Pushing the Envelope with Envelopes. And Excel.

Pushing the Envelope with Envelopes. And Excel.

I'm on the ground in Liberia working on a parliamentary modernization program with the national legislature. NDI does a lot of this work with the idea that a more effective, responsive and competent democratic government is a heck of a lot better for its citizens and more likely to endure.

Liberia's had a rough 30 years and it shows. The World Factbook indicators make for grim reading, and it is telling that the only good road through Monrovia - city of 1.3 million - is rarely busy.

The legislature has had a correspondingly difficult go of it. We're trying to help where we can.

One of the more prosaic but surprisingly complicated parts of a legislature is how a bill becomes a law. Go right ahead and do your review, I'll wait.

So with all the bouncing around a bill does, it's really important to keep track of where it is. Not just in the process - physically, too. It's a pain when you lose it. With the help of a former Chief Clerk* of the Montana State Legislature, we've set up something to do just that.

Ingredients for a Bill Tracking System:

  • Several very large manila envelope
  • 1 Excel spreadsheet.
  • As many bills as you want.

(Serves one less-developed midsized country.)

When a bill is introduced, it is printed, put into the envelope, given a tracking sheet, and added as a new line in the spreadsheet. The tracking page and spreadsheet are updated as it perambulates from person to person. At any given time, it is clear what chamber or committee has possession of the bill and how far through the process it has gone.

As progress is made, the complete spreadsheet is printed out and provided to the media via a bulletin board system. No, not that kind, an actual bulletin board. They love it, since it provides a one-stop shop to see what the legislative news is and who to interview.

This is one of my favorite examples of "appropriate technology" - finding out the most effective way to get a job done with the right tech assist, not the most sophisticated one.

*As an aside, one of the coolest things about NDI is the way we get to work with extremely talented professionals who have worked long careers in specific subject areas, and then are happy to share expertise that international development peeps like myself couldn''t hope to touch.