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Promoting Accountable Democracies

What is Democracy?

Democracy, in modern usage, is a system of government in which the citizens exercise power directly or elect representatives from among themselves to form a governing body, such as a parliament. Wikipedia states this as ‘rule by the majority’ or 'A state governed by a democracy', and/or 'Control of an organization or group by the majority of its members'.

Democracy is a means for the people to choose their leaders and to hold their leaders accountable for their policies and their conduct in office (Stanford University).

It is “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” (Lincoln).


Key Features Of A Democracy:

Presence of legal framework or constitution

Justice and equality for all

Inclusive of all citizens in power sharing

Protection of human dignity (human rights)

Set of governing institutions and separation of power


Indicators Of A Democracy:

1. Electoral and procedural democracies

2. Activism and civic participation

3. Deliberation and aspiration

4. Family democracy

5. Work place democracy

6. Democratic public services

For democracy to work there has to be good governance. For good governance to exist there has to be:

  • Legitimacy - The governance body has to be seen as legitimate in the eyes of the people.

  • Participation - In democracy, people have to be brought to, or given space at the table, and their participation must be taken seriously.

  • Responsiveness - Good governance has to be responsive to the needs of the people, as well as how responsive the citizenry is to the governance.

  • Transparency - How is the flow of information from public power to citizens? It has to be open and accessible

  • Accountability - This focuses on the use of power and authority in a responsible way. Being accountable to one's own behavior and actions for both the power holder and the citizen.

  • Rule of law - Fairness for all, where all voices are included and heard.

  • Effectiveness and Efficiency - Maximizing use of resources to achieve what we have and need.


For democracies and governance to work, there has to be active citizenship. Active citizenship means people getting involved in their local communities and democracy at all levels, from towns to cities to nationwide activity. Active citizenship can be as small as a campaign to clean up your street or as big as educating young people about democratic values, skills and participation (Open Society Foundation).

There is a contract between the people who hold the power (power holders) and the citizens; this is called a Social Contract. A Social contract is an implicit contract or agreement on how to live together. It defines the rights and responsibilities of all parties. It is 'an actual or hypothetical agreement among the members of an organized society or between a community and its ruler...' (Business dictionary).


Dialogue is a process that allows people, usually in small groups, to share their perspectives and experiences with one another about difficult issues we tend to just debate about or avoid entirely. (National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation).

Deliberative Dialogue can, and often does, lead to both personal and collaborative action. Deliberation is a closely related process with a different emphasis. Deliberation emphasizes the importance of identifying examining options and trade-offs to make better decisions (National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation). In deliberative dialogue, the design of the dialogue is considered an outcome which can be measured.

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