V-Dem, short for Varieties of Democracy, is an exciting project that brings a new dimension to the discourse of democracy . V-Dem describes their project as a new approach to conceptualizing and measuring democracy. It is a collaboration between more than 50 scholars worldwide and co-hosted by the Department of Political Science at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden and the Kellogg Institute at the University of Notre Dame, USA.
V-Dem’s motivation in the search for a new approach for conceptualizing and measuring democracy stems from the broad need by policymakers, activists, academics, and citizens around the world to understand and measure democracy. Billions of dollars in foreign aid is spent to promote democracy and governance in the developing world. This objective is contingent upon understanding how democratic a polity is, its history, future prospects, and the likely effect of particular forms of assistance. Hence the need for a comprehensive understanding and measurement of democracy.
V-Dem’s new approach takes into consideration the inconclusive and subjective nature of defining what constitutes democracy. Hence objectiveness and comprehensive understanding of democracy are the first steps taken in their approach. In order to better conceptualize democracy, V-Dem’s definition includes 7 high-level principles of democracy that have wide acceptance in academia :
The seven principles are then disaggregated into dozens of lower-level components of democracy such as regular elections, judicial independence, direct democracy, and gender equality. The provide 329 indicators for each concept and each component. The project aims to collect data in all countries (and some dependent territories) from 1900 to the present, whenever possible, and provides an estimate of measurement reliability for each rating. Interestingly, the project makes all ratings public, free of charge,and in a user-friendly interface.
V-Dem asserts that one of the benefits of the project is “advancing the understanding of historical process of democratization, shedding light on the sequences by which regimes have developed over the past century, and perhaps providing a glimpse into [the] future.”We believe their approach serves as a valuable resource for all working in the democracy and governance sector. As the saying goes “ You can’t manage, what you can’t measure.”
Interested to learn more? Here is the link for V-Dem’s Project!