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66th IFLA Council and General

Jerusalem, Israel, 13-18 August


Code Number: 073-98(WS)-E
Division Number: I
Professional Group: Library and Research Services for Parliaments: Research Seminar
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 98
Simultaneous Interpretation: No

Implications of new public management theory in the research services

Aare Kasemets
Economic and Social Information Department of the Riigikogu Chancellery
Tallinn, Estonia


1. Introduction

In general, the main functions of the democratic parliament and government are similar in different countries, and in this context the existential question of small parliamentary information and research services like in Estonia have been and will be - How to provide the parliament with all necessary research services having only limited human and financial resources at one's disposal? I am convinced, that we can find many practical answers from the New Public Management (NPM). Theory on the institutional design of the parliamentary research services. In this discussion paper I would like to describe some practical outputs based on the Estonian experience. Proceeding from the title of this panel, Issues for Smaller Legislative Research Services, I will give a short overview of the context and roles of the parliamentary research services of the Riigikogu (see points 1 to 2), and, after that, I will focus on some practical questions relating to the Riigikogu research services (see point 3 to 5) e.g.: What formal or informal regulations guide the Riigikogu research services? What influence does the smallness of the research services have on the experts' initiative and on the quality of services? How to manage the advantages and disadvantages and how to compensate for the limited resources with the help of NPM?

According to the OECD report (1997c) 'a new paradigm for public management has emerged, aiming at fostering a performance-oriented culture in a less centralised public sector'. In short, this new paradigm is characterised by following nine main trends: 1) devolving authority, providing flexibility; 2) ensuring performance, control, accountability; 3) developing competition and choice, market-type mechanisms; 4) providing responsive services, client orientation; 5) improving the management of human resources; 6) optimising information technology; 7) improving the quality of regulation; 8) strengthening the steering functions at the centre; 9) private sector style management.

Countries of different political, socio-economic and cultural formations have created parliamentary services of different functions and sizes. Estonia restarted the building of its institutions of state, market economy and civil society after the restoration of independence in 1991 and the research services of the Riigikogu have developed together with the parliament. The experience of the Riigikogu research services could be of interest to other countries mainly because we have tried to put some elements of the new public management theories into practice and also to learn from the parliamentary practices of other countries. We have succeeded in many areas, because in years 1992-2000 the Riigikogu has needed enormous amounts of new information and has been quite open to changes and adjustments. To a great extent, the present discussion paper is based on my earlier papers:

  • "Advantages and Disadvantages of Small Parliamentary Information & Research Services". Presentation at IFLA parliamentary research services opening seminar on 16 August 1998 in Amsterdam (see also http://archive.ifla.org/VII/s3/conf/3kase-e.htm)

  • "The Roles of Small Parliamentary Information & Research Services in the Political and Social Interaction" - in Society, Parliament and Legislation, compiled by Kasemets.A., Hammer K. etc, Chancellery of the Riigikogu, Tallinn 1999, (see also http://www.riigikogu.ee/osakonnad/msi/4001.html ).

  • "Formal and Informal Basis of the Parliamentary Research Services: the Estonian Experience" - Discussion paper presented in ECPRD seminar on The Independence of the Parliamentary Research, 25-26 May 2000 in Kiev (see also http://www.riigikogu.ee/osakonnad/msi/tell44.html )

In the analysis of materials on various parliamentary research services, our goal has been to find out and incorporate appropriate elements into our relatively miniature system. I hope that my revised new mix (so natural in the New Media Age, see Katsh 1989) on the applied practices based on social sciences will be interesting to the colleagues working in/for the parliamentary networks.

2. Functions and context of the parliamentary research services

    2.1. The supporting role of the research services

As we know, the parliamentary information environment cannot be homogeneous in pluralistic democracy. In the political decision-making we can see a lot of different actors such as political parties, government, universities, international organisations, mass media, lobby groups, NGO-s etc. On the other hand, we know that there is an information overload in the parliaments, the competition between political parties and programs - legislation is a very complex process, MPs usually have no time, etc. In view of the above-mentioned list of actors and factors, the main role of the research services is to assist MPs in improving the quality of the parliamentary work related to:

  1. legislation and prognosis of regulatory impact;

  2. control of executive power, including the control of its administrative capacity;

  3. political dialogue and recommendations to the government;

  4. informing the general public (electorate) and promoting the public dialogue, and

  5. representing the parliamentary units at national and international levels.

In the times of rapid social changes and in the conditions of an active interaction between different actors, in which there is a great need for complex regulation, MPs need specialists in particular fields who are familiar with the parliament-specific information needs. Also, the parliamentary research services contribute to the promotion of the constitutional principle of separation of powers, reducing the dependence of the MPs on the governmental and other information sources. My colleagues and I believe that separation of powers is one keyword for parliamentary democracy and that the research services of parliament are an irreplaceable element in this system. Estonian parliamentary research services try to serve the public in non-partisan manner, indirectly via MPs and/or directly via the Internet homepage, publications, seminars etc. I would like to emphasise that both formal and informal regulations direct the advisers of the research services to proceed from the public interest. This orientation proceeds, partly, from the constitutional functions of the parliament as the representative body of citizens.

The analyses of the parliamentary research services serve as recommendations to the government, because the general objective of the research services is to correct and improve the solutions offered by the government agencies. This is related to the role of the parliament in society (Robinson 1998). The Riigikogu research services identify possible sources of the information needed for the parliamentary work, in order to be able to get the information immediately when it will be needed. To some extent, it is quite an art to bring the right information in the right place at the right time to the attention of an MP so that it would help him/her, as well as the entire society. In order to reply to the various requests of the MPs, the parliamentary research services have, quite often, to customise their analyses, proceeding from the concrete needs for information. The limited resources (time, staff etc) and parliament-specific information needs often place the employees of research departments in the position of mediators, interpreters and translators of the results obtained by scientists. This position between the academic people and the lawmakers calls for respective training (Robinson, Hyde 1998; Kasemets 1999).

In Estonia, depending on who has initiated the bill (the government, an MP, a parliamentary committee or a faction), it has to pass through 6 to 12 screenings designed to pinpoint the possible flaws and to improve its quality. Although the primary responsibility for law-drafting and the analysis of the regulatory impact of draft laws rests with the government, parliamentary advisers must be sufficiently qualified to meet the demands of any highly specific analyses when the need arises. In this interaction and co-operation, the parliamentary research services act often as a catalyst, because the primary public responsibility for the effectiveness of the legal system in society rests with the citizens' parliament.

    2.2. Allocation of tasks between information and research services of the Riigikogu
Legislation requires interdisciplinary knowledge, but as the number of advisers actively engaged in legal and socio-economic research is comparatively small, co-operation between legislation-related services is essential. The tasks of the main Riigikogu services are allocated as follows:

The Legal Department (established in 1992, 8 people) focuses on the juridical analysis of legal acts-from revising draft legislation with respect to its conformity to other legal acts (the Constitution, international conventions, directives, other laws) to the analysis and supervision of the rules, agreements, etc. relating to the Riigikogu and its Chancellery;

The Department of Economic and Social Information, DESI, (est. in 1995, 8 people) deals mostly with the collection, processing and analysis of the legislation-related economic, financial, social and public administration information. In addition, DESI co-operates with universities in the field of socio-legal research, compiles information requests to external information sources, organises seminars and, in co-operation with MPs and officials, prepares ordering of sociological etc. surveys. DESI is also responsible for carrying out comparative studies in the ECPRD and IFLA networks (see Appendix 2).

In addition to these bodies, the National Library and its Centre of Information Services for MPs (est. in 1993, about 40 employees) provide traditional library services both to the Riigikogu and Government. The Centre compiles analytical databases on politics, economy and law, it also registers the official publications of Estonia, compiles the bibliography of legal literature and annual reports on the activity of the Riigikogu. A contribution to the analytical capacity of the Riigikogu support system is made also by the committee advisers and some other departments. Considering the size of Estonia, limited resources and the development trends of the law-drafting practices and IT-systems, the organisational model of the Riigikogu services is quite optimal. However, this model is still in the process of implementation, and both formal and informal regulations play an important role here.

3. Formal and informal bases of research services of the Riigikogu: What have we to do? What can we do? and What could we do in addition?

As the Legal Department focuses in its analytical work mainly on revising draft legislation with respect to its conformity to the Constitution and other legal acts, I will describe the activities planned and carried out by DESI. Although the boundaries between formal and informal regulators cannot be defined clearly, and options depend, to a great extent, on the concrete situation, we, when speaking of the degree of independence of the research services and experts, can broadly distinguish the following three spheres of functions, corresponding to the following three questions:
  1. Answers to the first question: What have we to do?
    1. According to the Standing Rules of the DESI, we have to provide socio-economic analyses, to reply to information requests from standing committees, political factions, MPs or other departments.

    2. DESI is responsible for ordering social research (sociology, demography, economy);

    3. DESI is responsible for developing co-operation with universities;

    4. DESI has to analyse the new challenges to the Riigikogu support system in the international comparison and to find out appropriate solutions. To sum up, the parliamentary research services have to serve as an internal think-tank, if needed.

    5. DESI makes the requested fact sheets, analyses, opinions etc. open to the public via the Riigikogu Intranet or Internet homepages without reference to the requesters;

    6. Once a year or even more often we report to the Secretary General. Usually, the annual report includes statistics, reports of achievements, problems, solutions, plans for future, the budget etc.

    Some notes to the points listed above: Several tasks mentioned above can be classified as answers to the question "What can we do?" because these tasks have been included in the Standing Rules of DESI and job descriptions, approved by the Secretary General, on my own proposal. However, in this way the proposed works we could do have become our duties we have to do.

  2. What can we do?
    1. DESI can provide, on its own initiative, additional information and short studies to the parliamentary committees or delegations of the Riigikogu related to legislation, conferences etc.

    2. If the head or advisers of the department find it necessary, DESI can propose the committees to order legislation-related additional analysis or expertise outside the Riigikogu.

    3. DESI can initiate joint research projects with universities and research institutes.

    4. We launched a new journal of the Parliament of Estonia. It provides a forum for politicians, academic people, public servants and also for various NGOs (http://www.riigikogu.ee/rva/toimetised ).

    5. DESI can develop co-operation with other research units in other parliaments: ECPRD and IFLA.

    6. DESI is also quite free in acquiring refresher courses and in participating in seminars relating to the tasks and priorities of DESI. Also, DESI has a special budgetary line: costs of organising seminars.

  3. What could we do in addition? What activities should we develop for building up a better environment of our services?
    1. Proposing research topics that are essential in terms of the constitutional tasks of the Riigikogu to higher education establishments of Estonia (see http://www.riigikogu.ee/osakonnad/msi/ch_coop ).

    2. DESI is discussing and developing the standards of law-making related to methods of regulatory impact assessment and conducting special studies on explanatory notes of draft laws.

    3. As parliamentary research services like DESI are included in domestic and foreign e-mailing lists, they inform the professional audience of various levels of new draft laws, socio-legal studies etc.

    4. DESI wants to use more widely the various background information, provided by professional associations, NGO-s etc., who are interested in influencing the law-making process (Appendix 2).

    5. DESI supports, on the level of governmental or voluntary organisations, the creation of draft laws, concepts, programmes etc. related to the parliamentary work and public interests.

    6. DESI has the right to inform the mass media and investigative journalism on the basis of its studies, databases and seminars. These contacts also help to advertise the Riigikogu homepage in Internet.

4. Advantages and disadvantages of smaller parliamentary research services

Our comparatively small research service has its advantages and disadvantages.

The advantages are its economic efficiency, instant and direct contact with clients, effective use of information sources outside the parliament, and the ability to adjust the working priorities to the demands of the current legislation. In addition, the co-operation with other information and research units of the government, universities, local governments, NGO-s and colleagues in other parliamentary research services is indispensable; all advisers have the professional right and responsibility to make proposals to parliamentary committees, if their analysis is transparent and correct; and finally, small organisations are able to adapt to new concepts, organisational reforms etc. more quickly.

The disadvantages include the limited extent and volume of the services we are able to offer, the fact that the advisers cannot specialise in narrow fields because they have to orient themselves efficiently to different topics. In addition, the responsibility of all advisers is great, but sometimes we have a lack of time for an in-depth analysis and reports. This is also the reason for the emphasis on satisfying the requests of MPs and committees, rather than on the adviser's own initiative of compiling proposals and publications although this right is granted to researchers by the Standing Rules of DESI.

In my opinion, many disadvantages and problems of smaller parliamentary research services are related to the developmental questions of public policy think-tanks, public services and pre-legislative analytical capacity on the ministerial level etc. In other words - the problems and solutions of good law drafting lie often outside the parliament e.g.: if the needed electronic databases are not accessible or if some research topics related to the parliamentary work and legislation are not covered by universities' academic studies, then advisers must spend their time on educating themselves on the topic and writing the report corresponding to the requests of the committee, faction or MPs. And, if the law drafting standards and traditions are not sufficiently developed, the parliamentary research services have to spend a lot of time on additional adjustment of the information and analysis.

If we observe the primary functions of the research services, we can see what advantages or disadvantages may became apparent and important in various situations, and, what additional activities or pre-conditions we must develop. For better fulfilling the principal tasks of DESI, I have identified 9-12 functions we should develop further (see Appendix 2; Kasemets 1999).

5. Some shortcuts based on the New Public Management (NPM) Theory & Practices

    5.1. A small research unit depends on teamwork, but the professional responsibility of every adviser is very important - advisers must be able to work independently.

The principles of civil service, equal treatment of various clients (political parties, citizens), academic methods of research and professional ethics are essential in this context. Both the result-oriented and the network-type management need sufficiently qualified, motivated, networked and to some extent independent experts (Kaboolian 1998). Of course, the positional and professional rights of civil servants have to be balanced by the responsibilities, defined in job descriptions, and by basically informal professional ethics. Being one of the many possible information sources for the parliament on the information market, it is important to win the clients' trust by providing them with operative, precise and competent information.

    5.2. Political support is essential.

The political support for research services is very important because the parliament is a political round table of different parties, ideologies and programmes. The civil servants of the Riigikogu try to promote understanding and co-operation between legislators and their services in everyday work. In this context the communication planning and timing of research services is crucial for any "marketing activity". In general, the shared values and public good as a result of proposals would be in "common interests" of MP's , research services and the majority of the civil society (see also Wart 1998). Instructing and informing of MPs and their political advisers on the research service products, as well as on how to make a better use of the computer network at their disposal for finding important information and using databases is very important. The electronic databases are accessible world-wide and 24 hours a day. In this interaction of politicians and civil servants the roles and division of work are becoming more and more clearly defined.

    5.3. Involvement of employees and users of services in the development of research organisation.

Surveys on the users' and clients' needs, expectations and opinions are a routine procedure of modern information-intensive organisations. In 1995 and 1998, the Riigikogu Chancellery polled the MPs and the officials of the Riigikogu with the help of an independent research company, Saar Poll, asking for their opinion of the information and research services (ca 430 questions). The next Consumer's Opinion Survey will be in 2001. Usually we interpret the results as demand of our clients, and research services have to ensure the corresponding supply. In the parliamentary context, it is also important to analyse the dependence of departments on internal and external possibilities and constraints. Another example - in 1996 we formulated a short questionnaire for MP's and parliamentary senior officials, by which we wanted to collect ideas and proposals to be used in our cooperation with academic researchers in Estonian universities. Responding to the questionnaire (about 35 % of the MP's sent their answers), the Riigikogu approved of the further cooperation with universities - responding to the questionnaire was like voting (see http://www.riigikogu.ee/osakonnad/msi/ch_coop.html ).

    5.4. Different approaches towards direct participation and individual responsibility: a mix of principles from private sector and public sector styles of management.

  1. Initiative and responsibility of civil servants. New management models in information-intensive civil services, including the mix of result-oriented and network-type management, are one basic argument for increasing the independence of parliamentary research services and their analysts. For example, all advisers of DESI have the professional right and responsibility to make proposals to parliamentary committees, provided that their analysis is transparent and correct.

  2. "Automation" of technical routines, like registration and documentation procedures, in order to guarantee accountability and transparency of research services (incl. statistics, full-text databases etc) and thus saving the time for intellectual work. Further, the accountability based on the documentation of work is related to analysis of the achievements and problems, annual reports and planning of training.

  3. Participatory democracy inside the parliamentary research services, in order to use the "power of employees" by their ideas, pieces of advice, proposals etc based on the analysis before making important decisions. In my department, I try to use the principle of "the most powerful argument" borrowed partly from Jürgen Habermas' theory on Communicative Action & Ethics (1984). In general, the "democracy is taken as a social and cultural aim which has to be achieved in society as well in the workplace". The categories like power, influence, autonomy, individual freedom, self-determination etc. (Fröhlich 1996) are also included into formal/legal or informal requirements of DESI (Appendix 1).

  4. Communication as a consultative participation. Communication is a two-way process, where all actors have the chance to submit information, to voice own ideas and to receive feedback. NPM theory, incl. 'direct participation', is about "new organisational climate, about the re-discovery of the human factor and 'open management styles' . One important and inexpensive tool in the concept of human resource management is motivation by participation. Also, new technology needs new managerial tools and communicative planning. The aim is not only to increase productivity of work and to save the time, but also to enhance planning flexibility and predictability (Fröhlich 1996).

  5. The concepts of "group technology" and teamwork in information-intensive organisations. Teamwork is a flexible tool for changing parliamentary situations (=information markets). In the parliamentary support system it is very important to develop co-operation between library and research services (see Robinson, Scheeder 1998). Despite the fact, that the Riigikogu and National Library are separate organisations with separate budget, we have many successful results achieved in teamwork.

    5.5. Social studies as a bridge between the society and the state - any social system needs the feedback.

Most authors in the field of sociology of law hold the opinion that the basic source of development of law and legal institutions is society, not the state, court system, etc. The results of sociological research, their interpretation and presentation are the subject of political, academic and social discussion (Cotterrell 1995; Käärik 2000). In other words, to study laws and law-making means to study power and democracy. In order to build a bridge between the institutions of public policy and civil society, the Riigikogu Chancellery orders sociological research surveys (in 1996-2000, 17 studies). The results of the surveys are available via Internet and they have promoted political and civic dialogue.

    5.6. Quality of the legislation-related research and the new public management (NPM) theory.
What does NPM mean for parliamentary research? Based on the joint OECD and EC reports, the answer about their current ideology regarding regulatory reform would be as follows:
  1. ) If we decide to regulate, then under the principle of "less action, but better action";

  2. The long-term goal of the reform of the regulation system is to turn the governance culture of the state from the direction of regulations-prohibitions-control of an administrative state towards the direction of client service that characterises the civil society. This is directly related to the present-day guidelines of public service and will increase the public confidence in the actions of institutions of power. "In the long-term, the goal is to move governments from the culture of control to the culture of client service.". The parliamentary research services have to be ready to analyse how the goals of regulations mentioned above are achieved in the (con)text of the draft laws and its explanatory notes proposed for the parliamentary proceeding. In this context the law drafting standards, procedures and good practices related to regulatory impact assessment are important for informing both the legislators and the public. In order to get a general overview of the draft law preparation, we have started together with universities, the analysis of law-making process (including the use of socio-economic studies) and the content analysis of draft law explanatory notes. Basic arguments: if a thorough analysis has been carried out on the situation of the area to be regulated and on the possible impact of the regulation, less problems will appear with the implementation and administration of national laws and international conventions. There are many interdependent reasons for regulatory impact analysis (OECD 1997a+b; Kellermann 1998; Ben-Gera 1999; Kasemets 2000).

    5.7. Rational Choice Theory and parliamentary public services.

Some researchers are looking at institutional design of public services from the perspective of rational choice theory, which is social science by economic means - it is very influential among policy theorists and policy-makers (Pettit 1996). In the context of parliamentary research services we have some limitations of economic means based on the nature of parliamentary functions (see point 2.1.) - the parliamentary research services have to be ready to analyse the draft laws on the basis of public interests choices. As we know from the new institutionalism approaches in political science, "the name of the game is to find equilibrium" between different political, economic and social interests (Goodin 1996).

    5.8. International co-operation.

In the context of globalisation of political, economic and socio-cultural issues, the need of parliaments in international comparative studies and statistics is increasing. In about 1/3 of the information requests submitted to the DESI comparative data on European and other countries are asked. For that reason, we are interested in co-operation with other research services with whom we are facing similar challenges. The information provided by the colleagues in other countries has enabled us to give more exhaustive and in-depth answers to the MP-s and has most likely had a positive impact on the quality of the Estonian legislation. I hope that this co-operation will develop further. In other words, we need the international network and common databases like oxygen.

    5.9. Research services and NGO-s.

NGOs play an important role in civil society. They are its legislative assistants, innovators, cost-cutters and watchdogs and legal and economic regulation (e.g. tax laws) would support these, mostly voluntary initiatives, related to the public interest. If access to official parliamentary information is guaranteed, NGOs and interest groups will also be able to discover possible risks posed by the implementation of different draft laws, and propose their alternatives for regulatory improvement. In a way, NGOs' legislation-related contribution is inexpensive research for the parliament, government and civil society. The contribution of NGOs is also important in developing social responsibility and social control mechanisms. A number of socio-legal studies have examined the rationality of so-called open-ended laws to find the empirical evidence concerning the problematic relationship between the law, participation, social co-operation and procedural or communicative rationality, incl. communicative ethics (Carlsson 1995). Sometimes, the Riigikogu research services see their role as mediators between the NGOs and MPs. (see Appendix 2)

    5.10. Civil servants and media: research services as PR-agents.

Maybe for some old democracies it is surprising that the civil servants who are employed at the Riigikogu Chancellery are not prohibited to publish informative articles in the press on the condition that their text focuses on the current main issue and does not involve any issues regarding the competition of the political parties. The connection of the Intranet to the Internet gives the civil servants additional opportunity to serve the public (to be in public service in the newly widened meaning of the word). I think that the participation of the public service experts in the media is good, especially for a small society such as Estonia.

Of course, the first and most serious reason for building of parliament's public relation strategy with the help of research services is the declining confidence in political institutions, including legislatures. On the other hand, the press and the electronic media make a substantial contribution to making the political decision-making process more transparent as well as simplifying the legislative information for the ordinary citizen. Also, the nature of the new media influences the process of change and therefore also the legislation, jurisdiction and execution of laws (New Media Age, see Katsh 1989).
According to many sociologists of law, the legislation and laws are a special product and legislator has to develop its organisation of "public relations" and "law consumption" in the market/society. To sum up - if the advisers of research services act on the basis of professional ethics and do not interfere with the competition between political parties, then the articles and interviews done by them are welcome as a part of parliamentary image-building. (See also new parliamentary journal http://www.riigikogu.ee/rva/toimetised )

The long version of this text on Implications of New Public Management Theory in the Research Services of Estonian Parliament is with references available via Internet: http://www.riigikogu.ee/osakonnad/msi/tell51.html

This paper was done in a personal capacity by the author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Riigikogu Chancellery.


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