New programme: helping Nigerian youth build a democracy that delivers

On 25 July, Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) launched a new Youth Empowerment Programme (YEP) to support the advancement of democracy in Nigeria through increased political participation and electoral representation of young people.

At 60%, Nigeria has one of the highest shares of people aged between 18 and 35 in the world. Young people make up over 55% of registered voters but are not able to stand as parliamentary candidates until they turn 30, meaning a large share of voting adults are not represented in the National Assembly.

The three-year, 114 million Nigerian Naira programme (279,000 GBP) will support Nigerian youth groups and political parties with the objective of enabling greater youth participation. It will focus on three levels of intervention:

  • Helping establish national cross-party consensus to lower the minimum age for candidates
  • Supporting major Nigerian political parties to develop effective youth wings
  • Enabling Nigerian civil society to engage more young people in the democratic process

The programme will work closely with the Young Parliamentarian Forum of the National Assembly, the youth wings of the APC and PDP parties, local NGO Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement (YIAGA), the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Youths and Sports (MoYS) and Nigerian Youth Parliament (NYP).

Launching the programme at a workshop with Nigerian youth leaders in Abuja, Anthony Smith, Chief Executive of WFD said:

“A multi-party democracy can still fall short of citizen expectations when a large chunk of the population is not represented in Parliament. WFD Nigeria’s Youth Empowerment Programme aims at tackling this challenge.

“In 2019, the republican Constitution of Nigeria will turn 20. By then, we hope many candidates born under democratic rule will be able to stand for office and shape the future of Nigerian democracy.”

Participating in the launch, Kate Osamor MP, chair of the UK House of Commons All-Party Parliamentary Group on Nigeria said:

“Nigeria’s success as a prosperous and progressive country depends on enabling young people to get involved in the political system, shaping the agenda and taking decisions about the future of their country. That is what the WFD programme will focus on.”

WFD will be supporting this three-year programme with funding from the UK Government. It will be one of WFD’s innovative ‘integrated programmes’: bringing together political party and parliamentary expertise to address a policy issue from multiple angles and involving a variety of decision-makers. The WFD Nigeria ‘Youth Empowerment Programme’ will benefit from a partnership with the international offices of the UK Conservative and Labour parties.

(Photo: young women participate in the youth empowerment programme launch, 25 July 2017)
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Adaptive practice, sustainable outcomes: Thinking and working politically

At relatively little cost parliamentary strengthening plays a crucial role in the sustainability of international development activity, Lord Malcom Bruce, former Chair of the International Development Committee, commented in his opening remarks as Chair of the ‘Adaptive practice, sustainable outcomes’ session on Wednesday at Canada House.

Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) in partnership with DAI Europe brought together practitioners in the democracy strengthening field to discuss the benefits of an adaptive approach to programming.

What do we mean by thinking and working politically?

The journey the parliamentary strengthening community had come on was highlighted; noting how attitudes to development sat uneasily next to politics and had always focused on economic improvement rather than political change. Development is always inherently political and that is why political economy analysis is an important tool that can help deliver sustainable change. Political institutions are critical to development, because when functioning properly they ensure that vital services are delivered to citizens.

How do we approach adaptive design?

Clarity and confidence are two concepts that need to be emphasised at the design phase of parliamentary support programmes. A robust framework is often needed to implement programmes that can be adapted to changing circumstances without parting from the intended high level outcomes of the organisation. This is linked to building confidence in an organisation among beneficiaries, but also among donors and ensuring that they understand the organisation’s commitment to learn from past lessons. Both clarity and confidence are essential before adaptive methods can be adopted.

You could begin by asking three essential questions: Who are we going to work with? What are you going to do? And how are you going to work? For programmes to succeed, it is important to understand the issues that are blocking reform and engage with those who care about such issues. Working with partners and beneficiaries to identify those gaps is essential. For an adaptive methodology to work in the parliamentary strengthening field transparency with partners about these changes is extremely important.

Capturing successes and failures: Is it time to rethink our frameworks?

Monitoring and Evaluation should play a greater role throughout the programme cycle. Learning whilst implementation is underway allows programmes to refine and improve activities based on the changing context of the environment and based on what is working well or not. Allowing space for honest discussions about how programmes can develop is essential if truly adaptive programming can be achieved. Acknowledgement by donors and implementers that parliamentary strengthening programmes by their nature do not deliver a “quick win” is fundamental for creative programming to flourish.

To achieve the reality of programmes that respond to changing needs commitment is needed from practitioners and donors alike to change their practices. WFD, DAI Europe and the range of practitioners participating in the roundtable are committed to explaining why working in this difficult political space provides real value to development, but also why it needs to be flexible and adaptable to succeed.

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Tynwald offers helping hand to Sierra Leone’s Parliament

(Musa L A Foullah, Editor of Debate, and Patience C Brown-Dawson, Stenographer from the Parliament of Sierra Leone meet with officials from the Isle of Man)

“Hansard is behind, out-of-date, and only a historical record when it is finally produced,” say Musa L A Foullah, Editor of Debate, and Patience C Brown-Dawson, Stenographer from the Parliament of Sierra Leone following their participation in a two-week secondment to the Isle of Man’s Parliament (Tynwald).

The backlog that has developed in the Parliament of Sierra Leone means the official record (‘Hansard’) is only prepared after several months have passed – an area Ellen Callister, Head of Hansard at the Isle of Man’s Parliament (Tynwald) was keen to support.

“The more up-to-date Hansard becomes, the more people will become interested in the Parliament,” Sierra Leone’s Hansard officials hope. “It may even become a problem to cope with such growing demand!”

Having an official record of what’s been said in a Parliament is fundamental to any democracy. This is why parliaments maintain written records of their proceedings so they can be accessed by citizens, civil society and – of course – politicians.

“At the present time very few people are interested in reading Hansard,” Mr Foullah and Miss Brown-Dawson explain. “Typical users are university students, lobby groups and NGOs, looking especially at the controversial issues.

“To find out what is happening currently in the Parliament, people rely mainly on the media – PR and the national broadcaster on radio and TV – to tell the public about the main decisions made.”

As Westminster Foundation for Democracy prepared a broader programme in Sierra Leone supporting the new parliament after elections due in early 2018, it identified an opportunity to help address the limited usage of Hansard.

Thanks to the willingness of Ellen Callister and her colleagues to engage with their Sierra Leone counterparts, Mr Foullah and Miss Brown-Dawson could discuss ideas about what might help clear the backlog – caused by a lack of good-quality equipment and limited knowledge of best practice.

The fortnight of hands-on, practical training will be followed by a visit from an Isle of Man Hansard representative, alongside a representative from the Chamber & Information Service, who are eager to evaluate progress and to share further best practice regarding research and outreach with the Parliament of Sierra Leone. Learning from smaller parliaments and the devolved assemblies across the UK can be very valuable, and this exchange proved no exception.

Helping the team work better will, as Mr Foullah and Miss Brown-Dawson put it, “enable staff to feel less isolated and dispirited at having to do such a huge amount of work on their own”.

But it’s not just the Parliament of Sierra Leone’s Hansard team which will benefit.

(Above: Freetown, Sierra Leone)

“The biggest difference if the Hansard service is improved will be to the civil servants and to the general public,” they say. “This will cause people to do things right, effectively and on time.”

“A well-functioning Hansard will enable MPs and the public to access Hansard on time and make quick reference to past debates and follow up where needed.

“If Hansard is more quickly produced and up to date, it is more relevant and there will be greater demand and reliance on it as the official record.

“As a consequence, it will enable more effective lobbying of MPs and Government Ministers.”

In the wake of the Ebola epidemic and in the lead-up to elections in early 2018, Sierra Leone needs its Parliament to be operating at full effectiveness. WFD intends to assist with this by stepping up its engagement in Freetown through a long-term parliamentary and integrated programme to support the Parliament.

It’s an institution which will play a crucial role in Ebola recovery and will require continued and reliable support from the international community if it is to perform its essential legislative and oversight functions.

The Parliament’s most pressing issues, Mr Foullah and Miss Brown-Dawson, say, are for it to improve financial scrutiny and more broadly its oversight of Government departments; and for the implementation of both Committee recommendations and laws passed by Parliament. WFD’s work will address this need by providing support on administrative capacity-building; financial oversight and internal financial management; providing the Parliament with research capacity; and strengthening the protection of human rights, as well as parliamentary engagement with civil society organisations.

Meanwhile, follow-up planned for later this year will ensure the changes discussed on the two-week secondment at Tynwald become a reality. Mr Foullah and Miss Brown-Dawson have already started putting their experience from the Isle of Man into practice. In October, five parliamentary sessions took place in the Parliament of Sierra Leone and all five have been transcribed with four published on the website.

As with all of WFD’s trainings, the discussion on the Isle of Man was very much a two-way process. The same approach will apply for all of WFD’s future work with Sierra Leone’s parliamentarians and parliamentary staff.

“We in Tynwald have learned a great deal about Sierra Leone as a country, about their Parliament and many style points on how to assist in drafting their Hansard reports,” Ellen says.

“We found the experience extremely interesting and rewarding, and recognise the many sustainable and positive outcomes from our joint project. We are looking forward to continuing to work with Musa, Patience and the rest of the team in Freetown and wish them every success.

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Theories of change: What do they mean for democracy assistance?

(Above: example theory of change – International Institute for Environment and Development)

WFD’s Director of Research and Evaluation, Graeme Ramshaw, reflects on this year’s evaluation conference circuit and how to better integrate theories of change into democracy assistance work.

It’s conference season for evaluators. This means a lot of time spent travelling but also a lot of time spent thinking about monitoring and evaluation concepts and methods. In the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about theories of change and what they mean for democracy assistance.

This idea has been around for a while now, but I’m not sure anyone outside the evaluation community fully understands its purpose or the potential benefits the theory of change approach brings to development programming. Most seem to use the concept merely as a means of converting their rigid logframes into more compelling diagrams, with arrows connecting various coloured shapes to illustrate dynamism and change. But I think this misses the point.

For me, the theory of change approach is meant to dig into the assumption column—ever present in the standard logframe format but often ignored or misused. At WFD we are certainly guilty of rarely explaining how we expect change to occur at the different stages of our logic model. Others in the democracy assistance community may believe their explanations are more robust, but I think as a whole we haven’t thought enough about how democratic institutions develop and change.

But, before we go any further, we need to make a couple of big assumptions about the nature of the work we do and the impact this has on our theory of change. At the top, we have to assume that institutions like parliaments and political parties matter for democratic development and democratic outcomes. We have to believe that the structure and function of these institutions make a difference in how citizens experience democracy. And at the bottom, we have to assume that parliamentary process and political party development can be learned through a variety of tools or methods, with individual or group learning acting as a sufficient catalyst for institutional change of some kind.

These are big assumptions, but they are supported to a certain degree by our own democratic experience. We have to start from somewhere, because it only gets more complicated when we discuss outcomes. For instance, do we really know how institutions like parliaments and political parties change? And if we do, do we know what role we as outside actors play in catalysing or facilitating that change and how that affects the outcome of that change?

I don’t think we really do. This doesn’t mean there are no theories; there are many. Traditional approaches to parliamentary and political party development are largely based on the premise that structure matters in determining performance of institutions. The theory is that if you create the right form, function will follow. Many still subscribe to this theory, but it has proved problematic in practice. How many parliamentary research centres have been created that generate no research? How many committees created or ‘strengthened’ still don’t perform any meaningful function?

Critics of this approach point to the inherent difficulties in simply transferring structures from one context ‘where it works’ to another without any understanding of why it had worked previously. Indeed, a new generation of parliamentary and political party assistance trumpets the innovation of incorporating incentives into their approach. They argue that institutions are not monolithic but composed of individuals whose incentive structures must be re-shaped to enable change to occur.

While certainly more nuanced than the traditional structural approach, it remains no less prescriptive. We are still imposing ‘best practice’ on them; we’re just smoothing our path to implementation by getting local support first. This is more effective in the short-term, certainly; but if the incentive structures did not facilitate a certain structural set-up prior to our engagement, how long will it survive after we’ve left, if we don’t also address the culture and norms of the institution itself?

Indeed, reliance on political economy analysis (PEA) as the tool for informing programme design only reinforces this trend in my view. In many applications I’ve witnessed, the PEA isn’t used to suggest how we can develop a specific model for a particular context to produce our intended outcome. Rather, it’s used to determine the best method for inducing an institution to accept a predetermined solution. The question wrongly being asked is: who do we need to convince?

The Problem-Driven Flexible Approach tries to mitigate this by avoiding prescription and engaging beneficiaries in identifying locally-rooted solutions to the problems that surface. This idea has a lot of potential for democracy assistance, as we really don’t know what combination of individual, organisational, structural, or contextual factors actually influence the performance of any given parliament or political party. We can identify deficiencies easily, but our solutions based on UK experience or otherwise may not be universally applicable. Being honest about what we don’t know is probably a better approach than assuming we intrinsically understand how institutions like parliament and political parties develop and change for the better.

Our partnership with the University of Oxford is looking at these gaps in our knowledge, using our unique position at the nexus of research and practice to think more deeply about the institutional change theories that underpin democracy assistance programmes. We want to get a better understanding of the conditions under which different theories are more or less successful at explaining why parliaments or parties developed the way they did. This means digging deeper into the theoretical bases for a variety of international democracy assistance programmes and the changes they aim to achieve.

We at WFD articulated a new theory of change last year, and it’s significantly better than anything we had before. But we don’t want to stop there. We want our next strategic review, planned for 2018, to have more and better evidence on which to base our programming decisions. This will give us confidence that while everything we do won’t necessarily work, we will at least have a sound basis from which to learn from our failures, as well as our successes.

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Women candidates in Bosnia & Herzegovina: What role can the media play?

With five weeks to go until local elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Westminster Foundation for Democracy brought together political parties, civil society and the media to discuss the level of coverage of women candidates – and the relationship this has with the number of women in politics.

Excluding 50% of the population

Having lived through the media furore which followed her election as the first hijab-wearing mayor in Europe, Amra Babic of Visoko has direct experience of the impact headlines can have on women politicians. “The media can turn you into a star, and the next day they can throw you down to the mud,” she told WFD’s conference in Neum. Her message to women politicians seeking coverage, though, is one of determination. “Women have to be courageous. It is difficult and demanding, but there is no other way I’m afraid.”

The figures suggest women candidates in Bosnia and Herzegovina face a real challenge. Out of 3,276 articles on the 2014 elections, Anesa Omanovic from civil society group Infohouse told the conference, just 176 discussed women candidates. Of those 176, 40% of the articles referred to only one candidate (the current Republic of Srpska Prime Minister). The result was that in a country whose population is 52% female, women made up under 20% of the legislature.

The lack of coverage of women candidates just underlines the important role the media play in shaping political discourse. It’s noticeable even to diplomats like Edward Ferguson, the UK Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina. “My newspapers are filled with page after page of men,” he told delegates. “That points to a problem; the media has a key role and responsibility for creating a space where women’s voices can be heard.”

WFD is committed to increasing the representation of marginalised groups through our parliamentary and political party programmes. In Bosnia and Herzegovina WFD has united the two in our new integrated programming concept, sharing the British democratic experience to encourage more women candidates in Bosnia and Herzegovina. “There is no justice or democracy without equality between men and women,” Professor Zarije Seizovic from the University of Sarajevo says. As a local male champion he firmly believes that “society develops faster if it includes more women.”

(Above: L-R: Amra Babic Mayor of Visoko and UK Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Edward Ferguson)

Party systems or unfair coverage?

In any democracy grappling with issues of representation there is a debate to be had about what constitutes the most important factor. Is it the role of political parties’ leadership? The number of articles published during campaigns that feature women candidates? If coverage is given, does style or substance matter? All these important issues were raised throughout the conference.

Damir Arnaut, BiH state parliamentarian and vice-president of one of the largest political parties in BiH, SBB, suggested: “The responsibility does not rest with media, but with the political system in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”

Marija Milic, a candidate for the PDP in the upcoming local elections and former journalist, agreed. “We could talk to leaders about women’s visibility,” she argued. “They should understand that women have good ideas and can discuss issues with men on an equal footing. Women are slightly shy and do not have the will to speak publicly, but that is wrong because there are so many things women could say.” Political parties play a key role in choosing which candidates are promoted within the media; she felt that parties could do more for their women candidates.

Jadranka Milicevic, representing the CURE foundation, also felt that political party support was vital for women candidates who are trying to gain media coverage. “Most women are not aware of the official positions of their political parties, let alone serious issues like maternity leave, the economy and other male dominated issues” she said, “which has a negative impact on their coverage.”

The dual discrimination women with disabilities face was raised in the final session by Nihada Hadzic, an SDA councillor in Bugojno, who shared her inspirational story . “The media are a driving force that shapes public opinion,” she said. “Reports on people with disabilities are biased, and describe them as disadvantaged, vulnerable people.” Like women, “people with disabilities are invisible, we do not see them in the press or on television. But disability is a part of every-day life and this should be reflected in the media.”

(Above: L-R: Anesa Omanovic from civil society group Infohouse, Marija Milic standing as a PDP candidate and Damir Arnaut, BiH state parliamentarian and Vice President SBB)

Next steps: A commitment for change

Over 40 participants, including directors of some of the main public and private media outlets in BiH, representatives of some of the most widely represented political parties, and activists, adopted the declaration drafted on the second day of the conference. This calls on the media, civil society, political parties and women themselves to make greater efforts to promote women in politics in the run-up to the local elections.

The declaration set out concrete measures which they can take, like ensuring women candidates are represented in party campaign events and paying particular attention to the way women candidates are presented. Building on the momentum generated by the conference, the group will keep fighting for gender equality and positive discrimination ahead of the general elections in 2018.

Already during the conference and the day after, the message of fair play elections for all and the need for greater equality and women’s representation was on the airwaves of Bosnian media. From television reports to web news sites and newspaper articles, a very diverse range of media outlets all reported on the conference itself and its topic.

Referring to the declaration and opportunities provided by the conference, participant and female candidate for Nasa Stranka Aida Koluder-Agic said: “It won’t mean anything concerning the law, but it’s a voice and it’s good for this voice to be heard before the elections.”

She added that it was a great opportunity to reach out to colleagues in civil society and the media. “Meeting directors of public media was a real opportunity,” she said. “For us, we are all pioneers in this and I think it is very helpful to be brought together.”

(Above: L-R: Nihada Hadzic, SDA councillor in Bugojno, Tvrtko Milovic director from KISS TV, Prof. Zarije Seizovic, and Nerina Cevra, WFD Country Representative. )

Nerina Cevra, WFD Country Representative, said: “I was encouraged by the positive response from the media present at the conference and the action that has taken place since the conference ended. They have taken on board their responsibility toward women candidates . Now it is up to all, including women who are already in office to tell women voters in BiH why they should vote for women on the lists on October 2.”

As those elections approach the importance of hearing the voices of all parts of society – including women – is becoming clearer and clearer. Mr Ferguson, who opened the conference, said the value women could bring to policymaking and delivery sprang from their different experience and perspectives. “We all need to understand that a healthy society is where all citizens, men and women, gay or straight, can play a role in shaping the future of their communities,” he said. “To compete and survive in a modern global economy a state needs to use all of its talent, not half of it.”

 

Declaration for Equality: Fair play elections 2016

Deklaracija Za Jednakost: Fer Plej Izbori 2016

Javnost u Našem Dvorištu (Public In my Backyard)

Javnost u Našem Dvorištuhttp (Cirilica)

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Blog: A mix of parliamentary strengthening actors can achieve better results

By Devin O’Shaughnessy, Director of Programmes

Do others in the democracy-strengthening sector think it is inappropriate for one country to focus primarily on sharing its model with beneficiaries, rather than offering a more international, comparative approach? This is certainly a legitimate discussion to have, but I hope others will agree that having a mix of parliamentary strengthening actors is helpful.

By embracing Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s unique position in the parliamentary strengthening field, rather than resisting it, I am convinced we are helping bolster the sector’s overall effectiveness. I believe we are offering our partners what they need: an in-depth understanding of a particular form of democratic practice and culture – parliamentary, party, electoral – from which they can decide what is of interest, and what is not right for them. We often mobilise acting and former parliamentarians, senior party members, government officials, and civil servants to share their experiences and offer practical guidance on how to manage the day to day challenges of democratic politics and governance.

One aspect of our unique value add is in decoding and explaining why certain practices have evolved in the UK, what the particular strengths and weaknesses are of these methods, and how they may or may not be relevant for a specific context. We strive to build close, long-term relationships in the countries where we are working, which helps us develop a strong understanding of the local context. This is crucial to our ability to identify relevant practices from the UK – and from other countries – about which our partners may like to learn more.

In Westminster coalition governments are a rarity, so the majority and opposition have developed a system where they treat each other with respect – clearly defining the rights they have to speak and the ‘usual channels’ through which they decide on parliamentary business and the parliamentary/ calendar. It is a positive example of a developed political culture where the opposition is respected, but not able to filibuster or create endless squabbling.

The Westminster approach explains why WFD places so much emphasis on the importance of helping political parties function effectively within parliaments. This isn’t about exporting the Westminster model; it is about ensuring parliament has a strong voice in divided societies and is able to keep a government’s business moving forwards. The Northern Ireland Assembly in Stormont is a strong example of this, too. Stormont, as well as the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, represents a successful attempt to allow for a diverse set of dispensations at the sub-national level. These strengthen the political ties that bind the UK together – important lessons for other countries going through devolution.

(Above: Researchers from the Parliamentary Budget Office in Serbia shadow their counterparts in the Scottish Parliament)

None of the above means we view our role as being to convert the world to British parliamentary practices, however. Instead we offer a response to demand from countries which want to hear practical, detailed examples of how parliaments function in other countries. Those in states transitioning to democracy often want to explore what they hear from a variety of countries and contexts and pick out what works for them. One example among many of this is Tunisia and Morocco’s interest in the UK’s public accounts committee model, which both North African countries are now in the process of adapting for their context, despite using systems historically more similar to France’s.

We believe focusing on the British experience helps ensure our programmes are context-specific, too, as each country we operate in has a different response to the UK approach. Of course we avoid the temptation to offer generic trainings in any case, but what helps with this is the need to understand their interests. In a lot of cases, we find their interests are party interests. This is why helping parties and helping MPs understand how they go about their business within a partisan context is critical. It is an under-focused area of assistance which WFD is seeking to address via our new integrated programming concept. This, too, draws on Britain’s unique democratic experience, as much of the UK’s insight is about precisely this.

There are practical reasons for supporting a country-specific approach as well. One big advantage is diplomatic. Peer-to-peer encouragement and positive pressure for change often proves very effective. Using MPs, who carry real diplomatic weight in this sense, gives WFD’s programmes real clout. This is especially the case where there are strong historical connections and/or growing links between countries.

(Above: Ghanaian delegation meet Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow)

To be clear, we do not just focus on sharing the British model. We have seen that our partners also want to learn about other practices, perhaps from their neighbours or even much further afield. We seek to understand what is happening in parliaments and political parties around the world, so that we can facilitate experience and relationship building globally. We have parliamentary programmes in around 25 countries and deliver party and regional programmes in more than double that amount. These relationships give us the ability to identify innovative, effective practices from all corners, find the right tools for each context, and reaching out to our networks to share them. The historical ties of the Commonwealth and our links to their institutions also reinforce this approach.

We draw confidence from the fact that donors are increasingly recognising the importance of the country-focused approach. In the past, there has been perhaps too much focus on sharing general principles, rules, and institutional structures, and too little on how these components work in real life, where politics, history, culture, and individual incentives intersect and influence actual practice.

There should be space for all kinds of approaches to operate effectively. Non-specific comparative approaches – which can be useful for understanding the general principles of democracy and good governance – should be reinforced by the activities of organisations like WFD which offer their own unique perspectives, rooted in a country’s historical experience and the evolution of its democracy. WFD is also ideally placed to facilitate similar relationship building and experience sharing between countries that have much to offer each other, that without our intervention would be unlikely to happen. The tone of how these lessons are explored will always be important – it must come from a place of respect and friendship – but their value should not be dismissed. We believe a diversity of approaches will lead to stronger overall results.

 

(Main photo: Alex Schlotzer)

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Ten ways WFD improved citizens’ lives in 2015/16

Democracy-strengthening programmes make a real difference to citizens’ lives.

Here are some examples of Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s results from the last 12 months.

Helping ecotourism in Jordan

alquds jordan training 2013Increasing the involvement of young people in politics is a key challenge in maintaining Jordan’s democratic progress.

Forest fires in Jordan’s beautiful wooded north-western region more than halved in 2015, thanks to an initiative led by a youth leader whose training was funded by WFD.

More here: Saving Ajloun’s forests – the ‘lungs of Jordan’

Suleiman Al-Qudah’s ‘My Forest’ initiative mobilised local citizens, faith groups and environmentalists to improve public knowledge about the disadvantages of deliberately setting fires in order to obtain firewood.

“If I hadn’t taken the training,” Suleiman says, “I wouldn’t have had the motivation or the ability to try and start an initiative dealing with the forest fires. I got to learn about my rights and duties. I was given a framework for my thoughts and identity.”

One beneficiary, a local campaigner called Roqaya Al-Orood, was inspired to begin an initiative cleaning up 6,000 square metres of damaged forest land and, subsequently, a separate project cleaning the east bank of the Jordan River.

Helping widows in Morocco

Morocco women - flickr - mhobl

Photo: mhobr

Unsustainable fuel subsidies in countries around the world increase carbon emissions and divert precious resources away from other social and economic investments. But Morocco bucked the trend and successfully dropped fuel subsidies in 2015.

This policy improvement was only possible because of the political consensus achieved through the work of the new Public Accounts Committee (PAC), established with WFD’s support, which made subsidies the subject of its first report.

“My government was not able to do it because they were fearful of unpopularity, but Morocco was able to make the change because the parliament provided a platform for discussion,” says Dr Berroho, an MP and PAC member.

Some of the money saved was diverted elsewhere – to a new fund providing financial support for widows whose children are still in school.

“The funds providing direct support to women widows in Morocco will certainly have a positive impact on those who did not have any financial support before,” says Khadija Rebbeh, National Coordinator of the Association Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc.

Campaigning for justice in Egypt

Egypt police - Flickr - James BuckPhoto: James Buck

Shaimaa al-Sabbagh, an activist belonging to Egypt’s Socialist Popular Alliance party, was shot dead during peaceful protests in Cairo on January 24th 2015.

The search for accountability and justice in the aftermath of her shocking death could have been frustrated had it not been for the efforts of the Arab Women’s Network for Parity and Solidarity (Tha’era), supported by the UK Labour Party’s WFD-funded programme.

Tha’era built on the relationships it had established in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring to build solidarity behind its demand that the Egyptian President ensured a “transparent public investigation concerning her death”.

Its campaigning on Facebook, organising of demonstrations in member countries and lobbying of international organisations ultimately led to the successful prosecution of the responsible policeman.

A Tunisian member of the Network said: “The mobilisation of Tha’era members at the time of Shaimaa’s murder and their capacity to alert international public opinion was a beautiful example of regional solidarity.”

Helping schoolchildren in Iraq

iraqi schoolgirl - flickr - DVIDSHUB

Photo: Flickr

Like other legislatures in the region, the Iraqi Council of Representatives has recognised the need to improve its contribution to policy debates in the country. One way of doing that is to use civil society organisations to support policy development.

The think-tank Dar Al-Khebrah Organisation (DKO), established with WFD’s support, has provided the impetus needed to achieve a major wave of investment in Iraqi education.

Dr Ehsan of DKO had proposed raising the cash to pay for 10,000 new schools by amending the Stamp Fees Act to charge an additional 1,000 Iraqi dinars on all official government transactions.

After submitting his idea to the Ministry of Education, its minister instructed that the policy proposal be examined by an internal policy committee. This is now under consideration and it is hoped the measure will shortly be approved.

Once this takes place it will be debated by the Council of Representatives. Its Education Committee chair has already indicated he will fight for the bill until it is enacted into law.

Pursuing justice for torture victims in Georgia

IMG_2817Torture victims seeking justice in Georgia will be the ultimate beneficiaries of WFD’s work linking up civil society organisations with MPs in the Georgian Parliament.

Its Human Rights Committee is working more closely with civil society thanks to events organised by WFD which have helped both assess relevant legislation and revise the Parliament’s scrutiny of human rights issues.

More here: Meet the Georgian MPs determined to achieve change

“One of the main challenges our state faces and our organisation works on,” Vakhtang Kanashvili of the Centre on the Protection of Civil and Political Rights told us in December 2015, “is the conduct of the comprehensive investigation of facts concerning crimes of torture that occurred before 2012.”

The Centre is calling for a firmer criminal policy and amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code in order to comply with international standards.

“The next step must be the correct qualification of facts concerning crime of torture and the persons who perpetrated that crime must not be granted any kind of legal privilege, including plea bargaining,” Mr Kanashvili added.

More women candidates in Bosnia and Herzegovina

DSC_0097Bosnia and Herzegovina’s prescribed 40% quota for women’s representation in the government has not yet been achieved.

Ahead of local elections in October 2016 across Bosnia and Herzegovina, WFD is collaborating with the UK parties and working with local digital and social media to encourage more women candidates to stand.

More here: Bringing inclusive democracy to a divided society

Among the participants in local discussion events is Irma Baralija, a Professor in Mostar and member of Naša Stranka’s leadership.

“I believe that lectures, meetings and open discussions with young female students, like the one WFD organised at the University in Mostar, can motivate some of those students to get politically engaged in the future,” she says.

Both Labour and the Conservative Party have contributed to this integrated programme, building on their longstanding sister-party relationships.

Building the capability of new Kyrgyz MPs

kyrg1November 2015 saw a group of new MPs beginning their work in Kyrgyzstan’s Jogorku Kenesh by attending induction sessions provided by WFD.

“I may have some confusion now because I’m a new person here, but I found the induction training extremely interesting,” new MP Evgeniya Strokova says. “I’m very excited to use the knowledge I got, and I’ll definitely do so in my work as an MP.”

More here: Inducting new MPs in Kyrgyzstan

The new intake faces intense pressure to improve the Parliament’s performance, as there is a bar on any further constitutional amendments until 2020 – giving it a clear window of opportunity to establish a multiparty system.

Participants received presentations and briefings on the functions and powers of Parliament, how Parliament interacts with the institutions of Government and how they, as new MPs, can represent their constituents more effectively.

“If the parliament is proactive, there’s a chance for us to get out of the economic crisis and for the country to become more stable,” former Speaker Zainidin Kurmanov told MPs. WFD is helping make this possible.

Strengthening the Punjab Assembly

Punjab AssemblyPakistan’s decentralisation process is of critical importance to strengthening democracy in the country. To make this work, each of the Regional Assemblies needs to be able to operate in a professional way and build the confidence of their citizens.

That is why transforming the rules of procedure for the Provincial Assembly of Punjab (PAP) – the members of which represent 28 million citizens – was an enormous achievement for Ayesha Javed, a Member of the PAP.

“My dream has come true,” she says. “I started the process of reforming the rules alone in 2013 but continuous pushing and immense support from WFD has enabled me to get the Reforms Bill passed in 2016.”

Ms Javed received training from WFD which encouraged her to propose amendments to the changes.

The changes – including the adoption of an annual calendar which will allow MPAs to prepare for debates for the first time – will benefit all the Assembly’s MPAs, and therefore all its citizens.

Enforcing women’s rights in Uganda

women's parliamentUganda has passed the legislation it needs to end sexual harassment, domestic violence and other forms of gender inequality.

But implementation has not proved straightforward, prompting WFD to organise Uganda’s first ever Women’s Parliament of MPs, campaigners and local politicians.

More here: ‘This Parliament empowered me’

Participants shared inspiring stories of their experiences in protecting women. “I hope to share a lot with women about the different testimonies,” Betty Bwamika, an attendee from the Mpigi district, said. “It’s important that women can express themselves – you can fight for your rights.”

The Women’s Parliament is set to yield further results in the months to come as its work of citizen engagement reaches more people. For example, two women who attended the event have subsequently lobbied a multinational operating near their home village to pay for more primary school places.

Helping LGBTI citizens across Africa

africa lesbians

Photo: Flickr

The Africa Liberal Network, supported by WFD, has helped advance political representation for Africa’s LGBTI citizens since 2014.

The adoption of its Marrakesh Declaration on Human Rights by 44 member parties from 30 countries was a significant moment because it included clauses which recognized sexual orientation and commit to equal rights for all.

The ALN has promoted this view by providing support for election planning, political communication, branding, canvassing and working on the ground-up elements.

“In Botswana, for example, this was quite revolutionary in the sense that the liberal opposition now poses a serious challenge to the ruling party,” ALN programme coordinator Luke Akal says. “This is a first for Botswana and was in large part because of the work the ALN did with our parties and partners.”

More here: Africa Liberal Network party focus

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Should we focus on parties’ role within parliaments?

Parties, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy believes, are the motors of parliamentary institutions.

By Devin O’Shaughnessy, Director of Programmes

Underneath their varying institutional frameworks and rules of procedure, we are convinced that what really determines whether a parliament is a living entity or a rubber stamp is the role parties play inside it. It is why WFD is so committed to helping parties become more effective actors inside parliaments, in any way we can.

WFD’s ‘parties in parliament’ programmes use three different methodologies, depending on what is best suited for the local context:  sister party, multi-party, and hybrid models.

WFD’s view is that the sister-party work we foster is invaluable. WFD was established in 1992 as an arms-length public body tasked with facilitating relationship-building between Britain’s political parties and their counterparts in Eastern Europe. For over 20 years the UK parties, through WFD, have developed hundreds of sister-party relationships around the globe. Through sister-party relationships built on trust and common ideology, we can have frank discussions with counterparts on how they undertake parliamentary business in a way which encourages the democratic political culture we are keen on – and works to the parties’ benefit. This is the approach we are taking in Ghana, where the Conservative and Labour Parties are partnering with their sister parties to enhance their performance in Parliament (pictured below are the parties’ parliamentary leaders on a visit to the House of Commons).

ghana inward 4

There are also times and places where a multi-party, non-partisan methodology can be more effective, particularly in contexts where the UK parties have no obvious ideological connection with local parties. By engaging parties on a non-partisan, multiparty basis, we can share a wide range of party experience of which our partners can learn more about what would work best for them. We are currently exploring a number of opportunities in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East where we can apply this approach, and expect to launch new programmes later this year.

We have the ability to mix the two approaches, of course through a hybrid approach.  For example, in Sri Lanka the Conservative Party has a long standing, close sister-party relationship with the United National Party (UNP) and its leadership. However other leading Sri Lankan parties not linked to any British party have expressed interest in learning more from the UK party experience.  In response to this demand, WFD is now launching a programme that plans to engage all the leading Sri Lankan parties, which we believe is the right approach in a country still emerging from conflict.

We should acknowledge there are tensions inherent in our political party assistance. There is always a danger a particular country might complain that our intervention appears one-sided, particularly when some parties have strong partnerships with UK parties while others have no formal connection. The answer to this relies on coordination among UK parties, and in this the Foundation plays a critical brokering role. Yes, this is a challenge given the (understandably) competitive instincts of British parties, but it is one we have 20 years of managing effectively.

Regardless of the model we choose, we are looking to help shape a political culture based around peaceful debate and respect for the opposition – and we think working with parties in parliament is an essential part of the answer. UK parties have centuries of experience operating in challenging historical contexts, surviving war, civil conflict, and political crisis while holding on to its democratic institutions. The resilience and flexibility of the British political system, its ability to withstand serious external and internal shocks, is highly relevant to fragile and post-conflict states and we are best placed to share it. The parliamentary system of governance is widespread across the globe, and we are keen to share the experience of Westminster as well as the devolved assemblies of Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales (Stormont pictured below).

stormont - flickr - rovingIIn addition, we are increasingly connecting our partner parliaments and parties with their neighbours and other interested countries, fostering connections and experience-sharing that otherwise would likely not happen. For example, in the last three months we have brought Jordanians, Moroccans, and Sri Lankans together to share experiences on parliamentary research, and Iraqis and Indonesians discussed approaches to anti-corruption in Jakarta.

And this is why we advocate the benefits of working with parties in parliaments so forcefully – and we are interested in the experiences of others. I would like to hear how other organisations with different backgrounds address the issue of supporting parties in parliament. Do others agree that a parliament’s energy derives from its partisan elements? Are parties in parliament an important component of parliamentary strengthening? If so, how should this be best addressed? What type of research has been done on this area of assistance? What does the evidence say on what works and what does not?

I believe there are a diversity of experiences to be shared in this area.  In some countries such as the Netherlands the structure and ethos of parliamentary politics is based around coalition government, and their ability to come together and agree to work collaboratively. Much of the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy’s work is about reconciliation and political settlements as a result. That is not how things work in Westminster, which is built on robust competition within the context of a majority government – while maintaining a culture of respect for the opposition. In the devolved assemblies, however, things are different. In Scotland, minority government is more common, while Northern Ireland shares traits similar to that found in post-conflict societies where constituencies are relatively fixed and compromise is critical.

Parliamentarians and parties can learn very different things from experts and practitioners around the world, and adapt practices that may work best in their particular context. This is a two-way street. The UK remains a fluid and flexible system, and British parliaments and parties have much to learn from our partners around the world as well.

This is why, whether working with parties, parliaments or with both, I am keen to emphasise that while WFD has a lot to add, we are stronger when working alongside and collaborating with others. Just as a diversity of voices is never a bad thing, so a diversity of approaches should not be an issue either. The parties we work with can always benefit from hearing a number of different perspectives. It is for them to decide what they like and want to adopt. And it is for parliamentary strengthening practitioners to share experiences and ideas, make space for each other to operate, and whenever possible collaborate in order to provide the best possible assistance to our beneficiaries.

Featured image: Flickr / UK Parliament
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BiH: Bringing inclusive democracy to a divided city

“My aim is to transfer knowledge to students and to inspire them to think freely and critically,” says Irma Baralija, a Professor in Mostar and member of Naša Stranka’s leadership: a young, educated woman, politically active and willing to make change happen in her local community.

Educating students in political science is always difficult in societies where inclusive democracy is still in development. Politics is primarily viewed through a male prism, seen by the dominance of men in elected offices. “We are very ambitious and have set a lot of short- and long-term goals for our party,” Irma says. “At the moment our priority is to make sure that Mostar actually holds local elections in October. We are using all political means of pressure available, because without elections it is absurd to speak about democracy and democratic processes.”

Her hometown, Mostar, in the south of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), is a symbol for the country’s divisions. It has not had local elections since 2008. A lack of political will prevented elections in 2012 and now, four years later, the city’s government has only a ‘technical mandate’. In BiH as a whole, the prescribed 40% quota for women’s representation in the government has not yet been achieved. Barriers prevent women from participating on an equal basis with their male counterparts. This is the difficult reality in cities that are more homogenous than Mostar. Women like Irma Baralija who want to be politically active face a difficult task as a result.

Irma is one of a number of women who have decided to assume direct responsibility for delivering results. She sees “working on motivating and increasing the number of women in politics” as one of the goals of her own political engagement. “In that sense, every step forward is significant and certainly has an impact on how I engage in the political life in the future,” she says.

irma speaksAlongside her job in an international school in Mostar and her engagement in local politics, Irma was also a speaker at an event WFD organised at the University of Mostar on what it means to be a woman politician in BiH today. Irma’s story is one of true commitment to working for positive change in BiH. She completed her doctorate in Spain, where she lived during that time, and had the opportunity to continue to teach there. Yet, realising the importance of contributing to the development of her own homeland, Irma returned and immediately got engaged in the community in various ways.

It’s not just Irma who is benefiting from WFD’s work. Our integrated programme, which works with both local representative bodies and political parties, is helping students through a series of university discussions which educate women on what it means to be a politician in BiH through personal experience. Interest from local women who want to make a difference is the motivating factor in making the idea of equality a reality. It sends a clear message that the goal of getting more women in politics should continue with a greater focus on the younger generation.

Stories like Irma’s should be an inspiration to women in BiH – especially at a time when young people are increasingly seeking prosperity abroad, instead of trying to make a change in their own country. WFD engagement with women politicians like Irma Baralija offers her an opportunity to showcase her experience and share it with a wider audience. This contributes first and foremost to changing the perception of students who attended the university discussion. But it also contributes to a broader group of students as well, through chats and reports afterwards. Active discussion with over a dozen female and male students who asked questions and made comments shows their interest in the topic is already there. Facilitating public discourse around this issue is very likely going to have an effect on their further engagement and interest for politics. This is especially true for the women in attendance, as the programme is trying to counter the negative trend of women leaving political activism following their university studies.

irma speaks 2Students mostly asked about female representation within the political parties and how this is achieved – whether through direct bodies such as woman’s groups or informal associations of those who advocate for gender equality within the parties. Direct answers from women who have experienced this process provides valuable information on how to achieve gender equality while being an active member of a political party.

“The representation of women in politics is very low, especially at the local level where I am engaged and where it is most directly connected to the citizens of our communities,” Irma adds. “Despite much investment, the situation has not yet improved; this is particularly true in the Herzegovina-Neretva Canton. I believe that lectures, meetings and open discussions with young female students, like the one WFD organised at the University in Mostar, can motivate some of those students to get politically engaged in the future. The same should happen at Mostar’s Bosniak University on the other side of the river.”

Irma Baralija is adamant on one fact: Mostar, in order to function properly within BiH, does not need any more “ethnocracy”, which has been the main modus operandi of the local government. Instead, it needs more inclusive democracy – and WFD’s programme is helping her and others achieve just that.

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Why context analysis matters

Exploring the inner workings of a parliament is an intense as well as humbling experience.

By Victoria Hasson, WFD’s Parliamentary Adviser

I usually have a week to seek out key practices affecting the institution’s democratic efficacy.

Though further analysis will take place throughout the length of a programme it is critical that I help get this first part right, and this is not a long time given the complex range and depth of issues each parliament faces.

Once WFD has decided that it would like to support the parliament of a particular country, or renew its support, I’m asked to go out and conduct an analysis of the institution’s practices and procedures.

I look specifically at how, and how well, the institution functions in terms of the four areas we care about: how it makes laws; how well it gives voice to issues that people care about; its ability to oversee government; and its engagement with civil society.

How I do this varies according to the information held by each parliament. In all cases it involves reviewing a mix of indicators. For example, I try to obtain a year’s worth of figures on questions, motions, time lags for everything, especially bills, found in Hansard, committee reports and House minutes – if the institution is developed enough to produce them.

Most of the indicators I’m looking for are qualitative, though. I like to conduct focus groups and one-on-one interviews with junior staff working underneath the leadership, particularly when I suspect drivers for poor performance are political.

This is not entirely straightforward, particularly when I have to rely on an interpreter and complex questions get lost in translation. Even when language isn’t a barrier, straightforward questions bring forth hostile responses from those in a position of power at times when I’ve drilled into a sensitive spot. But this is precisely why I ask the question. Sometimes my questions even elicit emotional responses.

Equally as challenging are those instances in which the culture of a country is such that officials find it almost impossible to admit to any weakness or challenge out of respect for authority.

Navigating through different cultural nuances adds another layer of performance to the entire exercise. My tolerance for all varieties of tea and coffee, as well as cigarette smoke, has increased considerably.

Asserting myself often requires navigating through different gender norms. I had to help officials override their cultural norms on a number of occasions. The gender norms were such that senior officials wouldn’t at first address me when I had a male companion, even though I was the one asking the questions and leading the process.

Quirks aside, the entire experience is extremely enriching. I’m amazed at how welcoming everyone has been. From Speakers to junior clerks, I’ve been given intimate access to the inner workings of another country’s parliament through my conversations with them and this is an extremely precious and privileged experience.

Once I’ve conducted all my interviews and obtained the stats I need I return home and construct an analysis of what’s happening. I have to identify and then think critically about the key drivers at play. I make an intellectual map of what we can do to help fortify its functions.

Where an institution has got a fairly sizeable absorption capacity, because for example political appetite exists and the institution’s secretariat is smart and motivated, I will recommend more diverse programmes to challenge them in new ways. Then I sit down and write my report.

Some people ask me why I care so much about micro-level practices within parliament. My private opinion is that a parliament is democratic and effective so long as the procedures through which it performs its core functions are democratic (the indicators of which are varied and debatable).

This necessarily means that I’m far less concerned about how an MP votes in as much as what they did in parliament prior to that – I’m interested in the process that took them to that vote.

Once I’ve got an understanding of how a parliament works the next step will be to understand the inner workings of its political parties. Sizing this up is important when we want to establish an integrated programme, combining our UK sister-party relationships with our expertise in parliamentary strengthening.

I’m hoping this will be made easier by having previously worked for a political party in parliament. What I will want to look at are things such as how MPs are performance managed and what incentives structures exist within parties to make MPs do their job, or otherwise.

I’m really looking forward to the next batch of parliaments that I’ll get to look at before April, which is set to include the parliament of Laos, Venezuela, Tunisia and Kenya.

I honestly believe that going from macro to micro; micro to macro in terms of our understanding of the context in which a parliament operates is the best approach to designing an impactful parliamentary programme.

If a programme works, it does so because it acknowledges the broader politics at play within a country and because it’s constructed out of, and then back into, the inner practices of a parliament.

Featured image: Ben Terrett

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