On 14-15 July, young politicians from across the political spectrum in the South Caucasus and Ukraine came together in Tbilisi, Georgia, to discuss digital tools and their potential to strengthen democracy.

The event explored pioneering innovations in digital democracy and addressed the ways in which these new tools and technologies could improve the legitimacy of democratic structures and institutions through a combination of greater transparency, representation and better decision-making.

Speakers from political parties that use such technologies, tech firms, campaign managers, and political theorists presented their findings to the young and active participants from Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine.

The participants: young and active politicians from South Caucasus and Ukraine.

The Digital Democracy Forum: Day 1

On the Forum’s first day, the young politicians focused on the challenges posed by anti-democratic propaganda that remains widespread in the South Caucasus and Ukraine. In a region that lacks strong democratic traditions, these developments can derail whatever democratic progress has been achieved.

The participants shared their experience and strategies on tackling these challenges, and explored the role of digital tools in strengthening decision-making based on credible and verified information.

The keynote speaker for this session was Eimert van Middelkoop, former member of the Dutch Senate and Minister of Defense of the Netherlands, who shared his experience and insight into the weaponization of information.

During his speech, and in the lively debate that followed, Mr. Van Middelkoop discussed the possible effects of anti-democratic propoganda and fake news on democracy, and the nature of “truth” vs value-driven debate in politics.

Engaged in dialogue: Mr Van Middelkoop gets to know the young politicians.

A journalists’ perspective was delivered by Margarita Akhvlediani, Programme Director at Go Group Media. Placing her insights firmly in the local context, Ms Akhvlediani presented the subject of “disinformation in Eurasia”.

Finally, the young politicians themselves took the floor to discuss how to tackle fake news and disinformation in their own countries and region during parallel working-group sessions. In these groups, the participants worked to set out a broad and regionally-shared vision on how to strengthen the knowledge and resilience among young politicians, their political parties and their countries as a whole.

 

Young politician from Georgia, Mariam Kasrashvili, takes the floor.

The Digital Democracy Forum: Day 2

On day 2, the participants were invited to analyze the use of digital tools to engage citizens, and improve the quality and legitimacy of decision-making.

Through this discussion, the Forum aimed to raise awareness among political parties and parliaments about potential benefits of adopting new methods, an awareness which may prove crucial in opening up the new process to greater citizen involvement, better decision-making, and more trust.

NIMD’s Innovation Advisor, Will Derks, kicked off the session with his analysis of political parties in the digital age. Dr. Derks shared the importance of adapting to new tools and technologies within political parties to strengthen engagement with voters and remain relevant in a changing world.

This was a message reinforced by the second speaker of the day, Alberto Fernandez of International IDEA, who focuses through his work on how technology can strengthen citizen’s ownership of democracy.

While aware of the possible challenges associated with digital tools, Mr Fernandez gave valuable insight into their potential  to close the so-called “representation gap” which causes lower voter turnout and decreasing political party membership.

 

Alberto Fernandez addresses the young politicians.

In the afternoon, the participants attended workshops on technology and political parties led by Socioneers, International IDEA and Elva. The three organisations provided practical and tailored advice intended to inspire the young politicians to consider how digital tools could help them in their work.

Top tips for using digital tools, by Raoul Kramers of Socioneers.

The Digital Democracy Forum was closed by H.E. Johannes Douma, Ambassador of the Netherlands to Georgia, who praised the participants on their hard work and skills, and provided his analysis of the day’s discussions.

About the annual Forum

Democracy is an ongoing and ever-evolving process in the South Caucasus and Ukraine. As the fifth in its series, the Forum of Young Politicians remains a critical platform for political and policy debate by the region’s future decision makers. In bringing together young politicians from across the region, the forum aims to in facilitate dialogue and experience sharing, as well as enhancing capacities of politicians for democratic action.

The Forum was organized by NIMD’s Eastern European Neighbourhood office with support from the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund of the British Government.

Further reading

The 9th edition of the Myanmar School of Politics (MySoP) core course started in Tanintharyi Region on 22 July 2017.

Chief Minister Dr. Lai Lai Maw opened the 16-day training retreat with a speech noting the importance of politicians contributing to their societies, and that a politician should never stop trying to improve oneself in order to continue to increase that contribution. The Tanintharyi Chief Minister herself is an alumni of the very first MySoP core course in 2014.

Dr. Lai Lai Maw opens the retreat

Held in the beach town of Maung Magan, the course brings together 15 leadership politicians from 7 different political parties alongside the Election Sub-Commission. Together they will study political theory and practice their democratic skills. The course curriculum includes political ideologies, elections, gender in politics, speech writing, campaigning, debating, dialogue and environmentally sustainable economic growth.

About MySoP

Organised by NIMD and Demo Finland, the Myanmar School of Politics (MySoP) provides training courses to strengthen the democratic role of politicians and political parties, and enhance the practice of multiparty dialogue.

As such, MySoP takes place in a multiparty setting: all parties with an established presence study and practice politics together in a neutral, respectful setting. In this way, the courses aim to build trust between the different political party representatives, and promote a political culture of openness and cooperation.

On 15 June, NIMD organized a debate on women in politics. The even kicked off with a presentation by Virginia García Beaudoux, author of the latest NIMD publication Dancing Backwards in High Heels.

The book describes how the media influences the way we perceive women in leadership positions. Based on her years of experience as a researcher and gender consultant in Latin America and a series of interviews with Dutch politicians, Virginia gives recommendations on promoting women’s political participation.

Virginia during her presentation

Following a short introduction by NIMD moderator Wouter Dol, Virginia addressed the audience on the difficulties that women in politics face, all over the world. Among other stereotypes, she attention to the perception that “leadership is male” and to the traditional division of tasks between men and women.

Virginia also shared her findings from Dancing Backwards in High Heels and her ideas on how to increase women’s political participation, including mentorship schemes and work with political parties to ensure equal access to power for women and men.

Virginia’s presentation was met with enthusiasm by the panellists. Nel van Dijk, Kathalijne Buitenweg and Tamara van Ark, all politicians interviewed for the publication, discussed their personal experiences and the barriers they had faced in their political careers. The discussion focused on the Dutch context, with attention being drawn to part-time work for women, cultural norms, unfavourable conditions in parliament and paternity leave.

The panellists

The panellists were also joined by Heleen Schrooyen, NIMD Senior Programme Manager , who suggested possible ways forward, highlighting NIMD’s work towards diversity and gender equality in its programme countries.

A lively debate followed, as the audience was also eager to share personal experiences, and assess the current situation regarding gender equality in political parties and parliament, both in the Netherlands and worldwide.
Read the Dancing Backwards in Heels here:

Photo gallery

Ongoing conflict across the Middle East is affecting many lives, causing hunger, fear and destitution, impeding development and threatening global stability. And while European countries and the United States have been trying for many years to bring peace and stability back to the region through civilian and military intervention, this seems to have had little effect.

Faced with this situation, what kind of policy should the Netherlands develop towards the Middle East region? Is an interventionist strategy the best way to ensure peace? And, if so, what form should this strategy take in order to contribute to sustainable stability and democratization across the region?

On 7 June 2017, Nieuwspoort, together with NIMD and other partners, held a debate on the best way forward for the Netherlands regarding the conflicts in the Middle East region.

Panellists included Dutch MP Sadet Karabulut, former military and political scientist Martijn Kitzen, journalist Paul Brill and Director of PAX Jan Gruiters. They discussed the opportunities and choices for the Netherlands to promote peace in the Middle East and addressed the potential role of NGOs in the process.

This debate is part of a series of events entitled actualiteitendebat hosted by Montesquieu Instituut, Nieuwspoort, ProDemos, and the Filmhuis Den Haag. NIMD, PAX and the Grote Midden Oosten Platform are co-hosting the event.

With our new programme in Jordan starting up, NIMD was pleased to take this opportunity to share its views and debate the future of the region with other experts and members of the public.

Find out more or watch the full debate (in Dutch) here.

NIMD has embarked on a new four-year programme, which aims to support Jordan’s reform process to consolidate democracy, as well as promoting the inclusion of women and young people in national policy and decision-making processes

The programme, which is entitled, “Enhanced Support to Democratic Governance in Jordan”, is funded by the European Union and implemented by a Consortium led by the European Centre for Electoral Support (ECES) and composed of the European Partnership for Democracy (EPD), the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), the French Agency for Media Cooperation (CFI) and NIMD.

The launch

The programme was launched on 24 May in Amman, Jordan. The ceremony was attended by the different actors working on the project, as well as representatives of the EU and the Jordanian Parliament.

Opening speeches by the Ambassador of the European Union to Jordan, H.E. Andrea Matteo Fontana, and the Ambassador of the Spain to Jordan, H.E. Santiago Cabanas Ansorena, kicked off proceedings.

Participants then heard from Jordan’s Minister of Political and Parliamentary Affairs Musa Maaytah, the First Deputy Speaker/Action Speaker of the House of Representatives Khamis Atieh and the Chair of the Independent Electoral Commission, Khalid Kalaldeh. These representatives presented the programme from the point of view of the beneficiary institutions.

The programme was then presented from the standpoint of the implementing organisations, with speeches from ECES and AECID.

The different actors working on the programme

The new programme

 The objectives of the Jordan programme are threefold:

  • Parliamentary support: strengthen the functioning of the House of Representatives in exercising its core parliamentary functions in a professional, accountable and transparent manner;
  • Electoral assistance: enhance the functioning of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and other key stakeholders, contributing to elections conducted in a professional, transparent and credible manner;
  • Support to the political party system: support the political party system in contributing to democratic governance and policy making in particular in the House of Representatives.

NIMD is implementing the third component, political party support. The programme will support interparty dialogue platforms, which are safe spaces for political parties to meet and discuss issues. In addition to facilitating the set-up of these spaces, the project will also proactively facilitate the debate and ensure the inclusion of all relevant actors, including MPs, women and youth candidates. In addition, the programme will aim to strengthen political parties in internal management and organization, and support the participation of women and youth in political life in general.

With this multi-faceted approach promoting stronger institutions and building bridges between elected institutions and citizens, we hope to support Jordan’s reform process towards consolidation and deepening of democracy.

More on the programme’s approach and ambitions here.

NIMD is held a forum on the media, stereotypes and women’s political leadership on 10 May in Bogotá, Colombia. The event explored the stereotypes and obstacles that hamper gender equality and women’s access to political leadership positions.

With a focus on the Colombia context, the participants were invited to contemplate how the way women and men are portrayed in the media can compound these barriers and greatly affect the way we perceive gender roles.

Through the event, representatives of the gender offices of Colombia’s political parties, women candidates and party members were provided with tools for political Communications and social media management. These new skills will help to strengthen their leadership within their party, in the eyes of the electorate and in the general public opinion. Other participants included youth and minority political party representatives, Congresswomen and their advisors.

Special guest at the forum were international expert on political communications and gender, Virginia García Beaudoux. Virginia is a CONICET-IIGG researcher in Argentina; consultant with NIMD and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP); and Director at COMMUNICATIO communication strategies consultants. She is the author of ten books, including NIMD’s most recent publication Dancing Backwards in High Heels, and a communication advisor for politicians, candidates and governments. In the last few years, she has specialized in communication, leadership and the strategic development of political careers for female leaders, female politicians and female candidates.

The forum was organized in the framework of the UNDP-NIMD-IDEA Respect for Women Political Rights programme (WPR Programme) in Colombia. This programme aims to:

  • provide technical assistance to political parties and their gender offices to promote more inclusive structures;
  • strengthen political leadership among women representatives and candidates by providing spaces to improve their skills in communication, negotiation and political empowerment;
  • facilitate multiparty dialogue on the political participation of women in Colombia and analyse the barrier to women’s leadership.

 

As the clock ticks closer to the 2017 General Election in Kenya, the country’s President, has instructed Aden Duale, the Majority Leader of the National Assembly, to prioritize passing the two-thirds gender bill. This follows the ruling on 29 March of High Court judge John Mativo stating that the National Assembly must pass the law within two months or risk being dissolved prematurely by any petitioner.

The bill is an attempt to level the playing field for women in Kenya. It proposes a number of measures to ensure that a single gender cannot make up more than two thirds of Kenya’s National Assembly or any other elected public body. This two-thirds rule is an important provision of the country’s new Constitution, passed in 2010, which provides a framework for addressing gender inequalities. Despite its requirement that a single gender cannot make up more than two thirds of parliament, the gender gap persists and women struggle to make their voices heard when it comes to local and national matters.

Unfortunately, in the past, the motion has failed in Parliament due to lack of quorum three times in a row. The bill, now re-introduced by Mr. Duale aims to ensure that the two-thirds rule is implemented, decreasing Kenya’s persisting gender gap and helping women to their voices heard on local and national matters.

Therefore, NIMD welcomes the ruling from Mr. Mativo and President Kenyatta’s call to prioritize the bill. Since 2012, NIMD has been working with our local partner in Kenya, the Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD-Kenya), to support the realization of the provisions set out in the 2010 Constitution to enhance gender equality. Together NIMD and CMD-Kenya have engaged with the political parties in Kenya to advocate for the passing of the bill.

If implemented according to the Constitution, the two-thirds gender rule will institutionalize increased participation for women in Kenya. This will support many of our interventions on women’s political rights. We are hopeful that the new development will help to ensure fairer political representation of women in elected positions after the upcoming elections.

NIMD’s Eastern European Neighborhood Office organized a two-day training session to improve the capacities of Georgian political parties to develop and implement effective social media strategies with the expert support of BKB Campaign Office.

The training, held in Tbilisi, Georgia, on 10-11 April, brought together all the main Georgian political parties. The participants were given an overview of general trends in social media in politics, exploring the essential tools for the development of social media strategies and the methods for effective engagement and voter cultivation via social media.

On the first day of the workshop, BKB introduced the parties to basic campaign rules. The trainers presented the most important social media tools and emerging communication trends, giving multiple examples of online campaigns. The participants also learned about of the role of social media in political campaigns internationally.

The second day saw the participants split up into smaller groups, each representing a mock political party with a clear message and a ten-point party programme. They were asked to work on a first draft of a content strategy, which they then presented to the other participants. This practical exercise provided first-hand insight into the workings of social media campaign creation, and what it means to work in a team to ensure a strong content strategy and visual strategy.

About BKB

BKB is a private company founded in 1999 in the Netherlands, specializing in organizing campaigns for governments, private companies and public organizations on various topics, such as social media, public speaking and negotiating.

With a young staff of about 30 campaigners with various fields of expertise, BKB provides advice on everything from business communication and online strategy, to internal change processes and PR.

NIMD’s Innovation Advisor, Will Derks, reviews “Digital Democracy: The Tools Transforming Political Engagement”, a paper by  Julie Simon, Theo Bass, Victoria Boelman and Geoff Mulgan on pioneering innovations in digital democracy which are taking place on a global scale.

‘How can we begin to determine (…) what constitutes a “successful” digital tool?’, the authors of Digital Democracy ask themselves in the concluding remarks of their timely report about the latest developments in the use of digital means to democratic ends.

The question is typical of this excellent study, which is as revealing and practice-oriented as it is critical. Even though the authors – who are active for the UK-based ‘innovation foundation’ Nesta – believe, of course, in the democratic potential of digital technology, they are far from naïve. On the contrary, throughout their report, they do not shy away from uncomfortable questions and critical remarks. This approach is based on their wish to strengthen the underpinnings of future ventures into the use of digital tools for democracy.

Plethora

As the report shows, during the last decade or so, the experimental use of digital technology to enhance democratic processes has really taken off, resulting in a plethora of initiatives that intend to further the participation of citizens in democratic decision-making using a fast-growing variety of digital tools. It also shows that the time has now come for a sound intermediate survey and evaluation of the results so far, a kind of reculer pour mieux sauter meant to improve the quality of the next steps in the ongoing experimentation.

Which is precisely what this study does. It is descriptive and prescriptive at the same time. First and foremost, it maps what has been going on globally on the digital democracy front and summarizes this conveniently in a typology consisting of ten forms of digital democracy, ranging from the relatively simple ‘Informing Citizens’ through the more intense ‘Citizens Developing Proposals’ to the fully participative ‘Citizens Making Decisions’. These ten categories are given distinguishing logos and colours that make it easier for the reader to keep an overview of the subsequent case studies that make up the lion’s share of the report. Some of these case studies of digital tools – used by parliaments, municipal councils and political parties in countries such as France, Spain, Brazil, Taiwan, Estonia, Finland, the UK and Iceland – are labeled ‘Deep Dive’ and therefore provide much more detailed information than those entitled ‘Overview’.

Source: Digital Democracy: The Tools Transforming Political Engagement, p.13.

A clear pattern

This alternation between comprehensive analysis and sketchier discussions of various forms of digital democracy is very effective. It enhances the readability and quickly and thoroughly provides the reader with a good idea of the overall situation. Moreover, as the ‘Deep Dive’ sections always include discussions of success factors and ongoing challenges, a clear pattern emerges of what works and what doesn’t, and why.

Consequently, it is almost a practitioner’s dream come true when, in the chapter following the case studies, the authors present a detailed discussion of ‘six common factors for success’. Beginning, in a typical fashion, with a warning about the detrimental effects of poor participation exercises – a lot has gone wrong in the past – they proceed to show what a good and successful digital democracy process should look like. We are admonished to think twice, to be honest, not to expect digital to be the only answer, not to waste time, not to cut corners and to choose the right tools. This perhaps sounds somewhat stern, but what results, in fact, is a chapter full of very practical hints, considerations and advice to be kept close at hand when planning and implementing any form of digital democracy.

Source: Digital Democracy: The Tools Transforming Political Engagement, p.64.

Collective importance

In its penultimate chapter, the Nesta report continues to reflect on the extent to which new tools and technologies can improve the quality and legitimacy of decision-making in our democratic institutions. The evidence appears to be ‘pretty mixed’, ambiguous or simply lacking where there are no data. Yes, transparency increases and, yes, we may take better decisions with ‘more eyes on a document or process’. Yet, overall, the report honestly and perhaps somewhat painfully, concludes that digital democracy does not necessarily improve ‘the legitimacy of whole democratic processes per se’. Even the costs of these processes are not reduced because of the digital technology, as is often thought, but always increase considerably.

One could conclude, therefore, that we would be better to abandon digital democracy altogether. However, that would totally underestimate the collective importance of all the experiments that are presently taking place. The Nesta report convincingly demonstrates that the hundreds of digital tools and platforms presently in use across the globe do indeed have enormous potential to strengthen our democracy, which today in many ways is under siege. But to realize this potential, the phenomenon needs to come of age. With their in-depth knowledge of the matter, but especially with their critical attitude, the authors of Digital Democracy have brought this next phase a lot closer. They are critical because they strongly believe in it. For this reason, they conclude the report with the chapter ‘What Next for Digital Democracy?’ which not only contains much food for thought about possible future developments, but also suggests that digital democracy is here to stay and we had better start taking it seriously.

On 3 April, 19 politicians from Kayah State graduated from the Myanmar School of Politics (MySoP).

These leadership level politicians represent 10 different political parties as well as the Kayah State election sub-commission. They have successfully completed 8th edition of the MySoP core course, a 20-day learning retreat aimed at improving their capacities and constructive, policy-oriented political engagement.

The graduation ceremony was held in Ngwe Saung, Ayeyawady Region, in Myanmar. The politicians were awarded their certificates by the Ambassador of the Netherlands to Myanmar, H.E. Wouter Jurgens.

Politics meets Policies

In addition, each new alumni was presented a copy of the Myanmar translation of the book Politics Meets Policies. This co-publication between the Myanmar School of Politics and International IDEA (a translation of the latter’s 2014 book by the same title),  offers food for thought for political parties that are struggling to shift from personality-based or clientelistic-focused approaches to more programme-based strategies as they reach out to voters.

Over the next few weeks, all elected MPs in Myanmar will also receive a hardcopy of this publication.

Read the International IDEA publication in English or see the new Myanmar language version here.

NIMD wishes its new alumni all the best and hopes to see them soon in its alumni activities, as they further increase their knowledge and capacity on the issues of programmatic parties, intraparty democracy, and dialogue.

About MySoP

Organised by NIMD and Demo Finland, the Myanmar School of Politics (MySoP) provides training courses to strengthen the democratic role of politicians and political parties, and enhance the practice of multiparty dialogue.

As such, MySoP takes place in a multiparty setting: all parties with an established presence study and practice politics together in a neutral, respectful setting. In this way, the courses aim to build trust between the different political party representatives, and promote a political culture of openness and cooperation.