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City of Geneva experiments with its first virtual parliament

As part of its digital transition policy, the City of Geneva is providing the city council with a video-conference interface for its plenary meetings in the event that it is not possible to hold an in-person plenary session. Having successfully completed experiments with this backup solution, Geneva is the first city in Europe to have an entirely virtual parliament. 

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The unprecedented partial lockdown situation last spring exposed the issue. With a much reduced political life and cancelled parliamentary debates, how would it be possible to ensure the continuity of democratic life and enable city council meetings to continue to be held, come what may?

As a response to this issue, Sami Kanaan, Mayor of Geneva and person responsible for the new digital transition policy, was seeking a reliable technological solution that could be deployed swiftly as well as meet the expectations expressed by the elected councillors. “The concept of a virtual parliament heralds a huge change at a societal and institutional level. The city council has responded enthusiastically to testing this new tool,” said Madame Albane Schlechten, President of the City Council.

A technological solution developed for parliaments

In order to achieve this, the city's Directorate of Information Systems and Communication (DISC) turned to Cisco - who previously supplied video-conference software for the municipal governments - and its partner, Davra, to implement the new video-conference module: Legislate for Webex. Developed specifically for parliaments, this program has an innovative and highly secure voting system, which is unrivalled in the current market.

To apply the tool to the situation in Geneva, the city council took part in a series of tests over a two-month period. The first mock plenary session of the city council was held on 25 March 2021, to which more than 80 people connected online. The success of this “real size” test convinced the city council to opt for this new equipment. 

City of Geneva, pioneer in Europe

By adopting Legislate for Webex, the City of Geneva has become something of a pioneer in Europe. It has an alternative technological solution to ensure the effective operation of its institutions. Innovations in the digital domain are thus making it possible to explore new forms of dialogue and interaction, which also respond to unprecedented situations.

“The City’s role is also to promote the development of these initiatives and enable access to these new opportunities. Virtual or in person, Geneva is thus affirming its commitment to maintaining democratic debate and its assurances of the effective operation of its institutions, even in an exceptional situation,” emphasised Sami Kanaan, Mayor of Geneva.

Legislate for Webex – how is it used?

The aim of the Legislate for Webex solution is to ensure the running of the city council’s plenary sessions purely as a substitute solution in the event that these meetings cannot be held, as was the case last spring. The interface will only be activated in case of need. The legal basis of the Council of State anticipates that meetings will either be conducted by video-conference or in person and does not authorise a blended solution for meetings.

Running plenary sessions

The tool enables plenary sessions to continue to run.

  • Only those people listed by name as participants of the scheduled meeting are authorised to access these meetings. 
  • The ongoing and upcoming issues addressed are visible by all participants and are available for reference at any time on the interface screen.
  • Each participant can switch their microphone and camera on or off, share their screen and raise a virtual hand to ask to speak.
  • The moderators (members of the City Council Department) can mute and un-mute the microphones of the elected councillors and thus manage requests to speak, as is currently the case in in-person sessions.
  • It is also possible to join virtual breakout rooms, particularly so that members from each group can consult with each other during debates. 

Methods of voting

Legislate for Webex offers different methods of voting (nominal, secret ballot, etc.). 

In accordance with the rules, votes by video conference are nominal. The result of a vote in progress or a previous vote can be viewed at any time. 

Transmission of sessions via the Internet

The virtual parliamentary sessions will be transmitted via the Internet, as required by law. 

Partnership between Cisco Webex and the City of Geneva

It was at the end of 2020 when Cisco - the company providing Webex - joined forces with the European company Davra to develop a module to enable a response to the increasing demand for video-conference solutions for parliamentary activity. The City of Geneva participated in these limited pilot parliaments which tested this new module. A licence contract was drawn up which is renewable each year. With this win-win partnership, the City of Geneva has a new tool that has been developed to take account of the specific needs of Geneva’s City Council. 

Contact

Félicien Mazzola

Collaborateur personnel

Présidence du Département de la culture et de la transition numérique

Tél. +41 22 418 95 25

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Article modifié le 16.04.2021 à 16:55