With most parliaments around the world unable to receive visitors on their premises, parliamentary educational activities and school programmes have also been suspended. Recognising the importance of continued engagement with its citizens and particularly young people, the Parliament of the Czech Republic has launched a new website and YouTube channel that aim to bring parliament closer to people. In this second instalment of our Parliamentary Innovations Series, we sit down with the parliamentary staff in charge of the new website, Petr Valenta (Head of the Department of Communication and Education, Parliamentary Institute) and Miroslav Kupka (Consultant, Department of Communication and Education, Parliamentary Institute), to see how the project is coming to life.
The Czech Parliament has continued to operate throughout the crisis, mainly tackling emergency legislation and meeting on site, with social distancing and prevention guidelines in place. Sessions are broadcast on the parliamentary TV channel, and the majority of parliamentary staff works remotely.
The coronavirus pandemic has left nothing unchanged, and parliaments are no exception.
For parliaments around the world, fulfilling core functions has become a daunting process in practical terms, but these core functions remain critical to democratic governance. Parliaments with limited online educational and learning resources are finding it harder to fulfil their representational mandate, while those able to adopt innovative approaches are paving the way for prompt and simple solutions with immediate impact.
With the Czech Parliament closed to external visitors since early March, all in-person educational activities, including group visits and seminars have been suspended. As a result, the Parliament’s Department of Communication and Education, which operates the Information Center of the Chamber of Deputies, together with the General Analyses Department, realised they would not be able to engage with schools and carry out typical educational programmes. It became clear early on that the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic are bound to persist beyond short-term lockdown measures, with Parliament potentially unable to receive school groups and be open to the public for months.
The idea for a new communication platform was inspired by the national public TV station organising a special education programme for students, in an attempt to support teachers and parents working from home by engaging with students in new and interactive ways.
Taking into account speed, ease of use and of development, the department decided that the Google Suite platform, while not the ideal tool, would best accomplish the immediate purpose of gathering all materials for teachers and students on one platform, in combination with live-streamed guided tours of parliament. The website was launched one week after approval, on 16 April 2020, and shared with schools all across the country. The first live guided tour of the Chamber of Deputies took place on 20 April 2020.
The main features of the website include information materials on the history of parliament and its core functions, presentations, working sheets for teachers and students, interactive quizzes for pupils and live guided tours of the parliament, streamed via YouTube.
A number of key ingredients contributed to the rapid development of the website: flexibility, simplicity, cost and determination. The parliament took rapid action in approving the initiative and it showed flexibility in supporting the Google Suite, which is relatively simple to use and free of charge, easy to build by non-IT experts. One of the main challenges in moving forward with the initiative was that the IT department, although involved in the process, was not able to dedicate staff resources to the development of the new website. Parliamentary staff Petr Valenta and Miroslav Kupka then decided to carry out the development and implementation of the initiative themselves.
The website is updated daily, with plans for future development. The parliament aims to build further on the initiative, and eventually include new interactive tools such as gamification, and expanded virtual tours.
 The Czech Republic declared a state of emergency in early March 2020.
 The Czech Republic was one of the first countries in Europe to enact the mandatory wearing of protective masks in March 2020.