Politicians in Jersey have used Microsoft Teams to hold meetings and pass laws virtually, for the first time in their history.
The island’s government held debates and proposed legislation online, with members of the public able to log on and watch proceedings.
People on the island, which is a British Crown dependency, have been following guidance issued on March 30 to stay at home amid the Coronavirus pandemic. That meant ministers were unable to meet in person for the States Assembly, which is a critical part of the democratic process in Jersey where politicians pass laws and are held to account.
The Government, Digital Jersey and the States Greffe worked together to enable the 49 ministers to join the Teams meetings in their own homes using laptops, tablets and mobile phones.
“It worked so well that if you closed your eyes you could believe you were in the States Assembly in the middle of a debate,” said Mark Egan, Greffier of the States (Chief Operating Officer for Jersey’s parliament).
“It was critical for us that the members were still accountable to the public during lockdown. We didn’t want a private meeting, we wanted the public to still be involved in the democratic process of Jersey.
“We wanted a platform that was secure and easy for ministers to set up and use, and that’s why we chose Teams on the advice of our colleagues in Modernisation & Digital.”
The Assembly debated lockdown measures, the availability of testing kits, plans for a field hospital and guidance for the construction industry during a recent three-hour meeting. The Teams chat function was used to decide who would speak next, preventing people from talking at the same time.
The meetings also contained subtitles in Portuguese and Polish to cater for two nationalities that make up more than 10% of the island’s 106,000 population.
The island has a history of embracing technology, with high-speed broadband rolled out to all homes. The Government has also used Microsoft 365 – which includes tools such as Word, PowerPoint and Excel – for many years.
It is set to continue that trend after the lockdown lifts. Remote working is set to stay after some ministers who were reluctant to use technology were won over by the collaboration and communication tools in Office.
Deputy Scott Wickenden, Assistant Chief Minister, responsible for the Modernisation & Digital programme in Jersey, said: “As a jurisdiction, we have always embraced technology. By the end of the year we hope to have 2Gb connections to every household, based on our existing fibre connections.
“Before the lockdown the Government had been looking at moving to a new office building. Now we are considering a smaller office and allowing people to work from home more regularly and dial in to virtual meetings on Teams. We can then use the money we have saved to help the public in other ways.”
The impact that technology can have for Jersey stretches far beyond the 118-square-kilometre island, with ministers working to develop an international identity that includes more than financial services, tourism and retail.
Egan added that Microsoft Teams can play a part in enticing more global leaders and experts to interact with Jersey.
“We have sometimes struggled to get world experts into Jersey as they can consider the island too far away for them to travel to. Using Teams, we could hear from anyone in the world.”
How the Government of Jersey embraced Teams
Rory Steel, Head of the Digital Jersey Academy, who coordinated the landmark occasion said: “Digital Jersey always looks to push the boundaries of current technologies while maintaining security and reliability. We were pleased to support the States Assembly to quickly allow democracy in Jersey to continue using Microsoft Teams. Together we professionally managed large numbers of politicians, to work together from all over the island. Teams enabled live broadcasting, safely and easily from their homes during this crisis.”
Gary Bowles, the Group Director of Modernisation & Digital endorsed that Microsoft Teams was the secure platform of choice for the Government of Jersey. His team worked rapidly with Microsoft and with individual users to make sure that they had the right technology platform to use Streams for the States Assembly.