Interview with Luis Kimaid: A True North for Legislative Tech Transformation

Luis Kimaid is founder and CEO of Bússola Tech, a Brazil-based organization focused on promoting the modernization of legislative systems around the world. In September, Bússola Tech hosts its annual LegisTech Forum, an online global conference on legislative modernization. The interview was conducted by Hudson Hollister, founder and CEO of HData and former president of the Data Coalition. This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Hudson Hollister

Luis Kimaid, thank you so much for joining us.

Luis Kimaid

Thank you, Hudson. It’s a pleasure to talk with you today.


I am excited to dig into your perspective on the past, the present, and the future of modern legislative drafting and the modern legislative process. But first, the past. I would like to ask you about the history of Bússola, its founding, and how you came to your current role?


Absolutely. In the 2018 election in Brazil, my colleagues and I decided to develop a new concept on how we could help Brazilian citizens to find better information about their candidates for the legislative. For example, in our home state of São Paulo, the largest state in Brazil, we had, in 2018, more than 4,000 candidates for the State legislature and to the House of Representatives in Congress. It would take for a citizen to look at all of them approximately 66 days, working 8h a day. In this platform, we brought the power of data visualization for citizens to learn more about the ideas and proposals of the candidates, through a dynamic positional map, where the voter was the center. Candidates with more synergies in specific topics would be closer to the voter. 

The platform had more than 2,000 candidates subscribed, out of the nearly 20,000 candidates in Brazil, and more than 300,000 accesses.

After the election, voters demanded us to develop a tool to follow their elected candidates in the Bússola Eleitoral platform. We started to think about this. How can we get the data to understand what members of the legislatures are doing?

We learned that legislatures were facing very difficult challenges on how to provide data outputs from the legislative process, something that severely impacted their ability to provide legislative data to citizens.

Based on this assumption, we decided to open a new branch of engagement with Brazilian legislatures, to understand how we could be a part of that process and work in partnership to get the data we needed. We ran a series of interviews and pools, and learned the availability of technical expertise and financial resources was an important concern. Legislatures could be in a much better state in their modernization, if the cooperation and collaboration channels were being used more actively.

And so in 2019, we developed the concept of LegisTech. We thought it would be important to name it, to create a concept so that colleagues in the legislatures, the staffers, members, the specialized companies, the civil society organizations could understand they are a part of one community, aiming to digitally transform and modernize legislatures. So, this was the beginning of everything.

And in 2019, we had our first conference, the Legistech Forum, of which we are going to have the third edition this upcoming September. During the pandemic fo Covid-19, we did our first international outreach, understanding that the same challenges the Brazilian legislature were facing, to ensure institutional continuity, colleagues from other countries were facing as well.

Even though legislatures are profoundly unique in their political process, their internal culture, and in the rules of procedure, the legislative process per se has many similarities. We have to legislate and we have to follow certain steps to do it.

The challenges each legislature has are very similar. We thought: how can we instigate further cooperation to help lower the cost of the digital transformation? Legislatures are somewhat risk averse, and digital transformation requires risk appetite. So how can we reconcile these two dimensions?

There is a phrase a colleague from Israel uses: to shop for ideas. If the legislature, before it starts its digital transformation process, looks around and sees what other colleagues are doing, they can severely cut down the cost for any error, and they can move beyond and understand how a previous experience can help them as well. So this is the stage where we are today.

We have been working with national parliaments on one hand, and also some regional legislatures on the other, not only in Brazil, because we understand that it makes no sense to make this distinction when we are talking about digital transformation in these institutions.


Was your initial audience the Brazilian legislatures?


Exactly. Brazilian legislatures, the three different levels. So: National Congress, both houses, the Senate and the House, the 26 state legislatures and the Federal District legislature, and the 5,568 legislatures at the local level.


When you first began, when the first conference in 2019 was executed, which concepts of digitization were the most familiar and most urgent for the legislatures? Obviously, at Data First we focus on XML-based drafting, which enables things like automated amendment documents and other efficiencies. Probably not those, right?


Actually, the focus here in Brazil was more on the general understanding of how to move their digital transformation strategy forward, allowing for more transparency and participation, in line with the best practices of the Open Parliament guidelines.

A topic very well covered in almost every discussion then, was focused on the needs and demands from internal users for simple tools to allow better access to information, but required an enterprise strategy for the institution. I could say most of the discussions and demands then were directly impacted by the lack of a XML-based drafting, however it was unknown for many colleagues. I usually say, there is no effective open data strategy based on in-paper or pdf-based processes and documents. That’s something we have been advocating for.

For instance, some legislatures in Brazil tried to use classical document management systems to manage the amendment process, including for the budgetary discussions, something that in larger legislatures receive hundreds, if not thousands, of amendments. And sadly, they had to revert back to the paper solution because classical document management systems created such a dysfunction, the legislative process couldn’t withstand that. I recall sharing the experience of LegisPro and Xcential to some colleagues that were fascinated by it, since “it would make their work much more effective and timely for periods of extensive legislative work.”

A solution that helps them to better manage and compare the versions of the draft, even sometimes using artificial intelligence to do that, would be very helpful for Secretaries General, legislative counsels, and the institution as a whole.

After the pandemic, I believe legislatures will try to get back to their priorities from before, but contemplating their learnings from during these two and a half years. Many of them are discussing how to phase out legacy systems, how to develop an enterprise solution for their digital transformation process, and obviously one of the most important pain points today for legislatures is how to transition their drafting process from an in-paper process to a database one.


It seems as though this new openness that you’re describing is the result of some cultural change, even in the short time between when you founded Bússola Tech and the present. How would you explain that culture change? Did the pandemic create that culture change?


Yes, of course, the pandemic was a disruption from the normal we had from before. 

But what we have seen that’s very effective is when you connect different legislatures and colleagues, and they are able to learn from other’s examples. That’s a very powerful enabler for the digital transformation, given it allows colleagues to understand their opportunities moving forward.

It’s one thing for external actors to go to the legislature, to a Secretary General or to leadership saying, OK, you have to change this. But another completely different thing is for the same leadership, seeing another Parliament being very effective in what they’re doing, because of this change.

So usually, we see that exposing legislatures to the most innovative ideas done by their peers is extremely effective in promoting the change of culture.

However, the disruption from the pandemic was very serious. Many colleagues from legislative staff and members of parliament were not ready for this. So, legislatures had to invest in training sessions, on creating manuals on how to operate different systems, because many of these colleagues were not yet digital-ready. So, they were not able to follow a process forced by the pandemic. Also, in some cases, sadly, there was still a lack of Internet connectivity, so a member could not participate remotely in any of the proceedings, because in his or her area, there wasn’t enough Internet coverage.

I wouldn’t put everything in one bucket saying, this is only because of the pandemic. But certainly the pandemic was a very important factor.

However, now that we can see a light on the end of the tunnel of the pandemic, hopefully we’re moving beyond and should maintain the eagerness to modernize legislatures. I think the only way is to continue to instigate cooperation and collaboration. Legislatures have to see good examples by their peers. And they have to be recognized when they are doing a good job.


Very good. Tell me a bit about Bússola Tech’s model, the model of building cooperation about the funding model, and about future plans to expand.


We usually say that there is no digital transformation without cooperation. This is our North, and we act on that.

We have been engaging very strongly with national parliaments today in 40 countries. And now we are expanding to subnational legislatures as well. We want to include them as much as possible, because we think they have similar challenges and it makes no sense to create a barrier. They must take part in the creation effort to think about the future of our legislative institutions, alongside the colleagues from national parliaments. It’s one global legislative community.

There is a need for better collaboration between national and subnational legislatures in the same country. For example, we have reached out to colleagues from a national parliament who we have been engaging with for a few years and asked them, what is happening in your subnational legislature? And they didn’t know.

And when we asked it at the same time to the subnational legislature from the same country, what their national parliament was doing, they had absolutely no idea as well, and they are neighbors in the same country!

So, we’re trying to break this barrier to allow the free flow of information and strengthening the bonds of cooperation, we’re trying to understand how we can move forward, helping them to cooperate, and also helping them to see the best practices for the legislatures, connecting them, with references in the private sector.

For example, Xcential is a global reference in legislative drafting. It has battle-tested the LegisPro in legislatures. On the other hand, Secretaries-General, Clerks, Legislative Counsels and others say they have been struggling with their drafting systems. We believe it is our role to facilitate this connection. I usually say, legislatures are not supposed to develop everything themselves. They have important allies to assist and help them through this process. The private sector will never replace the expertise from colleagues in technical areas, quite the opposite, they want to help them get the most from their solution, so they can focus on what matters, the legislative activities and its integration with the legislative systems.


Is Bússola Tech an NGO?


We are a social business.


It’s good. It’s good to have both of some of the passion that can come from, from social movements, and also a model that is sustainable. Exactly. Having founded one, I respect the ability to create and grow and it can be very difficult.

I have one final question. What is your view of the future of legislative drafting?


I think we are moving towards a more data-driven legislative drafting, although I see this is a long process for legislatures to undertake. It’s not easy for a legislature to transition themselves from paper or a PDF-based legislative drafting process to a data-driven legislative one.

This will be an ongoing process, but it will take time for two different reasons.

The first reason is that to understand how to integrate a new solution for legislative drafting with the existing internal processes of legislatures, you have to deal with different areas that are used to do things the way they were for a couple of decades, and trying to change is not easy. You have to be very heavy on training and on engaging colleagues, to understand how to move forward. A colleague from a National Parliament described this process as changing the tire of a moving car.

And the second point I would bring is tradition: how can we simultaneously respect a legislature’s tradition, but also bring effective tools for them to improve their legislative process? 

Certain traditions are inseparable from the legislative activities, as they are understood as the raison d’être of the institution. Sometimes it represents a vital piece of the institution’s identity. It will require us to profoundly understand these characteristics, the analogue processes, and their origins, to develop an effective strategy for the digital transformation of the institution. My advice is: consider the tradition of the institution as an important variable as a characteristic of the project itself, not one you want to overcome.

I can give you a very good example. I was discussing with a colleague recently that they are phasing out their paper-based submission of bills. And I asked them, okay, but are you completely phasing out the paper process? Or are you just creating a parallel digital process? And the answer to me was, Luis, you’re making me laugh. Of course, we’re not phasing out. We’re just creating a parallel digital process. Hopefully, in the future, we can phase out, but not in the foreseeable future.


Very good. I’m inspired by the fact that Bússola continues to work toward this goal. Actually, I have one final fast question. How did Bússola get its name?


Remember that I mentioned to you the electoral platform from 2018? Its name was Bússola Electoral, which means electoral compass.

A compass is not necessarily to draw a map for a person, but to give you a reference. A compass says, this is the North, but you don’t have to follow the North, you can follow any direction you want.

We decided to keep the name. So, instead of Bússola Eleitoral, we changed it to Bússola Tech. So, this is the North for the digital transformation in the legislative. This north is dictated by the various inputs from colleagues working tirelessly in their legislative institutions. They collaboratively allow us to understand their north. This is their journey, and we are only serving them, by quietly assisting them to get to the objectives they set their institutions to achieve.

We’re not saying at any moment which path legislatures should follow. We deeply believe this is a very individual decision for each legislative institution.


Inspiring words. Thank you so much for spending some time with us.


Thank you so much for that.

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