The State of Local Democracy assessment framework (SoLD) is developed by International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) to support citizen-led and locally owned democracy assessments at the local level. The guide “State of Local Democracy Assessment Framework” provides an updated version of SoLD which was first developed in 2002 and puts a new framework to the test in practice over the next couple of years.
The SoLD assessment framework is a comprehensive practical framework which citizens can use to assess the functioning of their local democracy, and it aims at raising public awareness, sparking discussions, and helping identify areas for reform. The framework is a universal assessment framework that can be used in a variety of local settings and at the same time, a highly flexible framework that can be contextualized and be effectively implemented in a variety of cultures and settings.
The framework is always underpinned by the principles and mediating values which are reflected in the assessment questions. In the assessment, a definition of democracy is founded on two basic democratic principles:
- Popular control of public decision-making and decision-makers
- Political equality of those who exercise that control
While these two principles shape the institutions and procedures of representative government, it is necessary to examine the mediating values through which popular control and political equality are realized in the day-to-day practice of democracy. These mediating values include: Representation, Participation, Authorization, Legitimacy, Responsiveness, Accountability, Transparency, and Solidarity.
It is important to mention that a context analysis serves as the foundation for any SoLD assessment process. It allows assessors to better understand the historical trajectory of democracy and define the nature of the local unit. Important areas to include in the local context analysis include:
i. Historical, geographical, socio-economic and demographic data
ii. Local government influence
iii. Human safety and security
The framework is for assessing the quality of local democracy by looking at the functioning of the three important pillars of local democracy:
Pillar 1. Citizenship, equal rights and justice
Pillar 2. Representative and accountable processes and institutions
Pillar 3. Citizen initiative and participation
While these three pillars of analysis are the vertical building blocks of the SoLD assessment, there are also important recurring issues that will always need to be considered. These include:
- Gender equality
- Social cohesion and diversity
- Conflict and security
- Democracy and development
*Specific assessment questions in three pillars are listed p84-p91 in the guide.
The guide also explains how to conduct the framework. The assessment has two-dimensional process, which combines research with inclusive dialogue and debate. There are mainly eight consecutive steps to ensure good preparation, implementation and follow-up to the assessment.
1. Preparation, timing and partnership-building
The initiators need to ascertain the need and purpose, confirm the timing, and engage reformers.
2. Assessment organization
The stage is setting up a management and coordination structure which should consist of a core assessment team and a consultative team.
3. Assessment design and work plan
The assessment team begins to discuss how to operationalize the framework in a series of meetings between core assessment and consultative teams.
4. Data collection and analysis
The stage is to decide on data collection techniques (both quantitative and qualitative methods), to analyze data, and to develop the narrative or story line.
5. Report writing and recommendations
This includes taking a final decision on the desired form, length and packaging of the report.
6. Validation workshops and report finalization
At validation workshops, the draft report is to be discussed and critically reviewed by key local stakeholders to validate the general analysis.
7. Publication, dissemination, advocacy for reform
Findings need be published in a format that is easily understood, and the analysis and recommendations are disseminated among the local population to increase the chance for actual reform.
8. Evaluation and next steps
Evaluation includes a meeting within the core assessment and consultative teams about the overall assessment and implementation process. Next steps involve looking back at the short-term, medium-term and long-term recommendations for reform.
The ability of assessments of democracy is important not only for deepening democracy at the local level, but also for informing strategies for broadening and deepening democracy at the national level. In many cases, there are significant gaps between the aspirations of the citizens at the normative level and the reality on the ground. Citizen-led assessments of local democracy can be essential in bridging that gap.
You can download the full PDF here.
*Related video from International IDEA “How democratic is your country?”