Our research is focused on the following questions:
Effective democracies rely on norms and standards that shape and regulate individual and institutional behaviour. WFD’s research in this area considers the political economy of the creation and enforcement of international and regional benchmarks and conventions.
Democracy is a process, not an event, and that process must be learned through practice. But while there are certain consistent core elements, that process will differ from one context to another, with each country determining for itself how its democracy will look and function. WFD’s research in this area takes a comparative approach, analysing a variety of democratic practice across numerous contexts to draw out potential lessons for countries looking to reform or consolidate their democratic processes or institutions.
Following years of democratic liberalisation after the early 90s, an authoritarian backlash is seemingly in full swing, imposing restrictions on civil society and individual rights in countries in every region of the world. For some groups, most notably women, access to political participation and rights has always faced constraints. WFD’s research in this area looks at the distribution of power, be it political, social, or financial; how political elites limit democratic space and access to politics to maintain existing power structures; and how democracy support actors can address this.
WFD’s unique mix of parliamentary and political party access enables us to look at parliaments from both an external and internal perspective. WFD’s research in this area works to inform and test our programme activities – improving WFD’s performance while sharing lessons and good practice with colleagues in the donor and democracy assistance community.
Read key publications from our research programme below, or browse our library of resources
Political trust: the glue that keeps democracies together
This paper reviews existing research on political trust, explaining why it is important, what we know about it, and – perhaps most importantly – what we don’t. It argues that if practitioners, such as the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, are to foster greater levels of political trust, research into that phenomenon needs to become more innovative.
It’s not (only) about the numbers: how to amplify the voices of women in politics
This policy paper helps to fill this gap by examining the extent to which parliamentary committees provide women in African parliaments with an avenue for influencing laws and policies in the health sector. It maps the inclusion of women in parliamentary committees across sub-Saharan Africa and presents a case study of Malawi.
Cost of Politics
The cost of politics is how much it costs to run for office and the funds you need to maintain that office. In many countries, this cost is soaring - and it has exclusionary effect. WFD teamed up with the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) to research the cost of running for and staying in elected office in different countries around the world.
Defending democracy: When do parliaments protect political space?
This paper examines when parliaments protect political space by rejecting restrictive civil society laws. In doing so, it identifies several factors that shape the success (or failure) of international efforts to motivate legislatures to defend democracy.
Since 2016, WFD has been in a research partnership with the International Development Department at the University of Birmingham. Led by our Director of Research and Evaluation, Dr Graeme Ramshaw, Professor Nic Cheeseman and Dr Susan Dodsworth, the partnership takes a new and innovative approach by giving a research institution contemporary and direct access to our data, practice, people and beneficiaries. Research produced under the partnership - on parliamentary strengthening, political party support and civil society assistance - has generated positive attention, both for its findings and as a new model for collaboration between academics and practitioners.
Key findings from the research partnership:
- Parliamentary strengthening programmes face unavoidable trade-offs when selecting programme approach (focus on issue or institution) and defining programme scope (who to include).
- The sister-party model has greater impact when parties share not just ideology, but also similar levels of representation and power in the political system.
- Citizen participation programmes tend to focus on narrow groups of established CSOs, potentially perpetuating a de-politicised vision of civil society.
- Three factors influence how easy it is to motivate legislators to reject repressive laws: the existing level of democracy; the strength of international leverage; and the nature of the electoral system.