Frequently Asked Questions

General

How does IDEA define democracy?

IDEA does not seek a single definition of democracy. Models of democracy can vary substantially. Rather than assuming a given set of democratic institutions, IDEA tends to see democracy as a process involving political equality and popular control as basic characteristics as explained in State of Democracy. Preconditions for democracy include basic human security, rule of law and respect for basic human rights such as freedom of expression and assembly. IDEA is concerned about making democracy sustainable, which implies, that all groups in society feel they can make their voices heard, that democratic institutions can effectively channel and mediate conflicting interests, and develop and deliver policies which protect the freedoms and livelihoods of their citizens.

What are the key aspects of democracy that IDEA seeks to support?

IDEA is concerned about the process of building democracies as well the design and effective functioning of political systems and institutions. Establishing a new constitution, for example, especially after a conflict, requires an open debate to allow different views to be heard and accommodated in order to provide the best foundations for the future. As regards elections, IDEA aims at ways of enhancing voter confidence and participation, which may involve modifying electoral system design, strengthening the independence and professionalism of election management, improving the oversight of campaign financing etc. Political parties are also a focus of IDEA’s attention since they have a crucial role to play in the functioning of democracies, yet frequently do not measure up to public expectations.

What role do IDEA’s members play in IDEA’s activities?

IDEA has 29 member countries which include large and small, older and newer democracies from all continents, sharing in the general objectives of IDEA. Represented usually by Ministries of Foreign Affairs or of Development, they are members of the Council of IDEA, the highest decision making body, giving policy direction to the Institute and deciding on membership etc. Though they do not directly approve the programme of work or the budget, members are frequently closely involved in the implementation of activities, especially through cooperation with public bodies such as election management commissions, with politicians and political parties, with NGOs and think tanks.

Does IDEA work in countries other than its member states?

Much of IDEA’s activity is not focussed on one or other individual country. It works very often with experts from a range of countries and institutions, drawing on comparative experience and analysis to distill insights and guidelines as well as useful case studies and reference materials, which are made freely available on IDEA’s web site to political reformers and interested audiences across the globe. IDEA works in cooperation with international and regional organisations, which can share their experience and act as good multipliers. When resources are available, IDEA also makes strategic interventions at national level in countries which seek IDEA’s particular expertise to assist the democratic reform process. IDEA has engaged in long term activity in Burkina Faso, Georgia, Guatemala, Indonesia, Nepal, Nigeria and Peru. It has made shorter interventions in a wide range of countries, in non-members such as Bolivia or Bosnia, Bangladesh or Belarus, but also in IDEA member countries such as Botswana and Sweden, India and Australia.

Does IDEA focus on emerging democracies?

IDEA considers that democracy is a process which is never complete – long established democracies need to adapt their political systems to changing circumstances and new challenges, for example to enhance participation and accountability. IDEA does tend to focus on the problems faced by newer or emerging democracies, where problems of overcoming deep rooted conflict are especially daunting or where there are particular needs to access comparative information and build capacity in public institutions. However, IDEA’s work is often of relevance to all kinds of democracies, for example on the uses of quotas to enhance women’s political participation or the applications of direct democracy or the ways of achieving transparency in political party finance. IDEA’s well known methodology on Democracy Assessment was tested on countries as varied as Bangladesh and Italy, Malawi and New Zealand.

What is it that your organization can contribute with that the UN can't?

IDEA is much smaller and has a mandate limited to democracy and electoral assistance. Because of its well defined mandate and its small size, and as expressed by Dr Patrick Molutsi, executive secretary of the Tertiary Education Council (TEC) of Botswana and director of programs of IDEA from 2000 to 2003 "IDEA can not drive the agenda but can facilitate a dialogue process between the drivers of democracy – civil societies, research institutions, the custodians – parliamentarians, political parties, independent media and the promoters such as the interregional, regional organizations, IGOs and NGOs".

We work with UN agencies or organizations on several aspects of our work such as the Administration and Cost of Elections (ACE) Project in which the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is a partner.


How can I find things on the International IDEA web site?

Every page contains a search dialogue in the top right-hand corner. Simply enter a key word or words and press search. This search returns results from the entire web site.


Where do you get finances from except from the member states?

IDEA is financed through contributions from member states and through complimentary funds obtained from a variety of other sources like for example, European Commission, Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Ireland, University for Peace (UPEACE), United Nations Foundation, International Development Research Centre(IDRC).

Who started IDEA?

IDEA’s original 14 founding member states were: Australia, Barbados, Belgium, Chile, Costa Rica, Denmark, Finland, India, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden. Today, it has 29 members.

Is International IDEA part of the UN?

No, International IDEA is a separate organisation which has been granted UN observer status.