We’re holding consultations around the world to create a scorecard to evaluate the State of Participatory Democracy. Over the next month we’ll outline each of the components of the scorecard— why it is important in a participatory democracy, why we are including it in the scorecard, and some of the feedback we’ve heard around the world.
Today — the political component.
Political decisions are often made at the most centralized level of a country, with the President, Prime Minister, King, or Parliament setting the agenda for their given term. Political decentralization seeks to create a stronger voice for citizens and to gather greater power for locally-elected officials, often through more pluralistic decision making. Such decision-making processes include direct democracy, such as referendums, or representative democracy, such as regular town hall meetings or local councils. Often, these localized mechanisms support a more deliberative process, allowing everyday citizens to influence the formulation and implementation of policies.
Political decentralization often requires constitutional and legal structures, including local elections and laws requiring the dissemination of information or the holding of local meetings. But even when such laws are in place, practice may often be quite different. Our consultation in India drove this point home– community members kept returning to the difficulties faced because the laws and their enforcement differed significantly. In order to account for and demonstrate that separation where it exists, our scorecard includes two columns – one for the laws as they are written, and the other for the on-the-ground reality of how they are implemented.
If democracy is to thrive and have broad support it cannot simply be a winner-take-all system based on periodic elections. As democracy has spread throughout the world and continues to evolve in many settings, its basic principle remains the role it endows upon the citizen. And that role is not merely to choose a national leader in periodic, free, and fair elections – a thriving democracy requires the opportunity for citizens to voice opinions to local leaders who have the power to make changes. This opportunity is especially necessary for marginalized and minority groups who seek to advocate for themselves. Political decentralization is a means of sharing power amongst many stakeholders—political parties, ethnic groups, regions.
The political component of local democracy helps policies to be built where their impact is felt most. It takes governance to where things happen—the local level. It gets ordinary people involved and builds a collective voice to improve society. From large-scale social movements to neighborhood councils — democracy is a grassroots, day-to-day process. Democracy isn’t a speech, but a conversation.