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Enforceability in democratic accountability: Lessons from software developers in Argentina

PUBLISHED:
31/07/2017
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Photo credit: Fibonacci Blue - 2017

Photo credit: Fibonacci Blue - 2017

This is a series on the process of democratic accountability as defined by its three main principles: answerability, responsiveness and enforceability. This third article explores the software DemocracyOS, which puts checks-and-balances on policy-making in Argentina. It demonstrates how opposition parties can use information and communication technologies to impose sanctions and rewards on authorities on a day-to-day basis.

Disclaimer: Views expressed in this commentary are those of the staff member. This commentary is independent of specific national or political interests. Views expressed do not necessarily represent the institutional position of International IDEA, its Board of Advisers or its Council of Member States.

 

Accountability can be defined as an obligation to account for one’s activities, accept responsibility and disclose and justify results. The use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in accountability is mostly known for its potential to demand answerability and responsiveness in government affairs, by giving authorities a platform to justify their performance or enhance the relationship between stakeholders. It is less known, however, that political parties outside political office can use ICTs to effectively increase enforceability by helping citizens sanction and reward their leaders throughout their term of office.[1]

Enforceability means that officials face formal or informal sanctions and rewards in relation to popular demands. Through elections, citizens give public officials the mandate to serve their constituents, who in turn expect to be provided with a better quality of socio-economic and political life.[2] When decision-makers fail to fulfil their duties, popular discontent sometimes motivates citizen activists to take to the streets – or engage politically online.

Political enforceability operates through the mechanism of free, fair and legitimate electoral processes with integrity, where negative election results entail sanctions and re-elections represent rewards.[3] In addition to general elections, the immediateness of technologies like DemocracyOS allow citizens to impose sanctions and rewards as an everyday practice. The DemocracyOS software is an impressive example of a grassroots movement that uses digital means to advance the process of political enforceability.

Launched in 2012 by a group of Argentinian activists, DemocracyOS invites citizens to discuss and vote on legislative bills. The voting process, which initially did not bear any actual leverage, transformed into a mechanism of political enforceability when a vote gained so much popular engagement that it pressured the National Congress of Argentina to pass a bill proposed by a minority party.[4] As policymakers signalled that they were willing to face sanctions on their decision-making, DemocracyOS had the potential to provide a platform for citizens to enforce accountable policy performance outside the realm of elections.

So far, DemocracyOS has been used by stakeholders in Mexico, Spain, Tunisia, and three US states, but was not adopted by any political party in Argentina. Nevertheless, DemocracyOS founders formed the Net Party (Partido de la Red), whose politicians commit to acting according to the popular views expressed on the website. After failing to win a seat in the Buenos Aires local parliament in 2013, the Net Party is aiming to have its first representative elected in the October 2017 general elections.[5]

Many governments around the world are committed to involving their citizens online, with the United Kingdom, Japan and Australia topping the list in e-participation.[6] While providing excellent online platforms for answerability and responsiveness, so-called e-government does not place sanctions on and reward public officials. Opposition parties and citizens who mobilise online to demand enforceability from authorities, on the other hand, can be labelled e-democracy. More than improving democratic governance, they contribute to democracy as a whole by providing immediate alternatives to general elections in enforcing accountability. Therefore, technology is a tool for both political parties and governing bodies.

Answerability, responsiveness and enforceability are an interdependent work-in-progress that require constant oversight, evaluation and monitoring. Democratic Accountability in Service Delivery provides a guide for assessing these three principles and encourages anyone to claim democratic accountability wherever they are.

 

Explore:

Answerability in democratic accountability (1st article)

Responsiveness in democratic accountability (2nd article)

 

Learn more:

Resources on Democratic Accountability

Policy Brief on enforceability in accountability  

Discussion Paper on enforceability in accountability

Digital Parties Portal

Unlocking the potential of digital tools for political parties

 

[1] International IDEA, Democratic Accountability in Service Delivery: A Practical Guide to Identify Improvements though Assessment (Stockholm: International IDEA, 2014).
[2] Ibid.
[3] International IDEA, Sanctions, Rewards and Learning: Democratic Accountability in the Delivery of Health, Education, and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (Stockholm: International IDEA, 2016).
[4] Serna, A., ’Partido de la Red and Democracy OS’, 2016, <http://www.americasquarterly.org/content/partido-de-la-red-and-democracyos>.
[5] Razavi, L., ‘How one woman’s app is changing politics in the digital age’, 23 February 2016, <https://www.theguardian.com/women-in-leadership/2016/feb/23/how-one-womans-app-is-changing-politics-in-the-digital-age>, accessed 21 July 2017.
[6] United Nations, ‘UN E-Government Survey 2016’, 2017, <https://publicadministration.un.org/egovkb/en-us/reports/un-e-government-survey-2016>,  accessed 11 July 2017.  

 

About the Author

Former Research Assistant for Democracy and Development, International IDEA
Aida Zekic