Information vs Engagement in parliamentary websites – a case study of Brazil and the UK

Cristiane Brum Bernardes, Cristina Leston Bandeira

Resumo


Parliamentary websites have become the main window of parliament to the outside world. More than a gimmick, they are an essential element in the promotion of a relationship between parliament and citizens. This paper develops a comparative analysis of the websites of the lower chambers of the Brazilian and the British parliaments, respectively the Chamber of Deputies and the House of Commons. We structure this analysis around three dimensions: 1) information about the institution; 2) information about parliamentary activity; and 3) tools to promote engagement with the public. The choice of two very different case studies enables us to consider more clearly the specific purposes of these parliamentary websites. We consider in particular if these parliaments’ institutional differences affect their websites. The websites’ analysis is complemented by semi-structured elite interviews with parliamentary staff who manage the services provided by these websites. Our analysis shows that both websites achieve much higher levels of complexity in the information area than in engagement. But it also shows that the Brazilian parliament website includes far more tools designed for public interaction than its UK counterpart. The indexes and interviews show that both institutions are highly committed to disseminating data and information to citizens. This is seen as a path towards achieving higher accountability and improving knowledge about parliamentary processes and, consequently, improving public image and levels of trust. Whilst there is a strong focus on the provision of information, there is still little evidence of enabling citizen participation in the legislative process. This is partly due to a tension between conceptions of representative democracy and those of participatory democracy. The articulation between these different types of democracy still has a long way to be resolved, although parliaments are slowly introducing participatory tools.


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Revista de Sociologia e Política. ISSN: 0104-4478 (versão impressa)
1678-9873 (versão online)