Red Innovación at 3 Years: Connecting Democracy Activists Throughout Latin America

Dan Wagner, CEO of Civis Analytics and National Analytic Director for the 2008 and 2012 Obama campaigns, participates in a Red Innovación Google Hangout on campaign strategies.

Since its launch three years ago, online platform Red Innovación has helped activists throughout Latin America efficiently share tools and materials that contribute to political reform and good governance initiatives. In honor of next month's launch of the new Virtual Diploma in Communication Policy, which is hosted by Argentine partner Civil Association of Popular Studies (Asociacion Civil de Estudios Populares, ACEP) in partnership with Red Innovación and will provide training on new communications strategies, here is a recap of Red Innovación’s successes.

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Whence Popularity? The New Wave of European Populist Parties

Protesters gather in Madrid’s Puerta del sol square as part of the 15-M anti-austerity movement. Source: Wikimedia Commons

A populist wave has crashed down upon the streets of Europe. Populist parties, old and new, left and right, have been dominating headlines in Europe over the past few years. Such parties are often led by charismatic leaders, and they claim to represent the will of the people against the elite or status quo. “The people” they appeal to are often those who feel alienated by European integration -- those who feel threatened by economic reform or lenient immigration policies.

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The Road Forward: Tunisia Provides an Example for Democracy in the Middle East and North Africa

Tunisian citizens protest the rise of the destabilizing trend of regionalism

Nearly five years after protests against former authoritarian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali began in December 2010, Tunisia has adopted a modern constitution and, for the first time, democratically elected a new legislature and president. Tunisia has been lauded as an inspirational -- though not untroubled -- democracy within the Middle East and North Africa region. To ensure the current security concerns and economic difficulties do not encourage undemocratic intervention in the process, it is important that the U.S. government and international community continue to support the new Tunisian government as it makes difficult choices.

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Cindy McCain Visits NDI in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Cindy McCain and NDI Resident Director Eve Thompson (right) meet with women political leaders in Kinshasha, Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

On July 8, the National Democratic Institute’s team in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) had the pleasure of hosting Cindy McCain in its Kinshasha office. McCain, a businesswoman, philanthropist and humanitarian, is also the wife of U.S. Senator John McCain, who chairs NDI’s sister organization, the International Republican Institute. Mrs. McCain asked to meet with a group of Congolese women politicians to discuss their under-representation in the country’s government as well as the difficulties they face in efforts to participate successfully in the political process.

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Accessibility in the Digital Space: Making the Internet Open for Everyone

Credit: Kathryn Cyr

Barriers to participation are not always obvious to those without a disability, but something as simple as a wheelchair ramp can ensure a citizen's ability to exercise her right to vote. People with disabilities, who comprise 15 percent of the global population, are often blocked from aspects of public life. Efforts to improve the accessibility of physical spaces, such as polling stations and government buildings, are important, but in an increasingly digital age, it is also critical that people with disabilities are able to access and share information online. On June 16, NDI hosted an internal discussion with Nick Bristow, a lead web accessibility developer for the 18F team within the U.S. Government’s General Services Administration. During his discussion with NDI staff, Nick shared concrete skills on how to plan and design an accessible website, and cultivate organizational awareness of the needs of people with disabilities.

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Four New Resources for Developing Politically Smart Programs

Credit: istockphoto.com/zodebala

The strength of democracy not only varies vastly across countries and regions but can also change rapidly. NDI operates successfully in these changing environments in part by leveraging available knowledge to implement the most innovative and relevant programmatic approaches. As practitioners and researchers develop new theories and techniques to guide international development, NDI’s Citizen Participation team shares these publications with Institute staff. The resources shared last month demonstrate approaches to strengthening democracy through fighting corruption, thinking and working politically, improving service delivery and increasing fiscal transparency.

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Transparency Could Ease Decades-Long Democratic Erosion in Nicaragua

Poll monitors oversee the 2006 Nicaraguan elections.

Advances and reversals generally mark the trajectory of democratic development. But in the political history of Nicaragua over the last decade, there have been only reversals with next year’s elections likely to see the continued erosion of Nicaraguan democracy and consolidation of power by President Daniel Ortega and his Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional - FSLN). But there are voices advocating for greater pluralism. Opposition political parties are small but vocal, and different elements of civil society have advocated for democratic reforms. While their efforts have not yet yielded results, the Nicaraguan government still has the opportunity to move toward greater transparency in the polls before next year's presidential elections.

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Protest Parties: What Does a Pirate or Anarcho-Surrealist Do After Being Elected?

Jon Gnarr, in his official capacity as mayor of Reykjavik, Iceland. Gnarr, a sketch comedian, was elected in 2009 on satirical platform of providing free towels at public pools, a polar bear at the zoo and a drug-free parliament by 2020.

In the last decade, a proliferation of anti-establishment parties in the Euro-Atlantic region has led to increased numbers of protest candidates elected to local, national and European office. Protest parties reject mainstream politics and incumbency, opting instead for sensational campaigns that often advocate for a single issue. Pirates in the UK or anarcho-surrealists in Iceland make for interesting debates, but what happens when candidates who reject a system become part of it? Recent examples show that citizens will vote for protest candidates to highlight “elephant-in-the-room” issues, but in the long run candidates need to be able to deliver on critical issues to maintain support.

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Integration: Helping Democracy Deliver

In Liberia, engineer James Kendor explains to Senator Joyce Freeman Sumo how water is distributed to her constituents. Credit: Varney Karneh

In most places where NDI operates, the relationship between citizens and government needs work. Instead of serving citizens, government institutions are often weak, co-opted by elite interests, or ineffective due to corruption and impunity. When government is unable or unwilling to address basic needs, citizens suffer.

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