Working in Closed and Closing Spaces

  • Dylan Diggs

In our world, change is a constant and yet it is one of the most difficult thing to which people can adapt. 

This holds true in the democracy and governance sphere. For countries of all varieties, supporters of democratic progress must be able to navigate change, amid competing factions, changing histories, generational and demographic influences and societal trends.

The Institute brings over 30 years of practical experience operating within such environments and has experienced the scope of progress and setbacks that come with it. We seek to support democratic actors worldwide as much as possible. Such work can involve supporting people to advance democratic values in conflict societies, those sliding back to autocracy and even closed societies. In many cases, these are the kind of people who need ours support the most. They may not be prepared to advance the banner today, but if there is an opening for democracy to flourish, these democracy supporters will be there to advance the march of democracy.

IRI has supported democratic actors facing autocracies in Latin America, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, central and eastern Europe and former Soviet Union countries. In doing so, the we have learned methods to adapt with a variety of waves, trends and environments. We have produced an impressive body of work of results and methods to achieve those results. However, too often these lessons do not get shared so that they can be taken and adapted to new contexts. IRI’s Community of Practice on Closed and Closing Spaces is seeking to change that by spurring a conversation with democracy and governance practitioners about producing results in these most difficult of operating environments.

This spring, IRI sponsored two focus groups involving field and Washington, D.C.-based staff working on offshore programs in closed and closing society programs. The focus groups, facilitated by an external evaluator from CAMRIS International, sought to document lessons learned about best practices for implementing offshore trainings, a method IRI uses in order to support democratic actors in countries in which IRI cannot have an in-country presence.

These lessons captured the collective experiences of IRI’s staff, past and present, from every region and varying levels of closed society.

These are valuable lessons for programs seeking to support democratic actors operating in closed or closing spaces. Steeped in years of experience, the Institute has an array of lessons it can use to better provide support for those even in the darkest of scenarios. These points above are evidence that we are still learning and able to adapt to the new challenges that face democratic change.

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