However, organizing successful candidate debates is not easy. Debates require overcoming daunting political, organizational and technical hurdles, including: forming a debates sponsoring organization, encouraging often reluctant candidates to take part, negotiating with media outlets to broadcast debates, choosing engaging and informative debate formats, raising funds, ensuring event security and producing live national television and radio broadcasts.
CNN anchor emeritus and former debate moderator Bernard Shaw shares his experience with Angelo Izama of Uganda at the International Debates Best Practices Workshop.
NDI and the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) have partnered to help debate sponsoring organizations overcome these challenges. Since 1987, the nonpartisan, non-profit CPD has sponsored and produced all presidential and vice presidential debates for the U.S. general elections. In addition to the 61 million Americans on average who watched the CPD-sponsored debates for the 2008 U.S. elections, millions more people tuned in overseas. NDI and the CPD have found that practical advice from seasoned debates sponsors can reduce the learning curve of new debate groups and avoid pitfalls that can cause debates to fall short or fail to take place at all. In this respect, NDI and the CPD are assisting first-time debate organizers as well as helping institutionalize debates in nations where they have already been held.
In providing support to debate sponsors, NDI and the CPD draw upon more than two decades of collective experience helping organize debates for mayors, legislators, governors, presidents and prime ministers in more than 30 countries. This support is premised on the belief that there is no single best way to organize debates. NDI and the CPD offer a menu of ideas and experiences from around the world so that debate sponsors can choose approaches that make the most sense in their country’s context. NDI and CPD assistance to debate sponsoring groups is tailored to specific needs and can range from sharing ideas long-distance via telephone and video conferences to in-country, hands-on organizational and television and radio production support.
To date, NDI and the CPD have: carried out debate programs in Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Latin America and Caribbean and the Middle East; hosted a 12-country forum that established an international network of debate organizations to share experiences; initiated a practical web-based debate resource center and commenced a comparative guide to organizing debates. NDI and the CPD have received support for debates programs from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.K. Department for International Development and the National Endowment for Democracy.