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Democratic Governance

Bringing government closer to citizens, making it a responsive, transparent, effective institution.

Why Our Work Matters

Democracy is more than elections.  What happens between elections – governing – is equally important for a vibrant democracy. Citizen confidence in government institutions is critical for a strong, sustainable democracy.  Where governments are unable or unwilling to fulfill citizen needs, the democratic process is undermined and risks becoming a democratic façade.  Through our work, we help strengthen democratic governments that are: accessible, accountable, effective, inclusive, responsive and transparent. 

We work with government officials, citizens and civil society to bring government closer to citizens, transforming it into a more responsive, transparent and effective institution that is representative of and accountable to its citizens. 

What Our Work Does

Our work facilitates a positive feedback loop between government and citizens, encouraging government accountability, responsiveness and transparency and supporting citizen participation in the governing process.  Our approach promotes citizens’ ability to influence political decision-making in their own countries, prioritizes local ownership of the process and supports the evolution of democratic political cultures that are representative of citizens’ needs. 

Examples of our work include:

  • Enabling civic advocacy and increasing citizen participation;
  • Ensuring responsive government institutions and accessible services;
  • Strengthening legislative bodies that represent citizens; and
  • Equipping future democratic leaders with the tools needed to address their country’s most pressing concerns.

Civic Advocacy and Citizen Participation
At the core of our work to strengthen democratic governance are our efforts to ensure that citizens’ voices are heard and considered by their government.  We work with coalitions of citizens and civil society groups to amplify citizens’ voices.  Where political space is restrictive, we connect people, and where political space is more open, we support inclusive networks and coalitions that represent citizens and communicate their views to government official. 

Our work in Tunisia encourages direct citizen input in government decision-making through initiatives like Governance Day, where residents’ input and feedback on municipal planning is sought.  We also support civic advocacy in national processes, such as through public hearings in numerous countries, including Bhutan and Ukraine.

Ensuring Responsive Government Institutions and Accessible Services
Responsive institutions that deliver services in a timely, equitable manner is key to the social contract that is the foundation of democratic systems.  Frequently, municipal governments are the only government bodies accessible to citizens, so meeting citizen expectations is critical for these institutions.  We work with mayors, councilors and city managers to help them provide services to constituents and work with citizens’ groups that want a role in the decision-making process to ensure efficient allocation of community resources. 

Our work in Colombia, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine helps municipal governments’ set up one-stop shops, which simplifies how citizens access a wide range of services, thereby reducing the need to visit multiple offices to complete routine transactions and eliminating avenues for corruption.  In Central America, we strengthen municipal governments’ ability to provide accessible budget and expenditure information directly to constituents. 

Download the infographics illustrating best practices
implemented through work with local governments:


Legislative Strengthening and Constituent Outreach
Legislatures that understand and address the issues facing their constituents significantly improve the democratic culture and process in their country.  Through our work with members and their staff, we are strengthening legislative research and drafting capabilities, and increasing constituent outreach.

In Guyana, we work with members of parliament to engage citizens through interactive television shows that cover many issues being debated by parliamentarians.  In Peru, we help lawmakers strengthen oversight capability, connecting them with experts from across the region to share best practices in representation, oversight and constituent communication.  In Guatemala and the Democratic Republic of Congo, we are helping legislators develop issue-based caucuses and committees that work with constituents and civil society to find solutions to common challenges. 

We also partner with the U.S. House of Representatives’ House Democracy Partnership, a bipartisan commission that works directly with 16 partner countries around the world, to support the development of effective, independent and responsive legislative institutions.

Global Rising Stars Initiative
Launched in 2007, our Rising Stars initiative helps emerging democratic leaders gain knowledge and skills to prepare them to address their country’s challenges with sound and proven policies and govern in an open, transparent and democratic manner.  

Rising Stars from authoritarian states and transitioning environments are exposed to core democratic principles and practices, and lessons from democratic transitions to help them open political space in their countries.  Through exchange programs, Rising Stars learn first-hand from decision-makers who have played an important role in their country’s democratic transition, including current and former government leaders, political party representatives and civil society activists. 

Through this initiative, we have worked with hundreds of emerging leaders around the world, helping prepare them for the difficult challenges of leading a democratic transition.

Our Innovative Approach

Using Technology to Enhance Citizen Consultation and Engagement
Jordan & Kenya

Using technology, we help governments reach citizens in a more direct manner, and include constituents in remote areas, and those who are not able to attend events in-person, in the decision-making process. Augmenting communication between citizens and their government, as well as increase access to information, our efforts help strengthen dialogue within the democratic process.

From mobile apps in Jordan that aggregate citizen priorities, to an SMS platform in Kenya that allows constituents to influence and comment on county legislation, and our Smart Governance initiative in Central America that matches municipal leaders with technology partners to find low-cost tech solutions to community challenges, we are increasing citizen participation in the democratic process.

Monitoring and Evaluation Strengthens Our Programs

Through our monitoring and evaluation efforts, we capture and communicate the results of our work, improve future programs and ensure that resources are invested in programs that produce tangible results. We seek evidence that citizens are more satisfied with their relationship with government bodies, are better included in decision-making and that public resources are used to meet the needs of all citizens.

In Colombia, we used a randomized control trial evaluation to scientifically capture the results of our governance program, and gain additional insights on how to further promote the “virtuous cycle” of supply and demand. The Colombia study allowed us to measure the effects – both positive and negative – of a government transparency project on public perceptions of government performance and overall confidence in the democratic process.

Partnerships Ensure Programs are Sustainable
Mongolia & Kenya

We work with a range of partners and volunteers to carry out our programs. Our civil society partners, such as Movimiento Pro Vecino and Peace Education and Development Foundation, ensure that citizens’ voices and opinions are heard by their government. Our government and government-focused partners, such as the Ulaanbaatar Governor’s Office and the County Assemblies Forum of Kenya, show commitment and dedication to creating and improving democratic institutions in their countries.

Working with international partners and global initiatives such as the Open Government Partnership and the World Movement for Democracy, we support broad coalitions that encourage government accountability and transparency, and facilitate citizen participation in the governing process.

The generous support of individuals and corporations enable IRI staff and volunteers to carry out its mission around the world. With your help, IRI will continue its mission of hope for decades to come.

IRI is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. Contributions are tax deductible

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