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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RESEARCH: Making the most of sister-party support

(Above: WFD bilateral sister-party programmes, 2010-2015)

In the latest paper from our research partnership with the University of Oxford, Susan Dodsworth and Nic Cheeseman explore the sister-party approach to democracy promotion.

The full paper, more than ideology, more than elections – a strategic approach to sister-parties is now available.

Key lessons:

  • In the right circumstances the sister-party model can be a valuable means of strengthening political parties.
  • The right circumstances are when:parties genuinely share ideology (at least at a high level of abstraction), parties share more than ideology (for example, similar structural positions in the political system), and other democracy promoters
    are addressing system level issues (such as the regulation of party finances).
  • As democracy promoters, political parties tend to focus too much on election campaigns. This is understandable; elections are ultimately why political parties exist. However, it risks reinforcing certain problems and tends to produce only superficial change.
  • The current funding model does not always create strong incentives for UK political parties to be selective about where they work, who they work with, and what they do. This renders a valuable tool – the sister-party model of party support – less effective than it would otherwise be.

Policy Implications

  • When employing a sister-party approach, democracy promoters need to be more selective about where they work and who they work with. The sister-party model works best when parties share not just ideology, but similar structural positions in the political system.
  • Sister-party programmes also need to be more strategic about what they do. As well as focusing on election campaigns, they should focus on the foundations – party finances, membership, policy development – on which successful campaigns are built.
  • Efforts to co-ordinate with other democracy promotion actors should shift from a mind-set of avoiding duplication to a mind-set of creating and exploiting complementarities between programmes.
  • A more flexible funding model could create stronger incentives to be selective and, consequently, foster more effective party support programmes.
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On the ground with Botswana Movement for Democracy

By Harriet Shone, Liberal Democrats Head of International Office

“It’s clear from what people have said to me that they have had enough of being let down by the government. They want change. I am fighting to make sure we have better schools, smaller class sizes, a strong economy where everyone has a job, and a transparent government that people can trust.”

These words were shared by MP and opposition leader Ndaba Gaolathe across thousands of households in Botswana. They remain his commitment to the people of his constituency. Ndaba is now actively working to improve the lives of every Batswana.

In reaching this point, the Africa Liberal Network in collaboration with WFD initially focused on three primary areas of support for the ALN’s sister party, the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD). These included campaign support in a local by-election, a best practice workshop on political communication, and finally in the run-up to 2014 national elections, research and voter outreach. Doing so directly contributes to WFD’s four outcome areas: the ALN’s support has helped strengthen the policies developed by the BMD and its ability to both represent and reach out to Botswana’s citizens, improving their engagement and participation in the political process.

To the shock of many Batswanas and the campaign team, the much celebrated and admired BMD leader Gomolemo Motswaledi passed away in a car accident just a short while before Election Day in the country. This tragedy was a major blow to the BMD, ALN and all involved in the campaign. Still, the ALN was determined that more could be done to grow liberal democracy in Botswana. The belief was that this would be the best way of commemorating the late BMD leader.

With a firm understanding in sharing successes amongst our members in Africa and abroad, the ALN facilitated the involvement of the Democratic Alliance (South Africa) and the UK Liberal Democrats Head of Strategic Seat Operations, Victoria Marsom. This led to a peer-to-peer mentoring programme of the BMD and its coalition partners in the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).

BMD2Towards the end of the project, Victoria worked closely with the leadership of the UDC, guiding their assessment of key constituencies and the setting of targets.

“Polling day was approaching. I spoke with Ndaba Gaolathe who had taken over as BMD Leader and Deputy Leader of the UDC.

“I arrived in Gaborone six days before the election. It was a hectic week! The handwritten blue letter from Ndaba was delivered across the constituency by the volunteers in around five hours and it really energised the team and motivated voters who’d never received anything like it before.

“On Facebook, Ndaba already had a successful personal page and a campaign page which had thousands of likes. I livened it up with calls to action such as asking supporters to change their profile photo after they had voted for him, filling local Facebook feeds with his image.

“The phone bank on election day also had a huge impact – I bought seven cheap handsets and some credit, wrote simple scripts (which were translated in to Setswana) and organised the data from the months of door to door campaigning. Nine callers took it in turns to call identified supporters, and we spoke to around 7,000 people during election day.”

The success of this project speaks for itself. The UDC now holds 17 seats in Botswana’s parliament, an increase of eight seats since the previous elections. The message of delivering change resonated with voters. Identifying key issues and themes was an exceptionally important part of the campaign, with voters now benefiting from the BMD and UDC’s work in improving sanitation, education and a cleaner, more transparent government.

Ultimately it will be Batswanas who benefit from these policies and having a party which works hard to reflect their views. Westminster Foundation for Democracy funds programmes which support political parties because doing so builds their ability to make better policy, strengthen accountability and improve citizen engagement and participation – particularly among marginalised groups like women and youth. That is exactly what the BMD has achieved with the support of Victoria and the ALN.

The BMD along with its broader UDC coalition have championed key issues to campaign on, such as access to clean water and reliable electricity. They have continued campaigning and won by-elections including a parliamentary defence and gained local council seats. They provide Botswana with a hope for a different kind of politics, and that there can be an alternative future in a country which has never changed government since independence.

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Blog: Finding windows of opportunity for political reform

Susan Dodsworth, WFD’s research fellow, captures the discussion on political party support from an  event at Oxford.

In early July, at a workshop in Oxford, Nic Cheeseman and I hosted a small group of academics, policy makers and practitioners for a great discussion around our latest research paper that tackles the issue of political party support and democracy promotion more broadly.

Let’s be honest about objectives

Our research on the Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s (WFD) political party programmes triggered a lot of questions. One particularly hot topic was what are the goals of political party support? While Nic and I have approached party support through the lens of democracy promotion, this is by no means the only end to which political party support might be turned. For some, party support is a way of spreading ideology and building the capacity of like-minded parties. This could help to improve the quality of democracy, but that’s not the primary goal. For others, political party support is about good governance, a term that is not synonymous with – and may not require – democracy. In some cases, political party support is less about delivering immediate change, and more about building relationships with political leaders over the long term. In those cases, the hope is that these relationships will provide a foot in the door if windows of opportunity for political reform emerge, or a seat at the table in times of crisis.

Honesty about the objectives of political party support is critical because it shapes our answer to another question: what constitutes success? For political parties, success tends to be defined in terms of electoral gains. Yet the rise of a single political party may have little impact on the quality of democracy in a country. If the goal is to build the capacity of opposition parties so that the electorate is presented with viable, programmatic alternatives to the ruling party, are we successful even if voters do not choose those parties? If the objective of a programme is to build relationships with political leaders, then different time horizons come into play. Success (or failure) will be evident only in the long term and will be contingent on a wide variety of factors beyond our control. Misrepresenting our objectives is dangerous because it makes it harder to demonstrate success. This, in turn, fuels scepticism about the effectiveness of democracy promotion, making it difficult to justify to the people who ultimately fund it: taxpayers.

Setting out a new research agenda

We challenged our audience to set out a new research agenda for democracy promotion. We asked them to tell us what they wished they knew, and how we might find out. Pretty much everyone was keen to know how we can detect and measure the impact of political party support, and other democracy promotion programmes. There are plenty of challenges here: questions about the comparability of different programmes, about what to do when ‘big data’ (the latest buzz word in both political science and international development) is unavailable, and the difficulty of conducting rigorous qualitative research in a field where (somewhat perversely) transparency is often lacking. Many of these problems stem from, or are exacerbated by, the relatively small number of programmes that provide political party support. This limits the pool of cases on which research can be based.

Some of our participants also asked whether previous research has had an impact on practice, and, more importantly, on results. In the last few years a number of researchers have suggested ways in which political party support and other forms of democracy promotion could be improved. However it’s not clear to what extent these recommendations have been implemented, or, where they have not been, why. As democracy promoters, including the WFD, respond to past research by adopting more innovative approaches (such as those that integrate political party support and parliamentary strengthening), researchers need to respond by helping them to evaluate the dividends delivered by these new tools.

Perhaps the most challenging question posed was whether democracy promotion can work in authoritarian settings. The first wave of democracy promotion took place in countries that had experienced reasonably clear-cut transitions from authoritarianism to democracy. In that context, the challenge was (to steal a line from Thomas Carothers) that of speeding up an already moving train. Today, an increasing amount of democracy promotion takes place in regimes where the political space is severely restricted or receding. The challenge is not to consolidate democracy, but to prevent the roll-back of earlier democratic gains and increase the chance that windows of opportunity for political reforms will be acted on, if they arise. At the moment, we simply don’t know whether this is possible.

This makes it important to consider whether there is an authoritarian threshold beyond which democracy promotion does not work. If that were the case, then it might sometimes be better for democracy promoters to do nothing. If it is not, then perhaps we should stay engaged in countries come what may, in the hope that this makes it more feasible to take advantage of future opportunities to promote reform, should they arise. This is an essential question to answer if we are to best target the time and resources of democracy promoters, but it remains an issue on which there is little clarity, and certainly no consensus.

Perhaps more worryingly, there’s also little to go on when it comes to avoiding unintended, negative side-effects of democracy promotion. Democracies don’t have a monopoly on political institutions (like parliaments) nor political processes (like elections); they can provide authoritarian regimes with legitimacy as easily as they provide it to democracies. A central task for any future research agenda is not only to identify where democracy promotion works best, but where it is likely to backfire.

 

More than elections, more than ideology – a strategic approach to sister-party support

 

(Featured image: Flickr Janneke Staaks)

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Young people need democracy – and democracy needs young people

(Above: Social media training with Youth Ambassadors from the East African Legislative Assembly)

Well-functioning democracies can help young people tackle the biggest problems they face – and Westminster Foundation for Democracy is working to help them do so.

But across all kinds of democracies, the disconnect between young people and those that represent them seems to be growing.

Just look at the recent EU referendum vote in Britain. Despite being a decision which would impact on young people’s future for decades to come, fewer people aged between 18 and 24 turned out to vote than did those aged over 65.

Across the Atlantic, both the Democrat and Republican parties have seen popular anti-establishment candidates driven in part by dissatisfied young voters.

And in the Middle East and Africa, young people out of work are demanding to know why youth unemployment is not being tackled – and increasingly using social media to make their dissatisfaction heard.

Young people need effective and inclusive governance because policies in areas like education, climate change, healthcare and job security will have a fundamental impact on their futures. The young face huge debts, inadequate services and a planet whose natural resources are quickly running out. Engaging in politics is key to ensuring that what they care about is addressed.

At the heart of much of WFD’s programming is an effort to involve young people. Their representation and involvement in the political process lies at the core of an effective democracy.

So this International Youth Day we wanted to highlight some of the ways we’re supporting young people’s engagement in politics. Here are five examples which show what WFD does for young people around the world.

(Above: Africa Liberal Network at London Youth Academy 2016)

Political party youth networks

Youth engagement features prominently across the work of all the political parties whose programmes are supported by WFD.

From the Labour Party support to young social democrats in Moldova to the Conservative Party development of the International Young Democrat Union, long-term efforts are being made to train the next generation of political activists.

Supporting and developing the skills of young people to play an active and effective role in party politics, decisions, and representation at local, national and international levels is fundamental to political party youth networks.

Take the Liberal Democrats support to the Democratic Alliance’s Young Leaders Programme in South Africa. This year they want to build on their previous success, by cultivating a new generation of emotionally intelligent and politically astute leaders within the Democratic Alliance and contributing to South Africa’s political future.

Children’s rights are human rights

Young people can be excellent advocates for change. When given the right encouragement, they can be shown how to engage with parliament and be real champions for progress on human rights.

Civil society organisations supported by WFD’s Macedonia programme are seeking legislative change on a range of issues which affect young people. They’re seeking better child marriage laws and legislation outlawing discrimination in educational institutions.

By showing young people how to achieve change by getting involved in changing legislation that impacts on them, WFD is raising awareness amongst young people in Macedonia about their rights.

An active civil society which can lobby parliament effectively to achieve changes in legislation will also show young people it’s possible to get involved in politics outside of political parties.

(Above: Ben Jones participating in the EU election observation in Guinea)

Training the next generation of election observers

Ensuring elections take place without corruption or manipulation is a fundamental part of any democracy.

WFD wants its cohort of observers to be truly representative of all parts of society, which is why we’re so committed to encouraging young people to be involved in this process.

It was great to see the level of participation from young people at WFD’s training, held in January 2016, on election observation methodology.

Ben Jones , one of WFD’s youngest election observers has participated in missions from Gabon to Serbia, and found the training in January extremely useful. He now wants to share the principles he learnt at the training with the election observation organisation he works with, AEGEE, who are committed to empowering young Europeans to make a direct personal contribution to democracy as election observers.

Advocating for Iraqi children’s future

Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s support for Dar Al- Khebra Organisation (DKO), a think-tank based in Baghdad, has led to numerous policy proposals being put forwards which had the promise of helping young people, from legislative ideas protecting orphans to proposals to improve the country’s national curriculum.

One promising policy change now submitted for consideration within the Iraqi Education Ministry is a legislative amendment which would finance a major push to improve Iraq’s schools infrastructure.

This potential change in policy has not yet occurred – yet by influencing the Council of Representatives and the executive, the WFD-supported DKO is helping improve representation of young people’s interests.

Our new programming in the country works to support the country’s Anti-Corruption Commissions, which will also help its representative institutions better represent the interests of Iraq’s youth.

Engaging Youth Ambassadors with the East Africa Legislative Assembly

Understanding how young people communicate is key to getting them more involved in politics – especially in the context of rapid growth in social media.

The commitment of the East Africa Legislative Assembly to reach out to citizens, especially the young, has led it to seek to modernise its approach to communications with WFD’s support.

Our programme trained EALA Youth Ambassadors on the importance of social media and how this can be used for three-way interaction between civil society organisations, citizens and the Assembly.

Videos and a new website accompanied the training in a bid to increase knowledge amongst young people about what the Legislative Assembly could do for them.

Young people bring an enthusiasm for innovation and change where communications technology is concerned. This should inspire politicians to connect through the channels that are the most effective.

This is exactly what has happened at the East African Legislative Assembly. It’s the kind of change which WFD, committing to improving the representation and engagement of young people around the world, is delighted to have helped bring about.

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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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Blog: What works best in political party strengthening?

(Above: The Africa Liberal Network is an alliance of African liberal democratic parties.)

Susan Dodsworth, WFD’s research fellow, blogs about her latest paper on political party support.

Support to political parties is perhaps the most difficult, and most criticised, form of democracy promotion. This is particularly true of programmes that use the sister-party approach, a model of political party support that centres on relationships between parties with similar ideological positions, and which is favoured by UK political parties. In our most recent policy paper, Nic Cheeseman and I draw on the body of practice accumulated by UK political parties, through programmes funded via the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), to work out what the sister-party approach has to offer. We argue that the sister party approach has value but that shared ideology should be just the start; sister-party programmes work best when parties have something more than ideology in common.

Why are people dubious about the sister-party approach?

The limited research we have accumulated to date suggests that the results of political party support are at best limited, and rarely transformative. There is some evidence that other forms of party support can make a difference, but scepticism about the value of sister-party programmes is particularly deeply entrenched. This is partially because democracy promoters are often working in countries where the left-right ideological spectrum that has defined politics in the West is blurred or non-existent. In such a context, finding genuine sister-parties can be a stretch. It is also because there is less evidence available about how sister-party programmes work in practice. Sister-party programmes rely heavily on relationships of trust and confidence and often touch on politically sensitive issues. This has reduced transparency: those providing support to political parties have been unwilling to let outsiders see their programmes at work. Luckily, as our collaborative project with WFD demonstrates, some democracy promoters are now more willing to open up their work to outside eyes.

Why is the sister-party approach worth saving?

A shared ideological position, even if it only exists at a relatively abstract level, makes it easier to establish a relationship of trust and confidence between parties. It is that relationship – not the shared ideological position itself – that accounts for much of the value of sister-party programmes. In political party support, the presence or absence of trust can make or break a programme – and this can be very difficult to build for actors who are not politicians themselves. A relationship of trust and confidence brings a number of advantages. Where such a relationship exists, party leaders are more willing to listen to advice and more willing to be honest about the weaknesses or short-comings of their parties. A strong sister-party relationship can allow those providing assistance to tell party leaders things they don’t want to hear. It also fosters strong, personal relationships between key individuals in both parties. This is critical. No matter how well a programme is designed, if the leaders of the party being assisted do not support it, or at least tacitly accept it, it is unlikely to change anything.

An important caveat is that these are potential advantages. Simply using the sister-party approach won’t generate them automatically. They are far more likely to arise if the sister-party approach is used in the right circumstances.

(Grant Haskin, ACDP Head of Communications meets DUP MP, Ian Paisley, as part of WFD’s Multi-Party Office programme)

When does the sister-party approach works best?

This, of course, raises the question: what precisely are those ‘right circumstances’? In our policy paper, we argue that the ‘right circumstances’ are when political parties share not just ideology, but something more. Often, that something more is a similar structural position in the political system. This refers to several things, including the relative size of a political party, whether it is part of a coalition, and – in the case of opposition parties – whether it seeking to regain power (having been in government previously) or to gain power for the first time.

These kinds of similarities cropped up again and again in all of WFD’s most successful political party programmes. For example:

• The Liberal Democrats gave the Liberal Democracy Party (LDP) in Serbia tough advice about the weakness of its position on LGBT rights, prompting them to establish a new human rights council within the party. According to someone familiar with the programme, ‘the key was getting them to accept that they were always going to be a junior party in any coalition or government’ and so did not need to adopt “catch-all” policies. This harsh truth was far more palatable coming from a party in a similar position to that of the LDP.

• The Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) has supported the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) in South Africa. The ACDP had struggled to attract media coverage on issues other than those seen as having a moral or religious aspect. The DUP experienced the same problem in the past. It drew on its experience to help the ACDP to develop a stronger communication strategy, one that expanded the range of issues on which it received media coverage.

(Above: Like the Labour Party’s support to Tha’era, the Green Party’s work with the East African Green Federation provides another example of sister-party work at the regional level.)

What are the implications of this?

The advantage of having more in common than ideology has, paradoxically, made it easier for smaller parties to do effective sister-party work and harder for larger parties to do the same. Newer, less established democracies tend to feature a lot of small parties; smaller UK political parties can often find several parties with whom they share a similar structural position. It is rare for larger political parties to find this kind of match. In the countries where political party support is needed, large parties with experience in government tend to be the ruling (and often distinctly authoritarian) party. The opposition is often fragmented into a number of smaller parties; no large opposition party exists. This means that it is more difficult for larger parties to do sister-party support well. They have to be far more selective about who they work with, and more strategic about what they do. Abandoning the sister-party approach to democracy promotion would be a mistake, but we do need to be more careful about where we use it.

 

The full paper: more than ideology, more than elections – a strategic approach to supporting sister-parties

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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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Cost of politics Q&A: How do we make political systems affordable?

Ahead of 18 July’s #CostOfPolitics conference, WFD’s Europe and Africa Regional Director George Kunnath has been explaining his approach to this emerging problem – and explaining how we’ll explore it next month.

When and where did you first identify the cost of politics as an important issue that needed more attention?

The first time I started to think about this was several years back in Ukraine, when it became very obvious to me that the majority either came from wealth or was linked to wealth. It was just impossible for an average person to ever make their way into the Ukrainian Parliament, which was affecting its legitimacy. By 2009 the Verkhovna Rada was seen as a place where wealthy people bought positions so as to acquire immunity. The disruption of Maidan reflected this frustration. I slowly began to realise that when the cost of buying your way into politics begins to exclude or marginalise the majority of citizens, it becomes counterproductive to democracy and affected the parliamentary culture within a country.

This issue isn’t just confined to Ukraine, though. You must have realised quickly the cost of politics had similar effects elsewhere.

The countries where this really spoke to me next were Uganda, Ghana and Nigeria. The context is different in each, but the impact of the rising cost of politics on the incentives which drive MPs was becoming increasingly clear in all of them. What we were starting to see was the linkage between the cost of politics and the behaviour of MPs. As the cost of politics increases, the behaviour of the MPs changes as they seek to recoup their initial investment.

How can you prove this is the case, though?

WFD has commissioned six case studies examining the situation in the four countries mentioned so far, plus Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. We’re seeking to establish the reality – whether there’s any degree of evidence which underpins what so far has just been a hunch. We’re aware that our case studies don’t provide the depth of research one would want as definitive proof. But maybe they are a step towards a discussion and debate which could prompt much more in-depth research. These case studies give us an idea of what the drivers of the costs are and the sources of funding. They will help frame the direction of subsequent in-depth studies.

How will we discuss these issues in the Cost of Politics conference on 18 July?

What we’ve decided to do is structure the conference around three key areas that are emerging from the case studies.

One of them deals with political parties’ internal governance – how parties are using things like primaries as a means to fleece their members in order to build up war chests. In some instances the primaries are becoming as expensive as the election.

Party financing is a big issue. It needs to be discussed, and openly. It matters to WFD because future programming cannot happen without understanding what’s happening with the parties.

The second area of focus is around the rising costs of campaigning and access to the media during election campaigns. This is an area where innovation can help. Some of the lessons from the UK, which holds elections at a fraction of the price of countries like the US, could be pertinent here.

The third area will focus on the ‘fourth role of an MP’. What is becoming evident is that there is a growing demand, especially in third-world countries, for MPs to provide welfare assistance to their communities paying for funerals, weddings, school fees etc. Normally in the developed world, the state provides welfare support. In the developing world people have tried to find mechanisms such as constituency development funds to try and alleviate the burden this places on MPs but with this has come a range of accountability challenges. We need to discuss this openly, recognise it, and think how best parliaments can work with MPs to address citizens’ often unrealistic expectations. In some cases, MPs do not want to visit their constituencies because they know they will struggle to meet their supporters’ expectations.

Once we have explored these three areas, we will hold a discussion about how the UK can respond to these challenges, and what best practice can be shared.

Tickets are still available, of course.

But they’re running out, so you’d better get yours booked quick.

What’s different about this approach? Isn’t political financing an issue which has already received a lot of attention?

Much political finance work is focused on the electoral process. Our approach to cost of politics is different in the sense that we’re looking at the impact of finances from the perspective of an individual’s entry into public life. The costs associated with this throughout his or her term in office is what matters, not just the costs at elections time.

It’s about applying the logic of an investment approach to a political career. Politicians spend so much to gain a position held for five years; they either end that period with a net gain or net loss. If it’s a net gain, a political career becomes attractive; in some cases if the perception is that politics is rewarding it could lead to increased competition for the wrong reasons. If this is a net loss, many people will be discouraged from entering politics. Our methodology is to ask not just those who have succeeded in this, but also those who have failed to win elections too. We are asking those who are leaving parliament and not returning to contribute. These veterans, of course, have less to lose in being open and honest about the costs of their political career.

Why should organisations committed to democracy-strengthening care about the cost of politics?

I’m a strong believer in conducting effective political economy analysis, because we need to understand the politics around the work that we do. Because our work is political, it is most successful when there is political will – a factor commonly driven by incentives. What we’re learning is that a lot of these incentives are set well in advance and the cost of politics plays an important role in determining the incentives.

This sounds very relevant to the current focus on tackling corruption following the UK Prime Minister’s London Summit on the issue in May 2016.

Often people talk about the link between political finance, the cost of politics and corruption. But we need to avoid an approach that this is about fighting corruption. Instead this is all about developing political systems that are affordable. By making political systems affordable, the need for corrupt practices is reduced. The spirit of our work and the spirit of our conference on July 18th is to try and help countries develop affordable political systems which mean that anyone can enter politics. I do believe most people enter politics for noble reasons, but the reality of the environment forces them down the path of corruption.

What can Westminster Foundation for Democracy offer to assist in this work?

We are uniquely placed to work with political parties and parliaments to openly and transparently help bring around change.

The factors driving corruption are set well in advance, right there at the beginning with the cost of politics.

If you don’t address this issue, when politicians do come to power they will find ways around the system. That’s the reality. So what we want to do is motivate donors, politicians and everyone else to invest in the harder problem of dealing with the root causes. We want to encourage donors to invest in innovative, sensitive and politically smart projects which can help address these issues. Yes, these are complex and very sensitive issues, but it will be worth it.

Finally, you were in Prague in April for the launch of the Political Financing Community of Practice. What were your impressions?

I think IFES did a great job in convening the community of practice. WFD hopes to host the next meeting of the community following the cost of politics conference. What we need to recognise is that the issues of political financing are many and partners have to work together to have a positive impact. The community of practice is a great way to share knowledge and experiences. We also need to recognise that each country is different and would require a different approach but if we understand each other’s strengths we could all work together to find solutions.

 

 

Photo: Thomas: Coins 
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Party focus: African Christian Democratic Party

We met Grant Haskin, Communications Director for the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) in South Africa, and Jeffrey Donaldson, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP for Lagan Valley and WFD Governor, to see how their parties’ partnership has helped strengthen the ACDP’s approach to communications ahead of the elections scheduled for later this year.

How do the parties in the Multi-Party Office build on their established sister-party relationships? Jeffrey Donaldson (JD): A lot of work in the past has focused on the sister party relationships. However, the Lib Dems and the ALN, for example, are not just working with one party but across a network. The Northern Ireland parties tend to have a single sister-party relationship, so the DUP has been supporting the capacity of the ACDP in South Africa for several years. Our current project is focused on improving their communication strategy. Grant, who is Communications Director of the ACDP, will be looking at the relationship between the Westminster team, the team in the Northern Ireland Assembly and at the local level. He will be looking at the consistency of communication output across the three different levels, which are parallel to the South Africa system.

What have you learnt from the DUP about communicating the ACDP message?
Grant Haskin (GH): There is definitely a lot we can learn, as our electorate in South Africa of course has a lot less experience with democracy in general. We are a young democracy; people are not used to voting, they are not used to translating a belief system into a vote. We are trying to bring a new message that changes that. We want to understand how the DUP over time has substantially increased their support base from a small number of MPs to having a majority – that is our ultimate goal. Our relationship with the DUP has come a long way. Our election results haven’t shown it yet, but the way we do things internally has changed substantially over the years.

Listening is essential for effective communication – how do you plan to engage with perspective voters?
GH: Our own members and our candidates need to know what we are doing and why we are doing it. The people who should vote for us need to understand why, and those who are voting for us must see the new ACDP as nothing different to what they have voted for in the past. Keeping them on the same page is a tricky business!
JD: The challenge we face is that we live in a world that is changing. The world is becoming more secular and less influenced by a faith approach to things. Issues like the economy, like healthcare, like education, are important. People know where we stand traditionally on the faith-based issues, but we don’t put them at the front and centre. If the ACDP are going to reverse the decline that mirrors the reluctance of voters to vote on their faith alone, they must demonstrate what they are going to do on the economy, on health, on education. I think the ACDP needs to get out of, as the DUP had to, the image of being a Christian party. It has to get out there and compete with other parties on socio-economic issues.

How can you keep the ACDP’s traditional support base happy and address the broader concerns of other citizens?
GH: We will do it in a way that does not alienate our traditional support base who expect us to focus on the moral issues. When they don’t hear us saying that they get worried, it’s a balancing act. Ahead of this election we have changed how the ACDP approaches the President’s State of the Nation address and the various budget votes. We have come out very strongly on socio-economic issues, like the drought in South Africa. People are hearing us on issues that they have not heard us on yet. They are seeing us as looking after the people and putting the people first in our approach to governing, instead of the perception that we are putting the Bible first.

In what ways have the ACDP incorporated the support from WFD, and the DUP in particular, into their approach ahead of the elections?
GH: I have already seen an important change in the way the ACDP is gearing itself up for these elections as a result of the focus that this programme is putting on media and communications. We are seeing members and political office bearers who are much more aware of their role. They are all being more consistent with each other. We use social media more consistently; we developed a social media policy and brought it across the country.
The party you experience in one city in South Africa is the same you should experience in a rural village. The capacity that this programme has given me to engage with the rural municipality, the village and the town is important. Now because of the programme I can engage with all of them, and take them from where they are to an improved space of engaging internally and externally within the party. We are training them on how to prepare for media interviews and conduct research; basic things that they never had the opportunity to learn. This has already improved our sense of political confidence going into the election.

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