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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