Late 2007 the AEC through the PIANZEA Network conducted the BRIDGE Voter Registration Module for 17 participants from the Melanesian EMBs of Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. The module was conducted in Port Vila Vanuatu. An initiative of this group was to form a smaller working group to look at the specific challenges faced by these EMBs in the area of voter registration and to look at possible solutions. The Melanesian Voter Registration Working Party was formed and met for the first time for a week in March 2008. A problem audit was done and problems prioritised. Topics covered were learning how to write drafting instructions, drafting legislative amendments, using the ACE Knowledge Network and forms development.
The second meeting of the group in June/July 2008 covered topics such as writing procedures, developing a voter information and education strategy and proposal writing.
Whilst the group is very much a working group it still uses elements of BRIDGE. There are codes of conduct, ice-breakers and energisers. Each topic is introduced using a BRIDGE activity and resource material. The country groups then work on a real problem identified in the original problem audit, such as writing the drafting instructions to amend legislation and developing or amending procedures. Blocks of hours are given over to these activities. They report back to the group at the half-way point for general discussion, sharing of ideas and constructive criticism. The same process happens at the end of the allotted time. The groups then go back to their respective EMBs and put into their processes the work they have been doing.
Unlike BRIDGE there is no flipchart paper! All the work is done on laptop computers and projected onto a screen. This has made it easier for people to take the work they have done during the week and incorporate it into their work back home. What we have found is that this is a great way to work. BRIDGE introduces an element of fun to the work, it also assists in creating an atmosphere conducive to group work and it provides the correct level of information to introduce a topic. In the four months we have been working this way each country group has produced significant pieces of legislative amendment that will go before their respective Parliaments at the next appropriate sitting. They have written and introduced new or better procedures and have developed proposal that will significantly improve their voter registration processes.
Perhaps the key achievement has been that the work has been done by the participants with minimal guidance and input from the AEC; this added responsibility is building the capacity of each individual. BRIDGE is a valuable tool and is a key component in the overall success of the group’s work.