by Sonja Friesl
In the paper Why some train and some don't: An international comparison of MPs' attitudes towards parliamentary training presented at the International Conference: Effective capacity building programmes for parliamentarians in Bern Switzerland, in October 2011, Katrin Steinack examines the factors that influence MPs' attitudes toward training developed for parliamentarians.
In more developed countries, training for parliamentarians is provided by parliament administration and parliamentary parties.* In emerging democracies, training is most often provided by government agencies and development organizations. Other countries provide the opportunity for MPs to acquire degrees, or enrol in university courses.
A difference along gender lines emerged as well. Men were less likely than women to endorse mandatory training.
The findings also revealed that MPs from well-established democracies and those who already have had long careers in parliament did not see the benefits of compulsory training while MPs new to parliament and MPs in emerging democracies were most likely to support mandatory professional development.
MPs who did not believe that training sessions should be compulsory provided various arguments: it might homogenize parliament by streamlining performance, parliamentarians are unlike any other professional group and cannot be trained systematically, training unwilling parliamentarians is ineffective, and benefits to training for a multifaceted job are limited.
MPs in the developed world perceived personal benefits from training whereas MPs in the developing world perceived benefits to the electorate as a result of training.
MPs from developing countries expressed the importance of training received while in parliament to their careers outside of parliament. Many saw their positions in parliament as temporary and hoped to attain higher positions, preferably in government, after their term ended. Training and the acquisition of university degrees enables career building. However, some MPs from developed countries, where parliamentarians often come into office already having formal degrees, believe that continuing education for parliamentarians is still necessary.
Overall, the majority of MPs believed that training over the long term could enhance skills, though many took issue with current delivery methods. Improvements that could be made were identified and included: role-play, interactive discussions, networking, electronic media, and one-on-one training. With regard to content, it should include ways in which to effectively scrutinize government, budget management, strategic implementation of policy, and, in emerging democracies, IT, media, and language skills. A role for party-specific training was also identified.
Steinack concludes that although it seems that there is a divide among MPs along developmental lines, in fact promoters and opponents are found in both groups with those who have actually completed training in favour of it.
*Samara's MP Exit Interview series revealed that Canadian parliamentarians receive little by way of pre-job training or orientation.To find out what some former MPs said about their experiences starting out on the Hill, read Chapter 1 in our second MP interview report "Welcome To Parliament: A Job With No Description."
Now that we have an idea of various parliamentarians' views towards training, what do you think? Would orientation and professional development programs for Canadian MPs make for more effective leadership and representation?
Sonja Friesl is a Samara volunteer and Policy Analyst at the Ministry of Community and Social Services (MCSS).