly examined by means of semi-open interviews with parliamentarians and civil servants (including substantive support services.


An important point on which the Dutch House of Representatives differs from most of the other parliaments we have studied is the size of the parliamentary support, which is relatively small. This applies not only to administrative support but also to support at the political parties and groups within parliament.

In the Dutch parliament, administrative support is limited in comparison with the government's civil service, but especially in comparison with other parliaments . Moreover, the Dutch House of Representatives has even fewer members than other parliaments. The motion adopted in September 2019 to substantially increase the subsidy to political parties is an important step forward. However, the level of official support remains the same to date. This is unfortunate, because stronger substantive support for the parliamentary committees, as is now largely provided by the Analysis and Research Department, is indispensable if the House of Representatives is to devote more structural attention to digitisation issues. 

Fortunately, the Netherlands also has a strong and diverse landscape of advisory and research organisations that can support the House of Representatives from outside. Organisations such as the Rathenau Instituut can continue to help the House of Representatives in retrieving information from society when it comes to social changes due to the emergence of new digital technologies. After all, doing research for parliament is not the same as scientific research.

Parliamentary research is more about bringing together and analysing different experiences, interests and opinions in order to bring them into the political debate. The societal perspective is indispensable in this respect and is an important starting point for the House of Representatives as a body representing the people. In this way it can get a better grip on digitisation and, moreover, better determine its own agenda on the subject.


Appendix 1

This document describes all the working methods - per country - on the basis of our four main questions (as explained within the report).

Appendix 1 - Background document phase II (United Kingdom, Germany, United States, Denmark, Norway)

Appendix 2

This document includes the abridged descriptions of the working methods from the phase I countries Finland, France, Belgium, Estonia and Switzerland – which we did not elaborate on in consultation with the TCDT, answering questions 1 and 2 (as explained within the report).

Appendix 2 - Background document phase II - (Belgium, Estonia, Finland, France, Switzerland)