Webinar learnings: How do we Mainstream Participatory and Deliberative Democracy?

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In recent decades, governments and civil society organizations have experimented with innovative democratic practices like participatory budgeting, citizens’ assemblies, and participatory policy-making to amplify people's voices in decision-making. Despite these efforts, transitioning these pilot programs into sustained governance practices remains challenging. In response, a growing global movement is mainstreaming participatory and deliberative practices by embedding high-quality methods into common best practices. Successful implementations can be seen in countries such as Brazil, Kenya, various Western European nations, and the Philippines.

Our final learning webinar with OGP and TAI Collaborative on "Innovations in Democracy: Mainstreaming Participation" highlighted these cutting-edge practices and explored how to effectively integrate these innovations into mainstream governance, and the work of international institutions in supporting this effort.

Here are lessons on mainstreaming participation from the webinar:

1. Mainstreaming participation: a growing global movement with key characteristics

Tim Hughes from OGP moderated the event and addressed the fundamental question: what do we mean by mainstreaming participation? It is defined as efforts to make participation more commonplace, ensuring sustained rights and opportunities, higher quality through proper skills and resources, and more impactful by connecting public participation better to decision-making.

This can be achieved through institutionalizing specific methods or introducing new rights for participation, as well as shifting mental models cultural attitudes and capacity-building. The speakers provided a snapshot of diverse approaches from different contexts.

2. We see innovative solutions by governments that embed participatory and deliberative processes in decision-making

Brazil: Building National Infrastructure for Participation

Carla de Paiva Bezerra from the Presidency of the Republic of Brazil discussed the long tradition of democratic innovation at the local level and current efforts to build national infrastructure and coordination for participation. The Brasil Participativo platform, using open-source software like Decidim and the "gov.br" digital identity system, has expanded access to digital platforms for civic engagement.

Romania: Streamlining Participation Through Reforms

Larisa Barac highlighted Romania's reforms on participation through open government action plans. Despite initial challenges, significant steps have been taken to improve the process, including regular monitoring, transparent reporting, developing secondary legislation, and re-designing the public e-consultation platform. These efforts are complemented by the forthcoming National Open Government Strategy and specific initiatives like the Guidelines on Participatory Budgeting.

Estonia: Enhancing Public Participation in Lawmaking

Karmen Vilms from the Ministry of Justice of Estonia described the development of a comprehensive co-creation platform aimed at enhancing public participation in lawmaking. This platform provides transparency, earlier inclusion, and user-friendly feedback mechanisms. Initial tests have shown promising results.

3. International organizations and foundations are helping to scale up mainstreaming efforts globally

Building capacity globally with hands-on learning and resources

Amanda Luz, Learning Programs Manager at People Powered emphasized the significant challenge faced by many government reforms to turn innovations into mainstream practices within government, such as struggle with securing resources, political support, and public engagement. To address these obstacles, the Institute of Public Finance-Kenya, in collaboration with People Powered and the Open Government Partnership (OGP), is developing the Mainstreaming Participation Accelerator program.

Supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, this initiative will provide comprehensive global resources and training to government reformers and advocates, including in-person workshops in Nairobi, mentorship, step-by-step resources, virtual support, and peer exchanges. 

Kicking off in March next year, this six-month program is designed to empower government reformers and civil society organizations in implementing and scaling democratic innovations effectively. The call for applications will be published in October, sign up to People Powered newsletter to stay tuned. 

Supporting long-term participatory approaches in Central and Eastern Europe

Rachel Mims from the National Endowment for Democracy shared insights from their program to support mainstreaming participation in Central and Eastern Europe, funded by NDI. This program helps democracy practitioners understand how to institutionalize participatory approaches in challenging political contexts. It engages civil servants and elected officials, fostering networking and discussions about their experiences and needs. A recent convening in Poland highlighted the importance of creating an enabling environment for participatory processes.

Resources and funding to mainstream democratic innovation in Mexico

Valentina Zendejas of the AVINA Foundation discussed their support for democratic innovation in Mexico through Alianza Surge. This collaborative funding mechanism supports emergent NGOs, grassroots organizations, and social movements. It offers flexible financial resources and non-financial support, prioritizing local communities and underrepresented groups. The initiative emphasizes context, collaboration, dialogue, and trust-based philanthropy principles. Projects like Diálogos por la Salud and the Coalición Laboral Puteril aim to create a more inclusive and participatory democratic environment in Mexico.

Next steps:

Catch up on the event

  1. Watch the webinar recording (and interpretations in Spanish, Portuguese, and French)

  2. Read the slide deck


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