Guest blog – How the Parliament building shapes the workings of the institution

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This is the first in a series of blogs written by two of our Scottish Parliament Academic Fellows: Dr Sabina Siebert and Dr Kevin Orr. As with all guest blogs, what follows are the views of the author, not those of SPICe or indeed the Scottish Parliament. 

Who are we?

We are two management professors. Sabina is based at the Adam Smith Business School, University of Glasgow. Kevin works at University of St Andrews, School of Management.

We are interested in how the Parliament building itself shapes the workings of the institution. We’d like to understand more about how people use the Parliamentary spaces of Holyrood, and how these places affect the practices, ways of working and people’s interactions on a day to day basis. In other words, we are exploring the relationships between the institution and the building in which it is located.

Why are we doing this research project?

Why are we doing this? The opportunity to take stock of the first two decades of the workings of the Scottish Parliament is valuable and of wider interest. Designed as a modern parliament building, reflecting the country’s traditions and aspirations, it is timely to examine how the design has supported good working and parliamentary practices since it became the home of Parliament in 2004. What features of parliamentary life have become important and distinctive? What aspects of the building have helped support or encourage these? Equally, what additional demands have been placed on a parliament entering its third decade and how have these pressures been managed?

We anticipate that there is a great deal that other parliaments might be able to learn from the Scottish experience, and producing practical learning and insights is one important aim of the project.   For example, at a time when Westminster is embarking on a major programme of restoration and renewal, there is an opportunity to share insights from Holyrood about the norms that have been established here.

We know that there is great international interest in the work of this Parliament and an appetite from other seats of democracy to learn more about the Scottish experience. Our study here is part of an overarching research programme on the relationship between the physical buildings and spaces of parliaments and how day to day business gets done.  The programme will include comparative analyses of parliaments elsewhere.

We are especially interested in exploring how its more contemporary and well-considered architectural design – perhaps in contrast to the ageing and labyrinthine legislatures in other places – helps support important principles of transparency and modern working practices.

Looking ahead, what are the main operational and strategic issues bearing down on the building and how can these be managed in order to deal with future developments and demands. How will the capacity of the estate cope with increasing footfall, the presence of five generations of users, the demands of zero carbon targets, technological changes, and so on? To say nothing of possible governance changes at local, national and European levels? And how can the custodians of the building balance the demands of openness and accessibility with the need for security and safety?

What’s happening next with the project?

So, there are lots of interesting questions. We have started exploring some of these issues through interviewing people who use and who manage the building. We are very grateful for those who have already spoken to us, including people who have given us ‘walking interviews’ guiding us through the many places and spaces of this fascinating building, and helping us interpret what we see.

It is already clear what pride people have in the building and the enthusiasm for its principles of transparency and openness and the commitment to being a place of modern working practices.

In speaking to people we’d like to ensure a really good representation of folk. Staff from a wide range of departments and roles, as well as Members.

We will be carrying out our project until late summer. If you work in the Parliament building at Holyrood and would be interested in taking part in a research interview with us, or in guiding us around the building and sharing your insights, or if you just like to have a more informal chat over coffee we’d love to hear from you. Please email academia@parliament.scot

Finally, if you would like to find out more If you have any questions around academic engagement with the Scottish Parliament please see our website or email us.

Sabina Siebert & Kevin Orr

February 2020