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NDI

The National Democratic Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to support and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide through citizen participation, openness and accountability in government.

Democratic Governance

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NDI views the development of strong, democratic, public-sector institutions as a critical component of its mission. It is through improved governance that the benefits of democratic development most directly impact the lives of citizens. Conversely, the inability of public sector institutions to function effectively and democratically undermines the sustainability of democratic reform. Working with legislatures, executive offices, and local governments, NDI’s governance programs seek to promote effective public-sector institutions and processes that operate in a manner consistent with democratic values of transparency, representation, pluralism and accountability. The Institute delivers technical and institutional support to these bodies, while emphasizing the significance of their political dimensions.

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Introduction

NDI has been working to build more effective, transparent, accountable, and responsive public sector institutions around the world for more than 20 years. The Institute currently has governance programs in more than 30 countries in Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Latin America, and the Middle East.

Legislatures

A capable and effective national legislature is a foundational pillar of democratic government. NDI works with legislators, legislative staff and others to build the capacity of representative institutions to communicate with citizens and respond to their concerns, to shape laws and policies that reflect national and constituent interests, and to oversee the work of the executive branch, particularly in the promulgation and implementation of the national budget.

Executive Offices

Complementing the Institute’s work with the legislative branch, NDI provides technical and institutional support to the offices of presidents and prime ministers in several countries. Institute programs seek to help those offices be more effective in developing policies, communicating with the media and with citizens, and implementing programs and activities that deliver the benefits of democracy to their citizens.

Local governments

NDI's governance programs also engage with local councils and other local government entities, helping them to work with citizens more effectively, and to better monitor local budgets and delivery of services.

Our Approach

NDI’s approach to governance programs is multinational and comparative. While certain core principles are shared by all democracies, there is no one "correct" model for democratic government. NDI draws on its network of primarily volunteer practitioners, experts, and current and former government representatives and staff from almost as many countries as those in which we work. Whenever possible, the Institute brings practitioners with recent, practical, first-hand experiences in democratic transitions and institution strengthening to countries that are experiencing similar challenges. For example, NDI works closely with the parliament of Slovakia in providing technical assistance and support to countries in the Balkans.

NDI’s programs also emphasize the political dimensions of a government leader’s role, bringing to bear our relationships with and knowledge of other actors in political parties, civil society and the executive branch. Accounting for these political dimensions, NDI believes, are just as important to the success of a program as accounting for the technical and institutional ones. The Institute’s governance programs benefit from NDI's long-term presence and broad network of contacts and relationships in the countries in which we work. Unlike some implementers of technical assistance, NDI has been able to maintain offices and staff in approximately 60 countries worldwide. These offices manage a diverse range of programs that are or have been intensely engaged with civil society institutions, political parties, election administrators and monitors, media and other participants in political and civic life.

Key to all of NDI's governance programs are local and international partnerships. NDI has collaborated on technical assistance and support programs with the World Bank, UNDP, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and other organizations. Over the first half of 2008, for example, NDI partnered with the World Bank Institute (WBI) in order to:

  • conduct video conference training programs on parliamentary budget offices with legislators from Indonesia, Thailand, Ghana, Nigeria, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic;

  • conduct a five-part video-training series on legislative committees, in Spanish, for legislative staff from Guatemala and the Dominican Republic; and

  • co-sponsor an intensive three-day program on developing parliamentary budget offices for legislators and staff from Indonesia, Thailand, Ghana, Nigeria, Dominican Republic, Morocco, and Lebanon.

  • NDI builds partnerships with organizations in-country as well, and engages them in the process of providing assistance to legislatures and other government institutions. For example, NDI recently worked closely with the OSCE and the German assistance agency GTZ to organize and conduct a weeklong orientation seminar for new and returning MPs and parliamentary staffers in Montenegro. The seminar reviewed the responsibilities of parliament and introduced the participants to changes in the rules of procedure and the organizational structure of the institution. It also allowed MPs from different parties the opportunity to get to know each other outside of their daily work environment.

Legislative Strengthening

NDI has worked with national and regional-level legislatures in more than 60 countries, and is considered to be one of the world’s leading legislative strengthening organizations. Through technical assistance to members, institutional development assistance, and support for legal reform, NDI helps legislatures to better represent citizens and groups in society, more effectively carry out their law and budget-making roles, and better oversee government finances and programs.

Technical Assistance to Members

While NDI designs its programs in accordance with the specific political context of a given legislature, developing legislatures often face similar hurdles. Working with individual members, parliamentary leadership, committees, and political party caucuses, NDI has tailored programs to help them overcome those hurdles, and provides ongoing guidance, training, and advice in a number of areas, including:

  • committee structure and operations;

  • constituency relations;

  • executive-legislative relations;

  • legislative drafting;

  • negotiation skills;

  • party caucus operations;

  • process of developing and promoting a legislative agenda;

  • organization of interest-based caucuses;

  • rules of procedure;

  • legislative analysis and research capacity; and

  • legislative roles and responsibilities.

One of the most important tasks of a legislature is the consideration of the national budget – when legislators have the opportunity to review, discuss and possibly amend the budget before approving it for implementation by the executive agencies. NDI has worked with several legislatures to strengthen their role in this process. In Nigeria, for example, the Institute has assisted the National Assembly to develop an independent budget analysis and information office. Starting in 2003, the Institute conducted study missions, conferences, and expert visits to expose legislators to budget offices in other countries, and held workshops to convene legislators with representatives of civil society, the media, and the executive branch. The Institute worked with advocates to draft and refine legislation, which passed both Houses of the National Assembly in 2007.

NDI support and guidance has also helped strengthen the ability – and perhaps more importantly, the desire – of representatives to engage their constituents to identify concerns and find ways for the legislature and government to respond. In Macedonia, with funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, and in partnership with the Assembly of Macedonia and the Association of Municipalities, NDI is implementing a project to open and sustain 65 parliamentary constituency offices throughout the country.

NDI has designed programs for legislatures in both conflict and post-conflict environments. In Iraq, the Institute launched a Parliamentary Training Academy in 2007 for members and staff of the Council of Representatives that taught techniques of legislative and public policy document drafting, procedures for developing policy, and understanding public policies through statutory texts. In Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Democratic Republic of Congo, NDI has carried out new member orientation activities, worked with MPs to solicit citizen input on legislative issues, and helped MPs to build relationships with CSOs.

Assistance with Legal Reform

NDI assists legislators to contribute to the development of laws needed to make their nations stronger democracies. This includes constitutional reform, as well as revising electoral and other key reform laws. Thus, for example, when the legislature is reviewing a draft election law, or a draft law that regulates public access to government information, the Institute contributes to public consultation and debate processes. This assistance - usually implemented in partnership with the relevant legislative committee - has included the solicitation of expert opinion from around the world about relevant democratic norms. In 2007, for example, NDI provided expert electoral reform consultations to parliamentary committees in Afghanistan. NDI has often provided comparative legal research and analysis to support decision-making of key reform committees.

In Iraq, the Institute convened 18 experts from the U.S., Spain, Canada, India, Kenya and Ethiopia in July and August 2005 to offer technical and advisory assistance to the Constitutional Committee. At the request of the Constitutional Committee experts met with committee members to discuss issues, answer questions, and draft short advisory papers addressing matters of interest to members. Experts produced 72 topical papers and commentaries (amounting to over 300 pages of material translated into Arabic) on issues ranging from the application and implications of various forms of federalism to the allocations of natural resources, human rights and electoral systems.

Institutional Assistance

In addition to supporting the work of legislatures, NDI legislative programs also support the development of legislative institutions. Many legislatures in newly emerging democracies lack the staff, research and analysis capacity, and organizational and operational management experience to enable them to be a strong counterbalance to the executive branch. NDI’s institutional assistance programs help level the playing field through activities such as:

  • technical assistance to legislative staff;

  • internship programs;

  • support for legislative publications, newspapers, books, pamphlets, and web sites;

  • development of legislative tracking databases;

  • design and development of legislative research and/or budget offices

  • organization of the speaker’s office;

  • guidance and training on the legislative budget process;

  • assistance in conducting public hearings; and

  • assistance in developing legislative-civil society partnerships.

In Macedonia, NDI has played a pivotal role in helping parliament address legislative challenges in preparation for EU and NATO integration. The Institute has provided assistance to improve and strengthen parliamentary resources, committee functions, legislative review, and outreach. The Institute consulted on the revision of the rules of procedure, which are critical to the parliament’s ability to pass legislation and improve its oversight.

NDI also assists parliaments in utilizing appropriate information and communication technologies to manage and distribute information. NDI has helped parliaments create computer research centers, where MPs and their staff are trained in Internet research. NDI-designed Internet and intranet-based information management systems provide legislators and staff instant access to bills, committee and public hearing schedules, parliamentary programs and other legislative information. In Namibia, NDI trained members of both houses of Parliament and staff from different directorates in utilizing computer technologies in conducting legislative work, particularly legislative drafting.

The Institute supports committees and legislative leaders in identifying, prioritizing, and addressing legislative development needs. In Montenegro, NDI conducted an in-depth assessment of parliament and created a blueprint for development needs and priorities. The blueprint identified a range of reform areas and offered a series of recommendations to improve the institution’s infrastructure, support services, and legislative processes. In Liberia, NDI assisted the legislative modernization committee in developing, reviewing and revising a draft strategic plan.

Local Government Strengthening

Emerging democracies face major difficulties meeting public expectations, and as nations decentralize, citizens increasingly look to local governments for solutions. Yet at the local level, the democratic process and its ability to meet constituent demands are often only beginning to emerge. To address these challenges, NDI's local government strengthening programs seek to encourage articulate citizen input into local decision making processes, enable local officials to manage scarce resources effectively, and create an environment in which local government can build public confidence in democracy.

Technical Assistance to Local Government Officials

If local governments are to effectively shoulder increased responsibility for their citizens' lives, it is critical that local elected officials represent the interests of their constituents, manage local development and service delivery projects, and coordinate with regional and national-level governments. Yet too often they lack necessary experience, access to information, and skills to carry out their jobs effectively.

To enhance the ability of local elected representatives to effectively manage new responsibilities, NDI programs in Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Burkina Faso, East Timor, and several other countries have provided training and comparative models on the role of local elected officials how they can manage difficult decisions and understand the content of national decentralization legislation, and approaches for handling public needs. In Afghanistan, NDI has assisted provincial councilors to assess local development needs, produce provincial development plans, and present the plans to higher-level government officials. In several provinces, the plans were widely publicized and adopted directly by the government’s centrally appointed governors.

In East Timor, the Institute has worked with the National Institute for Public Administration (INAP) to conduct trainings for local suco (village) council members. Simplified training materials, designed by NDI and adopted by INAP, have presented topics such as leadership and management, problem identification, problem solving, and decision-making.

Enhancing Citizen Participation

In an effort to increase the responsiveness of local government to citizen concerns, NDI assists local governments to develop systems for more effective interaction between local officials and citizens. Looking again to East Timor, NDI helped suco councilors improve communication with citizens to better address community development needs. Other citizen participation programs have been conducted in many countries, including Albania, Kosovo and East Timor.

Associations of Local Authorities

NDI has helped to form local government associations in Russia, Georgia and South Africa. These associations articulate local government interests at the national level and provide an ideal environment for training. Where regional cooperation is strong, regional local government associations are a mechanism for local government officials to exchange ideas and experiences and sometimes advocate for regional-level policies. NDI has provided technical assistance to municipal councilors of Gulf Cooperation Council countries of Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia to establish effective networking bodies, including a municipal association and an annual conference for developing and promoting good governance at the local level. Support has focused on strategic planning, capacity building and institutional cooperation.

Executive Office Assistance

For several years, NDI democracy assistance has supported competitive elections, strengthened civil society, provided organizational training for political parties, and conducted intensive work to strengthen legislatures and local governments. While these areas are critical pieces of the democracy puzzle, assistance to executive offices can be just as crucial, yet has often received less attention from the international development community.

Executive offices – offices of presidents, prime ministers, and ministers – are responsible for directing the development of their countries. They direct the implementation of laws enacted by the legislature, and ensure that government ministries deliver programs and services to citizens. Yet executive office officials frequently lack the skills and experiences required to enable them to identify, prioritize, and develop the policies and structures needed for them to manage effectively. And partly as a consequence, laws and policies in many emerging democracies are either not implemented or implemented poorly, and voters become apathetic because of the failure of democracy to deliver on their expectations.

In 1999, NDI began to work with presidents, prime ministers and their staffs to help them better understand and perform their roles. The Institute works with its partners to develop strategic plans, design office structures, define staff roles and responsibilities, carry out message and policy formulation, engage citizens in the policy-making process, and develop strategies and mechanisms to implement the laws passed by the legislative branch and policies devised by their offices.

Delivering on Democracy

Helping democratic institutions deliver improvements to citizens’ lives is an overarching objective of NDI programs. In many transitioning democracies, citizens have experienced either minor or no tangible benefits from their new governments: poverty levels have remained the same; government services remain ineffective or have become worse; and citizens continue to feel disconnected from their governments.

Government leaders who fail to deliver basic levels of stability, safety and opportunity risk losing their legitimacy. When they fail to deliver on basic needs for prolonged periods, their poor performance can lead to a crisis of legitimacy not just for particular governments, but for the concept of democracy as a viable form a government.

NDI’s governance programs address these issues in a number of ways. Through the Institute’s legislative, executive office, and local government strengthening programs, the Institute assists government institutions in listening to citizens (through public hearings, for example), and responding to their concerns. NDI has also begun to help legislatures build capacity to address specific policy issues, focusing on legislative engagement on poverty reduction initiatives, HIV/AIDS policies, and management of oil, gas and mining industries.

Since 2001, NDI has worked with legislators to specifically address poverty reform, linking the legislators’ efforts with the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper process and efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In the Nigerian National Assembly, for example, NDI supports committees in their review and analysis of MDG-relevant areas of the executive’s budget. This work has helped committee members better understand how their budgetary decisions impacts poverty alleviation. In Malawi, NDI worked with members of parliament and civil society organizations from 2002 through 2004 on monitoring and tracking the national budget and the delivery of programs and services most critical for poverty reduction.

In partnership with the Southern Africa Development Community Parliamentary Forum (SADC-PF), NDI conducted an assessment of efforts to combat HIV/AIDS in the 12-country SADC region. The program culminated in a November 2004 report which concluded that parliamentarians are not taking full advantage of their constitutionally mandated powers to address HIV/AIDS crisis. Since publishing the report, NDI has conducted pilot programs in Mozambique and Namibia to help bridge the knowledge gap between MPs and the executive branch of government; strengthen relationships between MPs and civic groups; promote dialogue and information sharing with the private sector; and enable MPs to carry out their oversight function on HIV/AIDS policy issues.

NDI also works to support transparency and good governance in extractive industries by promoting legislative engagement through their oversight, lawmaking and representation responsibilities. In 2007, the Institute produced a report, Transparency and Accountability in Africa’s Extractive Industries: The Role of the Legislature, based on a nine-country survey to help reform-minded legislators and their partners in civil society design and implement workable strategies to improve accountability and transparency in Africa’s extractive industries. NDI has recently begun to help the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) build its capacity to conduct regional oversight of extractive industries, and develop regional policies to promote transparency and accountability in the industries.

Institutional Partnerships for Legislative Exchange

In addition to its programs in the field, NDI also has two Washington D.C.-based programs dedicated to exchanges for legislators and their staff. Legislative exchanges allow our partners to interact and learn from their counterparts in the United States, both in the U.S. Congress and at the state legislative level.

Institute for Representative Government

The Institute for Representative Government (IRG) is a nonprofit, bipartisan, educational organization established by former members of Congress in 1988 for the purpose of providing visiting legislators from developing democracies greater exposure to the American federal political system at the national and state levels. IRG's Board of Directors is comprised of six former members of Congress, equally representing both the Democratic and Republican parties, and the Institute receives its annual funding through a congressional earmark in the budget of the Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. In its 17 years of service, IRG has conducted more than 50 programs for over 520 foreign legislators and officials from all over the world.

In 2003, IRG entered into a strategic partnership with the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute to leverage the extensive worldwide presence and expertise of the two political party institutes. This partnership helps to ensure that IRG's study missions are carefully conceptualized, with a nuanced understanding of the local political context. To date, NDI has organized and conducted eight IRG study missions, selecting participants from Turkey, Indonesia, Jordan, Nigeria, Morocco, the Andean region, and Montenegro, and ensuring that participants have access to appropriate programmatic support through NDI country offices after the completion of their study tours.

U.S. House Democracy Assistance Commission

The U.S. House Democracy Assistance Commission (HDAC) is comprised of 20 members of the House of Representatives who directly participate in the critical work of promoting and supporting the development of democratic governments around the world. Specifically, HDAC works through peer-to-peer partnerships with emerging democratic legislatures to assist in the development of the fundamental building blocks of legislative government: oversight, transparency, accountability, effective legislation, and responsiveness to constituents.

NDI has provided support and expertise for the commission’s Washington, D.C., study missions for legislators from their partner parliaments. In December 2007, NDI conducted HDAC’s first Parliamentary Staff Institute, a two-week exchange program for legislative researchers and administrative staff. The Institute is conducting a second Parliamentary Staff Institute, as well as a study mission for members of parliament, in late 2008.

Key publications

In response to legislators’ requests for specific, comparative information, NDI has published a series of papers, called the Legislative Research Series (funded by a grant from the National Endowment for Democracy). To date, the Institute has published five papers:

  • Presiding Officers: Speakers and Presidents of Legislatures compares the characteristics and functions of the speaker in various legislative systems in the context of three models, Westminster U.S. Congress and the French Bureau.

  • Committees in Legislatures: A Division of Labor explores the structure and function of legislative committees. It includes charts with detailed information on specific committee related issues collected from 20 legislatures around the world.

  • One Chamber or Two? Deciding Between a Unicameral or Bicameral Legislature reviews the attributes of bicameral and unicameral legislatures, their differences and the benefits and repercussions of implementing either model, using examples and case studies from 18 countries.

  • Published in 1999, Ethics in Legislatures: A Comparative Analysis, outlines the key issues of legislative ethics, including codes of conduct, ethics rules and financial disclosure mechanisms, and institutional designs of education and enforcement systems. It compares ethics rules for legislators in 20 countries, with detailed description of rules and laws in 20 pages of comprehensive tables.

  • In 2000, NDI published Strengthening Legislative Capacity in Legislative-Executive Relations, which examines the complex relationship between the legislative and executive branches, and offers strategies to assist legislators in asserting their legislative authority. It includes discussions of legislative-executive relations in presidential, parliamentary and hybrid government models and an overview of techniques for legislative oversight of the executive, i.e., oversight and public accounts committees, parliamentary questions and interpellations and confidence votes.

  • More recently (2007), NDI published Toward the Development of International Standards for Democratic Legislatures. The publication makes recommendations for democratic legislatures with regard to the election of legislators, legislative organization and functions, and legislative values. The “Legislative Standards” publication, as it has become known, is meant to encourage and provide suggestions for legislators and others wishing to strengthen legislative institutions. NDI drew on the expertise of several international organizations in developing this publication, among them the Commonwealth Parliamentary Forum (CPA), the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), and the Association of Secretaries General of Parliament (ASGP).

  • The "Legislative Standards" publication is a work in progress, and the Institute continues to engage with partner organizations such as the World Bank Institute (WBI) and the CPA in the further development and testing of these standards, and to encourage legislatures and legislative associations to consider, adapt, and possibly adopt such principles.

For more information about these programs, use our contact form or dial our main telephone number: 1-202-728-5500. 

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Published Publication Title Author
06/06/2014 Development of Parliamentary Research Services in Central Europe and the Western Balkans
Report
National Democratic Institute
03/21/2014 Tunisia's National Constituent Assembly Gender Assessment
Report
National Democratic Institute
03/19/2014 Workshop on Parliamentary Transparency and Cooperation with Civil Society
Report
National Democratic Institute National Council of the Slovak Republic
03/03/2014 Rapport d'Etude "Genre et Corruption au Burkina Faso"
Report
REN-LAC
01/01/2014 Civic Updates
Civic Update
National Democratic Institute
03/01/2013 The 2009-2014 Meshrano Jirga Directory (Afghanistan)
Directory
National Democratic Institute
09/19/2012 Election Law Reform: The Need for a Sustainable Democracy (Policy Seminar, Liberia)
Report
National Democratic Institute
05/16/2012 Decentralization: 'Which Way to Go?' (Policy Seminar, Liberia)
Report
National Democratic Institute
05/02/2012 Parliamentary Transparency Pledge (Draft)
Pledge
05/01/2012 The 2010-2015 Wolesi Jirga Directory
Directory
National Democratic Institute
04/26/2012 Reach Out To Us: Findings from Focus Groups with Young Men and Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Focus Group Report
Rebecca Feeley, Driss Choukri
03/22/2012 Governing South Sudan: Opinions of South Sudanese on a Government That Can Meet Citizen Expectations
Focus Group
Traci D. Cook, Dr. Leben Nelson Moro
01/17/2012 Report on Constituency Dialogues in Cambodia, 2011
Report
Laura L. Thornton
11/23/2011 Building a Nation: South Sudanese Share Their Thoughts on the Creation of a Successful State
Focus Group
Traci D. Cook
09/01/2011 Strengthening Parliamentary Accountability, Citizen Engagement and Access to Information: A Global Survey of Parliamentary Monitoring Organizations
Survey
Andrew Mandelbaum
05/24/2011 Comments by the Government of Kyrgyzstan in Response to the Report of the Kyrgyzstan Inquiry Commission
Report
Government of Kyrgyzstan
01/27/2011 Statement Before the Subcommittee on European Affairs of U.S. Senate, Hearing on Belarus
Testimony
Kenneth Wollack
11/01/2010 Assisting Democracy Abroad - American Values, American Interests
Article
Kenneth Wollack
10/01/2010 Calm After the Storm? Hong Kong People Respond to Reform
Report
National Democratic Institute
10/01/2010 Getting Convergence Right
Commentary
Kenneth Wollack, K. Scott Hubli