Legislative survey says: Remote testimony is a winner

May 7, 2014

Washington State University has released the results of the "2013 Washington State Legislative Service Survey and the Washington State Governance Series." Based on the answers of lawmakers, legislative staff and lobbyists, WPC's recommendation for remote testimony options for citizens is a clear winner.

Here is the survey response for lawmakers:

Technology impacts on the legislative process and working relationships
Legislative survey participants, for the most part, are happy with the current level of technology applied to the legislative process, but did tend to feel that there is room for improved technology applications in the areas of improved video conferencing, broadening the diversity of citizen engagement, increasing multiple language communication options, and expanding the use of remote testimony. Legislators also see advances in technology providing ways to improve social engagement with citizens and town hall meetings. Legislators also acknowledged that they are taking advantage of the current televising of the legislative process to communicate to not only those observing the process live, but also to those who access the proceedings either by television or online.

The use of video conference technology as a way for committees to receive public testimony is being proposed. Should video conferencing be used to allow for constituents to provide remote testimony? Yes - 72%

Here is the survey response for legislative staff:

Technology impacts on the legislative process and working relationships
A number of survey participants indicated that increased use of new communications and information technology could improve the legislative process through enhanced constituent interactions via social media, remote testimony provision, and live video conferencing/broadcasting for interim work sessions and hearings. This technology can also be used to improve communication with district constituents by increasing communication options through which constituents can contact their representatives.

What are ways new technology can be used to improve the legislative process? Most frequently mentioned:

  • Improve constituent interactions via more channels of contact

  • Provide for remote testimony in more cases

  • Video conferencing and broadcast of interim committee meetings

  • Increase speed of the overall process in session

  • Improve information storage and access to archival information

Here is the survey response for lobbyists:

Technology impacts on the legislative process and working relationships
Lobbyists tend to believe that increased use of new communication and information technology could improve the legislative process through increased constituent interactions, more provision for remote testimony, and greater use of live video conferencing. This technology can also be used to improve communication with constituents by increasing communication channels and language options. Remote testimony is seen by many lobbyists as a way to broaden the diversity of citizen participation and increase access, but its use also raises concerns related to meeting time management, potentially reduced quality of testimony, and reduced face-to-face contact.

The use of video conference technology as a way for committees to receive public testimony is being proposed. Should video conferencing be used to allow for constituents to provide remote testimony? Yes - 72%

What are the benefits and disadvantages of remote testimony? Benefits: Most frequently mentioned:

  • Reduce travel costs

  • Receive a broader and more global perspective

  • Increased access for those wanting to testify

  • Increased citizen participation

 Disadvantage: Most frequently mentioned:

  • Increased management and technical challenges

  • Increased length of hearings

  • Difficultly of interaction with speakers

  • In person testimony is more effective and productive

What are ways new technology can be used to improve the legislative process? Most frequently mentioned:

  • Remote testimony, video conferencing or webinars

  • Improve legislative website

  • Allow multiple perspectives on issues and increased participation

  • Save time and reduce costs

  • Satisfied with current technology

When presenting last session before the House Open Government Caucus on ways the Legislature could accommodate remote testimony and improve its public notice process I addressed some of the concerns expressed above.

For discussion purposes, a remote signup sheet could be used with citizens placed in a queue managed by committee staff. Signup for remote testimony could be required the day before the hearing (assuming proper notice of the meeting was given) so a Chair would know the universe and location of potential remote testimony before the hearing starts.

Testimony could then be taken first for those in Olympia with time reserved for those participating remotely. Chair could determine how much remote testimony to take per bill. As is the case with those attending in person, being in the remote testimony queue would not be a guarantee of being able to testify – time dependent.

Based on the 72% support expressed in these surveys for remote testimony, we may be a step closer to seeing this become a reality during the 2015 Legislative Session.