Understanding the context for parliamentary support is critical to the success of any support programme. Over the years, several important lessons have been learned:
- Parliamentary support programmes cannot be divorced from the political system that shapes the environment in which parliaments operate. The local political context may help to determine appropriate timing and sequencing of parliamentary programmes. For instance, the electoral cycle may have an important influence on timing considerations, as elections can bring about changes in the make up of the parliament and parliamentary staff. Also, the type of system of parliament can impact on the relative political clout of various actors;
- Parliamentary development programmes must be considerate of the political context within which they operate. In some countries, working with selected parliamentary organs (such as specific committees or parliamentary groups) at the expense of others can enflame political tensions and end up doing more harm than good. Programme implementers must work hard to build consensus among parliamentary partners and understand the potential consequences of their activities; and
- Programme sustainability requires local ownership and engagement in parliamentary strengthening. Support for a parliament must be driven by demand within the institution or among citizens and civil society organisations (CSOs) in the country. Far too many programmes have been designed by well-intentioned institutions and individuals with less than effective input from local groups and staff. To be effective and results-oriented, the focus or outcomes of a programme must be based on nationally identified objectives.
- Although support programmes can help strengthen a weakened legislature, providing assistance to a rubber-stamp institution should be undertaken with an understanding that only limited results are likely. Moreover, given the broad spectrum of views present in most parliaments, it is useful to identify change agents, like champions and potential obstructionists of parliamentary assistance.