Hearings for Parliament
In 1996, the Danish Board of Technology developed a new concept for hearings in Parliament greatly inspired by studies of the type of hearings conducted in the American Congress. It is this concept – with focus on the politicians – that is used today. A parliamentary hearing arranged by the Danish Board of Technology begins with an application from one or more parliamentary committees wishing to have a hearing. The application is often based in a current technological debate that requires a political stance or clarification.The cornerstone of the actual hearing is that the politicians are in focus. It is they who choose the experts they want to talk to and they who question them during the hearing. In concrete terms, the politicians form a panel comprising speakers from the political parties. The panel, headed by a chairman, controls the hearing.
The purpose of the method
The purpose of a parliamentary hearing is to give the politicians the opportunity to find answers to a number of specific questions in relation to a current, given area. The politicians have the chance to question and debate with experts in the field and in this way they gain a better understanding of the problem than they would using other methods. The primary goal of a hearing is to provide the politicians with the information they need to carry out their work in Parliament.
Who participates in the various roles
Once the Danish Board of Technology has accepted the task, the actual planning of the hearing can begin. The Board is responsible for managing the hearing and to this end a project manager, a project assistant and a secretary are assigned to the project. Planning takes place in collaboration with the parliamentary committee that has asked for the hearing. The committee is continually informed and consulted as regards the planning of the hearing, and, in particular, about the composition of the expert panel.
Expert monitoring group
The Danish Board of Technology wishes to ensure direct access to expert knowledge in the area covered by the hearing and therefore often works with a smaller monitoring group in the planning phase. This group will often comprise 3-5 highly placed experts in the area.
The actual hearing is supervised by a moderator, who is familiar with the area but wholly impartial in the event of a political dispute. The chairman of the committee who has asked for the hearing may also act as moderator.
The expert panel
In addition to those already mentioned, a panel of experts naturally participates in the hearing. These experts have prepared in advance a written presentation about the subject area or parts thereof. These written presentations have been collated in a hearing dossier that is sent to the politicians prior to the hearing. During the actual hearing, each expert is granted 5 minutes to make an oral presentation of the most salient points from the written presentation, possibly supplemented by further information. It is then the job of the experts to answer questions from the panel of politicians.
The panel of politicians
The panel of politicians comprises politicians (often from the parliamentary committee that has ordered the hearing) from the various political parties in Parliament. It is the parties themselves who appoint the politician from their own party to sit in the panel. The politicians are there to obtain an answer to their question from the experts. It is the politicians who interrogate the experts at the hearing.
The most important planning task is to identify the angles on the problem which are vested with the greatest interest, both politically and socially. Once the task has been solved, the relevant hearing experts must be identified. The parliamentary committee can then approve the programme and the hearing can get underway.
A hearing dossier is prepared prior to the hearing. This dossier contains a written presentation consisting of 3-5 pages from all of the hearing experts. The dossier is sent in advance to the politicians in the panel, thus affording them the opportunity to prepare their questions for the hearing.
During the hearing, the panel meets with numerous experts who are permitted to present briefly their views. The hearing is divided into 30- to 60-minute topic blocks, each with its own panel of presenters or experts. Each expert is assigned 5 minutes for an oral presentation that focuses on the points the presenter wishes to elucidate. When the presenters have finished their oral presentations, they are interrogated in depth by the question panel.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the politicians can outline their points or views in relation to the tabled topic. However, the political treatment of the topic often does not take place until after the hearing, i.e. in the further work of the committee/and or Parliament.
A parliamentary hearing lasts between a half and a whole day. The Danish Board of Technology’s hearings are open to the public. Typically, between 100 and 150 people are present at the hearing and in some cases questions from the floor are allowed either at the end of the hearing or at the end of each topic block.
The hearing is documented in a report sent to all members of relevant parliamentary committees no later than 4 weeks after the hearing, and is published by the Danish Board of Technology, both in written and electronic form. The report contains a summary, a complete transcript of the hearing and the written expert presentations printed in the hearing dossier prior to the hearing.
Dialogue between politicians and experts can of course benefit politicians, but it can also force experts to present their research findings and inaccessible knowledge in a form that lay people understand. In this way, the hearing can help to improve the communication of expert knowledge to the public.
A hearing can also show the public that politicians take the topic seriously and that they are working to secure a political solution to the problem. Similarly, the public can gain an insight into which politicians are interested in the area and what their views are.
The role of the Danish Board of Technology
The Danish Board of Technology represents a neutral third party in what is often a politicised hearing, and it falls to the Board to prepare a broad programme and to invite a broad range of experts in the field.
Presentation of results
The Danish Board of Technology always publishes a hearing report which is sent to all members of Parliament, hearings participants and other interested parties. The report can also be obtained directly from the Board. Often, newsletters are also published (From the Board to Parliament) in which the key problems from the hearing are presented.
Some hearings are transmitted in their entirety on DK4.
Hearings are particularly effective when dealing with communication between politicians and experts, for example, within a given area requiring political action. The method is therefore well suited in connection with an acute demand for information on the part of parliamentary politicians. Hearings give politicians the opportunity to obtain answers to a number of questions from leading experts in a given field. Typically, this will be in connection with the treatment of draft legislation.
DKK 150,000-250,000 excl. the cost of the Danish Board of Technology’s secretariat work.
Examples of the method within the framework of the Danish Board of Technology
The Board has held more than 30 hearings in Parliament. These include:
Hearing on animal husbandry and environmental approval (2005)
Hearing on coexistence experiences (2004)
Hearing on oil transportation through Danish waters (2003)
Hearing on embryonic stem cells (2002)
Hearing on electronic surveillance (2001)
Last update: 07-02-2006