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State of Democracy Programme

What are International IDEA’s State of Democracy assessments?

The last few decades have witnessed significant shifts in power and governance across the world sparking a surge of interest in the workings of democracy and government. This in turn has resulted in the development of a wide range of tools, frameworks, methodologies, ratings and indexes for measuring and assessing various aspects of democracy and governance.

International IDEA’s approach in this area is to put citizens at the forefront of the assessment process. It has produced a State of Democracy (SoD) assessment framework that citizens can use to examine their own systems, leading to home-grown policy initiatives and internally driven reform agendas. The SoD assessment framework equips people to turn the spotlight on their own institutions, to recognise the strengths and weaknesses of their own governments and find out what fellow citizens think. They can then use this evidence to inform public debate and influence reform in a way that reflects local sensitivities and conditions.

What are SoD assessments hoping to achieve?

International IDEA’s approach is guided by two basic principles that underpin any democracy; popular control over decision-making and equality among citizens in the exercise of that control. Based on these two principles, democracy can take many forms and needs to be rooted in the realities of any given country; and the aspirations of its people. 

These principles can be used to review and reform all aspects of local and national government including the rule of law, access to justice, civil and political rights, economic and social rights, citizenship, elections, political parties, police, the military and the media.

The SoD methodology has the following distinct features:

  • The assessment process must be locally led and owned
  • It is flexible, and can be used as a whole, in part, or targeted at specific priority areas
  • It works in tune with the mediating values of participation, authorization, representation, accountability, transparency, responsiveness and solidarity
  • It can be applied in any democracy regardless of its level of economic development;
  • It links democratic principles and mediating values with institutions and processes and assesses formal institutions against practice
  • It is aimed at reform

International IDEA’s current work in this area

International IDEA is working to increase the effectiveness of national and local assessments by:

    Supporting partners in democracy assessments to apply the SoD framework effectively by providing training and technical support
  • Increasing the number of practitioners available to give advice
  • Revising and updating the local assessment methodology (State of Local Democracy)
  • Updating and maintaining web-based resources
  • Translating information into Spanish, French and Arabic

And specifically:

  • Encouraging key stakeholders to participate in the assessment process in countries of assessment
  • Using the methodology as a bridge for dialogue among national stakeholders
  • Supporting assessments in different parts of the world such as in Chile and the Philippines
  • Supporting local assessments in the Arab region

State of Democracy in brief…

  • Developed in 2000, in partnership with the UK Democratic Audit, the Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex, the methodology has so far been applied in no less than 20 countries worldwide.
  • Developed as a global public good, the original methodology was published in the International IDEA Handbook on Democracy Assessment (2002).
  •    Pilot assessments were undertaken in 2000 in Bangladesh, El Salvador, Italy, Kenya, Malawi, New Zealand, Peru, and South Korea.
  • Following these pilot assessments, largely undertaken independent of International IDEA, assessments were conducted in Australia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ireland, Latvia, Mexico, Mongolia, the Netherlands, the Philippines, and South Asia (Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India, and Pakistan).
  • Both the process of developing the methodology, as well as applying it, has led to the development of a SoD Network of experts. They continue to contribute to the methodology’s future development through their experiences and lessons they have learnt from using it in different contexts.
  • Based on the experiences, and lessons shared by this Network, the methodology has now been updated, and published in Assessing the Quality of Democracy: A Practical Guide (2008).
  • The State of Democracy Network website ─ www.idea.int/sod ─ includes an interactive version of the SoD Framework (in English and Spanish), a collection of Assessments conducted around the world, as well as interviews, related publications, links and an Ask the Expert feature.

The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) is an intergovernmental organization supporting democracy worldwide.

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