Advancing research on democracy between theory and practice

Graeme Ramshaw, Director of Research and Evaluation

What image comes to mind when you think of ‘research’? A white lab coat? A tall stack of books? An Excel spreadsheet full of data? The truth is that people hold a lot of preconceptions around the word ‘research’ (to say nothing of related words like ‘theory’) and the role it has to play in democracy support programming. At WFD, we’re trying to break down some of these assumptions and encourage better dialogue between researchers and practitioners. This includes recognising that research has many contributions to make in informing the work of WFD and organisations like us.

“Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing”

Wernher von Braun

Practitioners never like admitting that they don’t know what they’re doing. But learning requires acknowledging mistakes. Indeed, emerging trends towards more adaptive approaches to development programming encourage a healthier relationship with failure and uncertainty. WFD is working with our partners the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and DAI Europe to contextualise these lessons to parliamentary strengthening programmes. At our recent conference “Deliberating Democratisation,” this theme of acknowledging the limitations of our existing evidence and working with academics and others to push these boundaries further came across clearly.

“Research is formalised curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose”

Zora Neale Hurston

Oftentimes, however, we have an idea about what we’re looking for when we turn to research. Whether through activities or discussion, questions arise whose answers can only be found through careful and persistent enquiry. Over the past year, WFD has been interested in understanding more about how parliaments can protect and promote human rights; what are the trade-offs in designing parliamentary and political party support programmes; and why political parties in the Middle East and North Africa struggle to gain traction with citizens in the region. The answers we’ve found so far are available on our website, but we’ve got more ‘poking and prying’ to do. In the next year, we’re looking into the relationship between open parliament, transparency, and citizen trust; how to measure and benchmark parliamentary effectiveness in the context of the SDGs; the politics of decentralisation; and much more.

“Research is to see what everybody else has seen and to think what nobody else has thought”

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

Innovation is always a popular buzzword. Everyone wants to find the next best thing. But research teaches us that old ideas are critical for progress. New ideas build on old ones, filling in gaps or refining the thinking to take it to a new level.  At WFD, our cost of politics research is not inherently new. But by assembling concepts in a way that no one else has done before we have added unique value. Likewise, our upcoming research into closing civil society space with our partners at the University of Birmingham takes an old concept and looks at it from new angle, analysing the processes and incentives that inform decision-making around CSO legislation.

In this intro piece, I’ve tried to show there is no single definition of research; everyone can find one that fits best. The articles that follow give further depth to some of the topics WFD has explored this year through its research and its events. I hope they inspire you to take risks, be curious, and find your own questions and your own answers. Happy researching!

Highlights: WFD research programme

Seeing democracy as an ecosystem By Anthony Smith, CMG

Shaping an innovative approach to adaptive programming in democracy assistance By Sarah Leigh Hunt Consultant in Governance at DAI Europe and Graeme Ramshaw Director of Research and Evaluation 

Are we measuring what really matters? By Susan Dodsworth, Research Fellow 

Closing civil society space in East Africa By Charlotte Egan, Africa Programme Officer

Access to politics: Cost as a barrier By Angie Melano, Research Assistant 

 

Photo: From top left: West Africa Cost of Politics conference, Deliberating Democratisation event and Closing Civil Society Space conference
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Are we measuring what really matters?

Susan Dodsworth

Research Fellow – International Development Department University of Birmingham

At Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s recent conference – Deliberating Democratisation: Examining Democratic Change and the Role of International Democracy Supportone of the more contentious panels addressed the role of research in democracy support.

During that panel, I discussed how the quality of evidence available to academics shapes its utility to practitioners and policy-makers.

There’s both good news and bad news in this area. The good news is that there have been significant advances in how democracy is measured. Thanks to work like that of the Varieties of Democracy Project, we now have much more transparent, more finely grained indicators of democracy. The bad news is that measures of democracy only tell half the story. We also need better measures of democracy support.

This is bad news because our primary source of data on democracy support is the OECD Development Assistance Committee’s (DAC) database on aid flows. For academic researchers, this is the ‘default’ approach to measuring democracy support. Why? Because this is what we can access. Organisations that support democracy are often very reluctant to share their data, in part because it can put those they are trying to help at risk.

Our reliance on OECD data constrains research and limits its usefulness in three ways. First, reducing democracy support to money spent tends to produced recommendations along the lines of ‘spend more on X and less on Y.’ This has some value, but there are limits to its utility. Ultimately, it’s more useful to know how to spend money, rather than how much money to spend.

Second, we are limited by what is – and is not – captured in the coding of these databases. The OECD data only captures the primary purpose of aid. But we know that aid generally, and democracy support in particular, is often multi-purpose. Aid flows have also been reported in a way that creates blind spots. As I pointed out in a recent policy paper, it’s essentially impossible to calculate how much democracy support is invested in civil society – a significant problem given how important civil society is in democratisation.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, we might be missing what really matters. When you talk to democracy supporters about their work they will explain that ‘You can’t buy political will,’ or emphasise that ‘It’s not about the money.’ Instead, they (and their strategic documents, like this one) stress the importance of relationships, or of intangible resources like respect and recognition. The difficulty, of course, is that these things are extremely difficult to measure.

If research is to play a constructive role in democracy support, we need to have better measures of it. The challenge is to work out how we can get those better measures. This won’t be an easy task and, unless researchers and practitioners work together, it will probably be an impossible one. That’s why I hope we’ll see more events – like WFD’s conference – that create opportunities for better dialogue and – hopefully – more sustained collaboration between researchers and practitioners.

Highlights from Deliberating Democratisation conference

(Photo: Jo-Ann Kelly)
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How does the cost of politics impact on marginalised groups?

(Above: Commissioner from Nigeria’s Electoral Commission addresses the Cost of Politics regional conference)

Money remains one of the single most important barriers to political participation, but there are other non-financial costs associated with being active in political life that need to be considered too.

We often forget about who is excluded from politics because they can’t afford to run for office, or who is discriminated against when they choose to engage.

The impact the increasing cost of politics has on marginalised groups such as women and disabled people was explored at Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s regional West Africa conference on 31st January and 1st February 2017. The two-day event explored the West African perspective with case studies from Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

The term ‘mainstream politics’ and how marginalised groups are thought of as fringe perspectives – to be brought in from the peripheries when needed – it was argued limits the expansion of views in political dialogue, often leading to key issues like healthcare, education and support for vulnerable people being ignored.

As Professor Abubakah Momoh, Director General of the Electoral Institute noted at the conference, anyone who does not have the financial resources or capital to insert themselves in the mainstream is effectively marginalised. The distinction between inclusion and participation is therefore crucial. While inclusion is about valuing all individuals, giving equal access and opportunities to all, it does not capture the agency of the individuals involved to actively participate and engage.

Women very often have the social capital – the meaningful relationships and networks within their communities – that is mobilised for their male political peers instead of for their own campaigns. In a workshop carried out in Gaborone, Botswana aimed at supporting current and prospective female candidates, I witnessed just how integral women are to the campaigns of their male peers – organising door-to-door leafleting, rallying, networking and campaigning. The question then is not about whether women are capable of contesting and holding political seats, but rather about supporting women to mobilise the skills they do have, and helping them to identify innovative ways to access the necessary financial resources.

(Above: Representatives of people with disabilities address the regional Cost of Politics)

When contesting a seat women or persons with disabilities are often attacked on a personal rather than a political basis suggesting the cost of politics are not only financial. Prospective women politicians often face higher levels of abuse and scrutiny when compared to their male counterparts. This was a point reiterated by a female MP who spoke candidly at the event of how she and her family had been threatened and a close relative kidnapped because of her frank and vocal political views. Women face far higher risks and are often criticised for defying traditional gender roles like looking after the family. This moves the dialogue away from the political capability of candidates to deliver on electoral issues and promises towards personal characteristics.

Persons with Disabilities, in many countries particularly in Africa, still face a lack of understanding and awareness from other citizens about what having a disability actually means. While countries have ratified international conventions and agreements to safeguard equal rights and fight discrimination, this is too often undermined by a failure to translate these into everyday practices, for example, braille versions of government documents; services for the hearing impaired, wheelchair accessible buildings. Until political and public spaces are more accessible it is difficult to meaningfully facilitate political participation amongst these groups.

The social cost of exclusion, marginalisation and the denial of fundamental rights to equal political participation is a real concern prospective candidates face around the world. Westminster Foundation for Democracy hopes our research into the full cycle of political participation and the costs associated at each stage will encourage active participation and engagement by people from all groups in political life. To do this we need to re-focus on the politics and not the personal.

 

By Tobi Ayeni, Programme Officer – Africa

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From presence to influence: Beyond International Women’s Day

(Above: Shannon O’Connell has joined the Westminster Foundation for Democracy as Senior Policy Advisor – Gender and Politics. With over twenty years’ experience in the field of politics, governance, and international development, Shannon has particular experience in women’s political empowerment and gender mainstreaming.)

In the 1990s, I worked in the House of Representatives in the United States. I purposely sought a position with the staff of a Member of Congress who was considered one of the most progressive of the 435 representatives. Among other important issues, his voting record included consistent support for initiatives to protect and advance the interests of women and girls.

One day, a group of school girls from the Congressman’s constituency came to visit. They were given a tour of the Capitol, told a bit about the functions and history of the legislative branch and then ushered back to our office to meet the Congressman. They asked questions about how the House worked, and then one of the girls asked the Congressman, “Do you think I could ever be a Member of Congress?”

Immediately, without taking a breath, the Congressman replied, “No. I’m the Congressman from this district. This is my job.”

The girl was about twelve years old. By law, she could not even run for the House of Representatives for another thirteen years. Yet even then, in an unguarded moment, a very senior, experienced, well-established and (theoretically) progressive Congressman saw her as a threat.

During that time, I also dated a guy who was a strong proponent of Valentine’s Day. It’s not that he was particularly romantic (he wasn’t), but he felt it was a useful reminder that, once a year at least, you should say or do something endearing for your partner.

(Above: Shannon participates in a WFD organised round-table for marginalised groups in Uganda)

How are these two meandering memories linked? Oddly, they’re linked by International Women’s Day.

International Women’s Day in many ways serves as one of these kinds of reminders. Once a year, we stop and remember to say laudatory and important things about women and girls, and about the state of their well-being in the world. But if this is where our focus and our agency stops, what we are offering is of little more value than the Congressman’s voting record.

In recent years, the conversation about women’s participation has focused on the numbers – getting more women into elected and appointed offices and into executive positions. Globally, the news in this regard is good. The number of women in national legislatures stood at 23% in 2016, up from 17% ten years earlier. Affirmative action efforts in Uganda, for example, have raised the number of women in parliament to 34%; Rwanda leads the world at 61%.

This is the quantitative side of moving towards more equal and inclusive decision-making. It is a start. It is the Valentine’s Day equivalent of women’s participation – a nice gesture that injects a bit of energy and strengthens the connection, and without which the relationship would not be particularly vibrant.

But the real romance is not about quantity, it is about quality – the quality of women’s participation. This means not just increasing the presence of women, but also increasing the influence of women.

Worldwide, political systems are stumbling. Problems range from general voter discontent and disengagement to genuine instability and chaos. The call for change, for reform, for stronger more engaged systems that deliver real benefits for voters, is loud.

Democratic activists are responding to this call and part of the answer, unequivocally, is about supporting women’s leadership and injecting their influence into these systems – not just as window dressing, but as a core component of the architectural restructuring that needs to happen. Women (and other groups who tend to live outside decision-making frameworks) are part of an opportunity to do things differently, and do them better. We know there are multiple benefits to more inclusive decision-making systems and that these are not just limited to the well-being of women and girls. All of society gains.

This is not a silver bullet that will solve all our democratic woes, but figuring out how we not just let women in but also let women lead means we are asking the right questions – the ones that will get us all on the path to stronger systems of government that will deliver for all citizens.

This International Women’s Day, ask yourself and the organisations that you influence what you can do to help women be part of doing things better.

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Can democracy supporters let civil society be itself?

Susan Dodsworth

Civil society is a central part of the democracy support tool-kit.

Those who seek to promote democracy almost universally identify strong and vibrant civil society as an essential driver of political reform. Supporting civil society is popular because it offers the tantalising prospect of fostering change from the bottom up. Adding to its appeal, civil society provides democracy supporters with an alternative to engaging directly with governments, which are often highly repressive or corrupt. It also promises (or more accurately, appears to promise) a way to support those working on sensitive issues, such as human rights, without interfering in domestic politics.

Democracy supporters want to help civil society because it is an important political actor. Yet, paradoxically, many democracy promoters continue to implement programs in a way that denies or ignores this truth; they engage primarily with professionalised, advocacy-centred NGOs, who they encourage to campaign on the basis of evidence, rather than ideology. This problem arises with respect to development aid more broadly, but it is particularly problematic in the context of democracy support because it perpetuates a de-politicized vision of what civil society is, and what it ought to be. It is understandable that both donors and democracy supporters fall into this trap; more technocratic civil society actors are typically better set up to engage with international partners, and are less likely to trigger resistance from authoritarian governments. However, in reality many civil society organisations are not impartial or evidence-based, but are campaigning bodies established to promote a specific perspective. Moreover, these political variants of civil society are essential to the health of democracy.

The discrepancy between the motivation for and practice of civil society support is well established, but has proved difficult to remedy. In 2010, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) commissioned a review of donors’ civil society strategies. It authors observed, ‘All donors now acknowledge that the term includes other associational forms, including trade unions, “traditional” associational groups, and faith-based groups.’ Yet despite the rhetoric of inclusion, the donors continue to prioritize a particular type of organisational structure, built around formal, professionalized organizations. In its recent Civil Society Partnership Review, published in November 2016, DFID highlighted this issue. It noted that grassroots organisations, such as smaller local NGOs and faith-based groups, are often better positioned to achieve lasting impact, admitting that DFID still needs to become better at engaging with these kinds of actors.

In our most recent policy paper for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, Nic Cheeseman and I discuss several ways in which democracy supporters might expand the range of civil society organisations that they engage. One is to ‘borrow’ the multi-party dialogue format that is often employed by the Netherlands Institute for Multi-Party Dialogue (NIMD) and develop an equivalent version for civil society. Instead of trying to negate or ignore political divides, this approach would aim to work around them by fostering tolerance and mutual respect between those at different ends of the political spectrum. Rather than depoliticising civil society, such a strategy would seek to reduce distrust and foster collaboration between adherents of rival views and beliefs.

In some countries, large civil society forums already exist. However, they are typically seen (by both donors and local governments) as a means of getting civil society to agree on a common position, rather than means of capturing a diverse range of opinions. Governments sometimes use disagreement within civil society as an excuse for ignoring it, asserting that it needs to speak with a single voice if it wants to be heard. Democracy supporters can help to resolve this impasse by encouraging governments to develop consultation processes that accommodate a range of perspectives.

More inclusive strategies for supporting civil society do have risks. There is growing evidence that as external support for civil society grows, so too does the risk that authoritarian incumbents will retaliate, employing a variety of tactics to close political space. Broadening the kinds of civil society that donors support could exacerbate this risk, but taking no risk at all might also prove counterproductive. Playing it safe all the time will leave us with an impoverished version of civil society and a superficial form of democracy. Democracy supporters cannot work with all types of civil society all the time; to attempt this would be both impractical and foolhardy. They do, however, need to find ways to let civil society be itself whenever this is possible.

Publications

 

(Photo: Top: WFD’s, EU funded programme in Uganda supported local CSOs, GWED-G and REACH, to raise awareness about the implementation of CEDAW)
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Westminster Foundation for Democracy in 2017

Anthony Smith, WFD CEO, signs MOU with Speaker of the Hluttaw in Burma

Anthony Smith, CMG

This year we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD).

In this time, the Foundation has worked to support democracy in over 70 countries, sharing experiences and forging strong partnerships around the world.

We owe our existence to the vision of a group of British parliamentarians that saw how important it was to invest time and energy in sharing Britain’s democratic experience – good and bad – with countries emerging from the Soviet Union. Democracies in those early partner countries have been transformed and many are now helping other countries take the same journey. Britain’s democracy has also evolved, with four vibrant parliaments sharing that same vision – that we are stronger when we share our experiences and work to support democratic institutions around the world.

WFD’s approach is simple. We draw on the rich diversity of Britain’s democracy – political parties of every size, parliamentarians that have helped Britain remain stable and prosperous through economic expansion, recession and austerity, external and internal conflict, and officials that have provided expert guidance – including through intense constitutional debate – without getting in the way of political leadership.

The two years since our present strategy was published have seen WFD expand geographically and diversify our work. We now have offices in 25 countries and programmes in many more, which means more opportunities for “South-South” learning as well. The variety of the work is fantastic. A number of our partners have started on historic transitions – Burma, Sri Lanka, and Venezuela spring to mind. Some of our partners – for example Tunisia – have had their first democratic transition of power while a second generation of citizens in others such as Ghana have enjoyed peaceful transitions.

Wherever we work, we always tailor our work to local demands. That means ensuring that we understand the local context, but it also means combining political party and parliamentary programmes in new ways, addressing behaviours and political culture, not just the formal rules and structures. WFD has also launched two new lines of work. First, we have begun to provide and train UK election observers for international election missions and, second, our research programme is both looking back at lessons from our previous work and looking forward at issues that will affect our future work.

We want to build on that progress in 2017, in three main ways:

We will work with new partners and in new countries. There is a strong demand for this in every region and, while we cannot respond to every request, we do think there is scope for further expansion. We have seen a lot of interest in regional networks among political parties and parliaments. Respect for and interest in Britain’s democracy and our approach – sharing experiences not pushing any specific model – is global.

We will renew established partnerships and build new ones. World-class British organisations such as the BBC, the British Council, the National Audit Office and think tanks like Chatham House, Wilton Park and Overseas Development Institute can provide critically important lessons on a range of issues that affect the quality of political and civic life in our partner countries. We would like to work as closely with them as we already do with others such as the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

We will increase our impact on some key policy issues. At the top of the list is women’s political empowerment where we want to ensure that all of our programmes consider their impact on women. Tolerance and dialogue are also a top priority – parties and parliaments can help build shared rules of the game and tackle conflict within society. And anti-corruption remains critically important.

Challenges to democracy-strengthening

Whatever the eventual shape of WFD’s programmes, 2017 will be an important year for any organisation that is working to support democracy. The political turbulence of 2016 was in at least some cases an indication that existing democratic leadership and institutions were not serving their citizens well. At its heart, democracy is the best way of preventing the abuse of power by political leaders. But if democracy is seen to be failing citizens, then there is a greater risk of autocracy gaining ground, at least in the short term.

That creates two challenges. The first is of political leadership, whether exercised by Presidents and Prime Ministers, parliamentary Speakers, Committee Chairs, judges, editors or heads of civil society organisations. Their behaviour will determine the atmosphere in which democratic institutions can work to tackle the real problems – security, the economy, social inclusion – that our societies face. Political competition is important, but so is respect for minority opinions and for their right to express them.

The second is a challenge of effectiveness. Institutions need to work well enough to maintain public confidence in them, so it is important to tackle the nuts and bolts of institutions as well as their strategic roles. For example, if a parliament cannot carry out its core role properly, or even publish records of its proceedings on time, then it will lose credibility and dent the perception of the democratic system.

For both these reasons, WFD will continue working to support both political leadership and institutional effectiveness in our partner countries. We value your contributions and hope that together we can strengthen democracy in the year ahead.

 

(Photo: Anthony Smith, WFD’s CEO, signs MOU with Speaker of the Hluttaw in Burma)
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The Cost of Politics in West Africa: WFD regional conference

How do we make politics more affordable?

This is the central question WFD’s research into the cost of politics is tackling. The research programme, launched last July in London, will explore the issue in West Africa by convening the region’s experts at a conference in Nigeria on 31 January.

The conference will address the whole cycle candidates face – from securing nomination to campaigning and maintaining a parliamentary seat – and the associated costs individuals face at each stage of this journey.

The variations in social, cultural and political dimensions that exist between Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Sierra Leone will be examined with the aim of exposing the different contexts politicians must operate in, and the impact this has on the incentives which drive MPs.

“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” WFD’s Regional Director for Africa, George Kunnath, explained.

To address the issue of incentives in the region, the event will focus on how existing regulations can be enhanced and the role political parties and the media play in shaping them.

The impact this phenomenon has on marginalised groups, such as women and youth, as well as the need for cross-border cooperation will be debated by leading experts from election management bodies, civil society, political parties, MPs, the media, academia and enforcement agencies. By facilitating cross-border learning and an exchange of best practice we hope to identify priority issues that can be addressed in the region, with the long-term aim of developing a regional action plan.

Going beyond an assessment of politicians and political parties, the conference will look at the role citizens and society play within this phenomenon and the broader impact this has on governance. In Ghana, George Kunnath explained “people have done the numbers and realised it is not worthwhile for them to get into politics” – especially when an MP is compelled to spend £750 a month supporting funerals in their communities. These ‘associated costs’ mean political life is intrinsically linked to corrupt practice, whether by securing re-election through the exploitation of state resources or the increased power that comes with the role.

Adebowale Olorunmola, WFD Country Representative for Nigeria, highlights trust as a major issue in the region. Contributing to WFD’s Cost of Politics report he illustrated the “gulf between the parties and people” that currently exists; a gulf created in part by the huge costs associated with selection but also by the motivations of current politicians who “get into political office to serve personal interests, leaving well-intentioned citizens, with ideas to move society forward, without access”.

For more information about WFD research click here. Follow WFD on Twitter for updates on the #CostofPolitics

 

(Above: Photo – Henry Donati captured citizens’ waiting to vote in Ghana’s most recent presidential elections as an Election Observer on the European Union Mission in December.)
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The Cost of Politics in Ukraine: Interview with Prof. Andriy Meleshevych

(Above: Photo: Valdemar Fishmen)

Money plays a central role in the political system; from selection costs to financing an election campaign, potential members of parliament often require great personal wealth to secure a seat at the decision-making table. Last July, WFD launched a series of research into the cost of politics in Europe and Africa.

Andriy Meleshevych, Professor at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and author of the Cost of Politics research paper on Ukraine explains why this research is important.

Andriy, can you explain the key findings that emerged from the research on the Cost of Politics in Ukraine?

Political party finance is a controversial area in any country. In Ukraine, in the past no money was allocated in to the national budget for the purpose of public finance of political parties. Basically, nobody cared except several NGOs.

Currently we have budget money allocated to successful political parties; those represented in the parliament as a result of parliamentary elections. It is not much but it is still the first step. In fact, the first trench of money was transferred to some political parties recently. The Government also set up an enforcement mechanism; the National Agency of Corruption Prevention, which checks declarations submitted by political parties on their income and expenses. The most important thing in Ukraine is that not only the legislative framework has been adopted but the mechanism of its enforcement has been set up and the money was allocated in the national budget for this purpose.

Why do you think addressing this issue is so important for citizens’?

Nobody wants to live in a country that is corrupted, everyone would like to have some predictability, some rule of law in their country. It is much more convenient, calmer and comfortable to live in a country where you know what might happen to you tomorrow.

So, how does the cost of politics research fit into anti-corruption efforts more broadly?

Public finance of election campaigns and political parties is an extremely important issue. It is at the heart of the issue of power in a society: who holds this power, who has access to this power, in what ways such an access is guaranteed and provided, is it fair access or is it corrupted access. I think there are many faces of corruption, but political corruption especially in the top echelons of power determines the whole fabric of society.

You mentioned that new measures aimed at reducing corruption have been introduced – How did parliament react? Was there a lot of opposition?

The most recent elections to the Ukrainian Parliament took place two years ago and resulted in a significant refurbishment, or using political science terms; a major realignment of political forces in Ukraine. The political will of the majority of Ukrainian members of parliament to move closer to European institutions is one essential motivation and the other crucially important element is the role of civil society. All the major changes that I have described to you we have civil society to thank for. The Government without civil society pressure would be much slower.

Where there any surprises revealed by the research?

Yes, the amount of money involved in the electoral campaigns in Ukraine. I did not expect that they would cost so much. I expected it in the UK or the US but the amounts that aspiring politicians in Ukraine were paying for campaigns was comparable with the wealthiest European countries.

And what about the impact on sitting MPs – What costs do they face?

The Revolution of Dignity was a watershed in a way as before that members of parliament [saw being in parliament as] business. You get to the parliament, you invest money in your electoral campaign, you get access to the national budget. Then you lobby your interests, you introduce bills that somebody pays you to introduce and you make sure the bill is accepted, then you get rewarded by business: this is how Ukrainian politics worked.

After the Revolution of Dignity, the situation changed significantly. Salaries for members of the Ukrainian Parliament decreased to about 300 dollars per month, which is also ridiculous. How are you going to perform your duties if you are only making 300 dollars per month and the cost of living in Kyiv is pretty high? Currently it is getting to normal. They increased salaries to a realistic figure so people who came from civil society can survive in parliament. The civil society representatives who are currently members of parliament or joined public service didn’t come from business and they heavily rely on the money that they make as their salary.

And it’s very important to get the views of ordinary citizens represented in the parliament. It seems like there is a lot of progress being made – are you hopeful for the future?

I am hopeful because I see significant changes but what is very important is that society does not get disillusioned. We currently have very high levels of expectation in Ukraine. If society does not get disillusioned, then it can push the Government to do what civil society wants them to do in the interest of a democratic Ukraine. If these very useful anti-corruption laws are not implemented – and Ukraine is very skilled at not implementing good laws – then it will lead to instability, disillusionment in democratic changes, and perhaps even the loss of national sovereignty.

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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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What do parliaments & parties bring to the SDGs?

(Above: Effective gender budgeting would support women councillors in Gulu Uganda to deliver vital services for women in their communities)

WFD’s Director of Programmes Devin O’Shaughnessy reflects on how democratic institutions can influence implementation of the global goals. 

Parliaments and political parties have important roles to play in helping countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular Goal 16: promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, providing access to justice, and building accountable and inclusive institutions.

Legislation, oversight and representation: The role of parliaments

From drafting legislation to conducting oversight, parliaments play a critical role when it comes to the successful implementation of the SDGs.

Around the world, legislation will need to be passed or amended to create new government programmes that address structural barriers to achieving equitable growth, protecting the environment, and improving health and education. Parliamentarians’ legislative skills and expertise in various sectoral areas must be bolstered, through investment in parliamentary libraries and research units and technical support to select committees.

Budgets will need to be scrutinised and passed that commit sufficient resources to meeting the development goals; this could mean less investment in the military and more on infrastructure and water management systems, for example. Effective use of gender and youth budgeting to make sure government investment is benefitting women and other vulnerable groups will also be key.

By enhancing the role of parliament in the oversight of a country’s efforts to achieve the SDGs, it can act as a check on the executive in its commitment to achieving the SDGs, whilst ensuring that each ministry is playing its role effectively by implementing programmes and making investments that tackle the whole range of issues covered by the goals.

Parliamentary Budget Offices (PBOs), like the ones WFD has helped establish in the Serbian, Ukrainian, and Montenegrin parliaments over last few years are a vital tool in producing the analysis and information needed to ensure implementation of the agenda stays on track. Improved research capacity will be essential to test whether governments are providing accurate data on social and economic indicators; key to measuring progress.

Parliament’s role as a representative body means it can facilitate input from a broad group of citizens. By holding hearings and engaging CSOs, the media, and citizens on the importance of the SDGs and the progress being made (or not made), parliaments can make sure people’s views are being represented in the policy process.

Public interest, delivery and an international approach: The role of parties

Political parties have a critical role to play in generating debate and public interest in the SDGs. The SDGs can serve as a useful pillar in party platforms and manifestos, focusing the attention of their supporters and voters on the importance of making progress on these goals, as well as providing direction to their senior officials when they are in power.

When in opposition, parties can look to the SDGs to hold to account the party or parties in power, pointing out any failures to make progress and offering alternative policy ideas and leadership to help achieve these goals.

On a global level, party internationals can mobilise their member parties to discuss the SDGs and take common stands on the importance of achieving the goals, and how they as a family of parties would go about achieving them through the application of their ideology and policies.

(Above: Workshop to update CPA Benchmarks on Democratic Legislatures in line with the SDGs)

With both parties and parliaments, we can help encourage the establishment of global and regional standards and mechanisms to help facilitate the achievement of the SDGs. For this, we will need to work with others to tackle implementation at different levels. Our efforts to update the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) Benchmarks on Democratic Legislatures to take account of the SDGs – in close collaboration with the World Bank, Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), UNDP, and others – will ensure progress against goal 16 is not ignored. Encouraging participants from three of our partner parliaments to take part in the International Parliamentary Project on Sustainability, Energy and Development, led by CPA (UK Branch), raises awareness of the range of issues addressed within the goals. Establishing or bolstering regional parliamentary networks that share information and best practices on how to encourage countries to meet their SDG targets will be crucial as well.

WFD firmly believes that the SDGs provide a real opportunity for parliaments and political parties to be actively involved in the new development agenda shaping citizens’ lives for the next decade and a half.

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