Gender-balance in Parliaments: An indispensable condition for more democratic and sustainable societies

Kate Brooks and Eleonore Komai, OECD Directorate for Public Governance and Territorial Development (GOV)

The 2015 OECD Recommendation of the Council on Gender Equality in Public Life is unique and innovative as it covers executives but also parliaments and judiciaries with clear, timely and actionable guidelines. It represents an important commitment of member and partner countries that wish to join the OECD community towards the realisation of a whole-of-government approach for more gender-sensitive and inclusive public institutions. Notably, it calls on its Adherents to “consider measures to achieve gender balanced representation in decision making positions in public life by encouraging greater participation of women in government at all levels, as well as in parliaments, judiciaries and other public institutions”.

Women’s representation in parliaments remains a global issue. On average in 2016, women constituted 23% of parliamentarians over both upper and lower houses combined, with the Pacific, Arab States and Asia having the lowest representation (16.4%, 18.2%, and 19.2% respectively)[1]. However, it must be noted that many countries in these regions have made substantial progress over the past ten years.

Numbers do matter. Parliaments are powerful political institutions where most policies are voted on. They shape important aspects of people’s social, political and economic present and future lives. Parliaments should thus reflect the perspectives and interests of society in all its diversity. A truly inclusive society would have a truly inclusive legislature.

Amongst OECD countries, women’s representation in lower houses and unicameral legislatures is heterogeneous both in terms of percentage and progress. While Iceland reached 47.6% of female parliamentarians in 2016 (39.7% in 2013), some countries such as Chile lag behind with women’s parliamentarians accounting for 15.8% in 2016. In addition, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, New-Zealand, Italy, Austria, Luxembourg, France and Greece have experienced a drop in women’s representation from 2013 to 2016.

For young women, adolescents and little girls to aspire to leadership roles in public life, they need to see women leaders. Specific measures, such as quotas, have been implemented to tackle the issue of gender balance in parliaments. Quotas aim to ensure that women represent at least a critical minority. They can take the form of reserved seats, legal candidate quotas or political party quotas and can be legislated or voluntary[2]. 10 of the 35 OECD countries reported having implemented legislated quotas in 2016. Effectiveness largely depends on context.

Share of female parliamentarians in OECD countries, 2013 and 2016
Percentage of women holding seats in lower houses and unicameral legislatures

Data is for 1st December 2016 and 1st December 2013. Bars in light blue represent countries with legislated quotas in 2016
Source: Inter-parliamentary Union (IPU) PARLINE database, Quota Project

It is important to point out that gender balance in parliaments, as an important step towards gender equality, is not sufficient in itself. Gender balance does not ensure equal participation or equal access to leadership and decision-making roles among others.

Barriers to women’s equal representation and access to political life – be they structural, functional or cultural – find commonalities among countries but are also specific to local settings. Strategies and efforts to tackle gender inequality within parliaments can start with global strategies and international commitments, but need to be supported by concrete measures and continuously adapted to specific realities and experiences. The OECD continues to work to support countries in addressing the remaining barriers to gender equality in public life. A toolkit to guide both members and non-members is currently in development.

Useful links

International Women’s Day at the OECD:

Friday, 14-17h, Seminar on gender equality before the law

OECD work on Gender equality

Women in government

OECD (2016), 2015 OECD Recommendation of the Council on Gender Equality in Public Life, OECD Publishing, Paris.

OECD (2014), Women, Government and Policy Making in OECD Countries: Fostering Diversity for Inclusive Growth, OECD Publishing, Paris.



Take the money and run: the uses and abuses of political funding

financing democracyBill Below, OECD Directorate for Public Governance and Territorial Development (GOV)

There is something ominous in the words ‘money in politics’. It evokes payoffs and payolas, fat cats, power brokers and kingmakers dealing in smoke-filled rooms, deciding the future of people not present. Perhaps more to the point, it highlights the natural tension between egalitarian ideals embedded in a strictly non-egalitarian society. Economist Arthur Okun talked about the double standard of capitalist democracy “professing and pursuing an egalitarian political and social system and simultaneously generating gaping disparities in economic well-being.” With those gaping disparities widening to historic levels, could it be that the political apparatus of democracy is failing to deliver?

Financing Democracy, The Funding of Political Parties and Election Campaigns and the Risk of Policy Capture, recently published by the OECD, explores the state of political finance reform in the OECD and beyond. It presents the positive role money plays in our democracies, but also expresses important caveats.

We live neither in oligarchies nor in libertarian free-for-alls. Our democracies are based on the principles of fairness and equality of opportunity (although not equality of outcomes). Castes and pre-determined assignments within social hierarchies are abhorrent to the democrat. While competition is a natural feature of life on earth, equality of opportunity is an artificial notion that has been added with care to the equation. It’s part of the part we built when we built our democracies. As such, it requires active protection.

How can we do that? First, by ensuring that the widest number of people participate in democracy. In the most recent elections for which data are available, one-third of the voting-age public in the OECD did not vote. Further, because the rich vote more than the poor and the older more than the young, essential voices in our democracies consistently go missing.

Second, votes have to be meaningful. When the needs of the rich and powerful are given priority, citizens lose faith. Trust in government is already low. But more importantly, we see a growing gap in trust levels between the educated public and the general public—signs of a society that delivers for some but not for all. Campaign finance reform sets out to ensure that the apparatus of democracy is responsive to all citizens and produces fair outcomes.

From an OECD-wide perspective, some interesting data emerge. For example, 35% of OECD countries set no limits on the amount a political party or candidate can spend. This can create problems not just in establishing a level playing field, but also in preventing runaway spending races. Yet, in some cases, no limits exist because there is no real need for them. A handful of countries on the list enjoy strong reputations for corruption-free politics. It offers a reminder that one-size-fits-all solutions don’t always apply in campaign finance reform.

If you limit contributions to parties and campaigns, spending becomes a non-issue—theoretically. Restricting private contributions is intended to limit the possibility of undue influence by vested interests. 35% of OECD countries have outright bans on contributions to parties and candidates from corporations. Of 25 OECD countries examined, 15 had ceilings on private donations from individuals to parties, candidates or both.

For most countries, the origin of contributions matters. 50% of OECD countries ban anonymous donations and 38% have bans above certain thresholds. 68% of OECD countries ban donations from foreign interests to political parties and 56% ban them to candidates. This said, globalization has made it increasingly difficult to separate domestic from foreign interests. At least USD 18.1 million, and likely much more, was directed by foreign banks, telecom operators, liquor manufacturers and other industries to the US 2012 presidential campaign. Of the top 20 contributions to the campaign from foreign-owned firms, nearly 60% went to Republican candidates.

State contributions help political parties conduct their daily business and reduce dependence on private funding for parties and campaigns. All OECD countries, with the exception of Switzerland, provide public subsidies, most allowing mixed systems of public and private funding. But rules matter. Public funding ultimately helps to make the state an arbiter of who competes in elections. International recommendations suggest that the threshold for public funding should be lower than the electoral threshold to ensure that new parties and small parties have access to the political arena and can compete under fair conditions. Not doing so could lead to a cartelization of political parties, according to the report.

A variety of oversight arrangements exists across the OECD, with 47% of members having either an electoral management body (EMB – 29%) or other specialized institution (18%). In the majority of countries, the oversight function is handled by one or more existing institution. But not all bodies are granted effective monitoring and enforcement powers or possess sufficient resources. Also, sanctions can be insufficiently dissuasive.

Streamlined, online reporting practices can enhance the effectiveness of oversight bodies. Yet, only a few countries in the OECD—Estonia is a shining example—have so far managed to ensure that political finance reporting is standardized, machine readable, comparable and easily accessible for public scrutiny.

Third-party spending presents an emerging challenge. It can constitute a means of re-channeling election spending through committees and interest groups that are independent in name only. Political Action Committees (PACs), ubiquitous in American politics but also present in different forms in other countries, fall within this category. These are sometimes referred to as non-party campaigners and may include charities, faith groups, individual or private firms that campaign but do not stand as political parties or candidates. Few OECD countries currently have regulations for third-party campaigning.

Super PACs may raise unlimited amounts of money from third parties in favor of a candidate (or against the candidate’s rivals) but are prohibited from giving money directly to the candidate or coordinating with the campaign. Super PACs grew in the US after a 2010 Supreme Court decision protecting the free speech rights of independent, expenditure-only committees. Yet, loopholes and disclosure issues present challenges. Super PACs are taking on increasing amounts of basic campaign work. Meanwhile, in the 2012 election cycle, $9.6 million was spent by non-disclosing groups (whose donors are generally known to party leaders but not made public), growing to $15 million in 2014 and $23.6 million for the present year, with elections still 7 months away.

But even with unlimited contributions, campaign spending can be notoriously unreliable for those seeking a solid return on investment. In July of 2015—a full year before the US presidential primaries—one candidate’s super PAC had raised 100 million dollars, 10 million of which was from a single corporate donor. By February, that candidate had dropped out of the race.

The length of campaigns impacts the money required by parties and candidates. In Australia, federal election campaigns last approximately six weeks. France’s presidential campaign lasts for two weeks preceding the first ballot. Campaigns for seats in France’s lower house last for 20 days prior to the first ballot. In the UK, the campaign period is typically six weeks. Combined party spending for the UK 2010 general election was estimated at USD 48.5 million. By contrast, in the US, where elections are long, the cost of elections in 2012 was close to USD 6 billion. Michael Toner, former Chief Counsel to the Republican National Committee and former chair of the Federal Elections Commission, added some perspective: “Americans last year spent seven billion dollars on potato chips – isn’t the leader of the free world worth at least that?” Surely. But long, protracted campaigns and uncapped spending contests have consequences, notably the huge amount of time politicians must dedicate to fundraising—from 30% to 50% of their day for a member of the US House of Representatives. Somewhat perversely, it is time spent listening to the needs and wishes of rich donors rather than the voices of a more representative selection of constituents.

Are our democratic processes more responsive to the rich than they are to the poor and the middle class? Studies in the US point to a distinct difference in policy concerns between the affluent and the middle and lower classes, and persistent bias in policy outcomes towards the rich (Gilens and Page, 2014). As hosts to growing inequality, it is incumbent upon governments to do everything in their power so that our democracies are able to deliver on their promise of equality of opportunity and fairness for all. The OECD’s Framework on Financing Democracy identifies pathways towards averting policy capture, ensuring transparency and accountability, fostering a culture of integrity and ensuring compliance and review.

In the meantime, power and money will continue to hold court.

Useful links

Fighting corruption in the public sector

OECD Directorate for Public Governance and Territorial Development

‘Financing Democracy, The Funding of Political Parties and Election Campaigns and the Risk of Policy Capture’, OECD, 2016

Arthur M. Okun, ‘Equality and Efficiency: The Big Tradeoff’, The Brookings Institution, 1975

Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, ‘Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups and Average Citizens’, Perspectives on Politics, Volume 12, Issue 03, 2014

Nigeria is the winner, West Africa, too!

Nigeria's new broom
Nigeria’s new broom

Today’s post is by Julia Wanjiru of the Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC) Secretariat

During the past weeks, analysts continuously warned about Nigeria’s high-risk elections. The initial poll date was postponed by three weeks in response to security concerns in the three Boko Haram plagued northeastern states. All land and sea borders were closed three days before the contest; expatriates and well-off Nigerians carefully moved their families out of the country, anxious about possible post-electoral violence. But in the end, Africa’s most populous country and number 1 economy managed to organise peaceful elections, which were internationally recognised as “free and fair” and led to the first democratic transition in Nigeria’s history.

Many Nigerians, including those in the diaspora who closely watched the event, were relieved when President Goodluck Jonathan recognised his defeat. On 31 March at 5:15pm, he called his challenger Major-General Muhammadu Buhari to congratulate him, almost nine hours before the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, formally declared Buhari winner of the poll. “I promised the country free and fair elections. I have kept my word. […] nobody’s ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian. The unity, stability and progress of our dear country are more important than anything else,” President Jonathan declared. This early statesmanlike decision to accept the result undoubtedly contributed to avoiding post-electoral violence.

Religious and ethnic affiliations have always played an important role in Nigerian politics. However, all major political parties cover the whole territory and are comprised of Christians and Muslims alike. Within the powerful People’s Democratic Party (PDP) which has governed the country for the past 16 years, a rotating system was established alternating power between a northern Muslim president supported by a southern Christian vice-president and vice versa. In the eyes of many northern Nigerians, this informal power-sharing agreement was broken when acting President Goodluck Jonathan (the first Ijaw president coming from one of the southern Niger Delta minority groups) was elected president in 2011 (see the 2011 interview with Nigerian Ambassador to France). His decision to run for president again in 2015 was perceived as provocation by many PDP party members. With the Katsina State-born new president, power is shifting back to the Muslim-dominated North, re-establishing a certain sense of justice in the eyes of some.

Can Buhari’s victory be seen as a revenge of the Muslim North against the Christian South? Not really. The election results seem to show that the role of ethnic, religious and geographic factors is gradually shrinking. The 2015 election results map indicating the winning parties by state illustrates that the North-South divide is less marked than in the 2011 elections when President Jonathan won with a comfortable majority against Buhari.


These results must be nuanced and interpreted against the backdrop of a very low voter turnout (43.6%) which had a major impact on the PDP results. Almost ten million people who cast their votes in the 2011 elections, decided not to participate in the 2015 poll. While Buhari was able to gain the confidence of 3.2 million additional voters, the incumbent president lost almost ten million votes compared to the 2011 elections.

The PDP results map reveals that even during the 2011 elections the presumed North-South divide was less strong in reality. President Jonathan was able to gather wide support across the nation. He won between 30 to 50% of votes in six northern states, notably in the populous state of Kaduna where the PDP garnered the support of 1.19 million people (46.3% of votes).

PDP results

Similarly, this time, the same opposition candidate, Buhari attracted strong support from southern Nigerians. His newly formed All Progressives Congress party (APC) won in eight traditionally PDP southern strongholds. The most striking example comes from the megacity Lagos where the PDP lost for the first time in its history. This new voting behaviour is further leveraged by influential opinion leaders (e.g. former president Obasanjo) and religious figures who publically distanced themselves from the current government. For example, a Catholic priest openly called for a vote for Buhari: “I don’t care if Buhari is a Muslim and from the North; all I care about is that Buhari can save Nigeria”, he said.

Nigerians largely voted for change. Buhari’s “vote for positive change” slogan convinced many Nigerians who are hoping to put an end to corruption, poverty and the Islamist insurgency in the North. In his acceptance speech, Buhari made a strong commitment: “I assure all foreign governments that Nigeria will become a more forceful and constructive player in the global fight against terrorism and in other matters of collective concern, such as the fight against drugs, climate change, financial fraud, communicable diseases and other issues requiring global response. I want to assure our fellow African nations that Nigeria will now stand as a more constructive partner in advancing the matters of concern to our continent, particularly with regard to economic development and eradication of poverty.”

Beyond Nigeria, West Africa is a winner too. Nigeria has a major impact on the whole West African region far beyond its immediate neighbours. A large part of West African economic activity is concentrated in Nigeria. Cross-border activities closely link Niger to the Hausa economy; Benin and Togo benefit from the vitality of the economic and commercial capital of Lagos and Ibadan. Cameroon and Chad’s trade are also strongly oriented towards the Nigerian market. Nigeria is increasingly making investments in the franc zone, particularly in the banking sector. As West Africa’s largest military power it has historically played a leading role in ECOWAS peacekeeping efforts, though slightly less so now as it suffers its own major security crisis. Boko Haram-related violence is spilling over to neighbouring countries already grappling with a strong influx of Nigerian refugees. A pacified, strong Nigeria will benefit all of West Africa.

Useful links

OECD Investment Policy Reviews: Nigeria 2015

SWAC Maps and Facts:
– Number 22, Nigeria’s presidential election, April 2015
– Number 5, Boko Haram November 2014

Atlas of the Sahara-Sahel:
Historically, the Sahara plays an intermediary role between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. Commercial and human exchanges are intense and based on social networks that now include trafficking. Understanding their structure, geographical and organizational mobility of criminal groups and migratory movements represents a strategic challenge. The Atlas is based on an analysis of mapped regional security issues and development objectives to open the necessary dialogue between regional and international organizations, governments, researchers and local stakeholders tracks.

West Africa Gateway/Portail de l’Afrique de l’Ouest:
The West Africa Gateway, managed by the SWAC Secretariat, provides a regional database, a map centre, a document library, a contact database, an events calendar, thematic dossiers, West African viewpoints, interviews etc. The Gateway is also dedicated to sharing information and promoting work produced by SWAC Members.

Castoriadis: Democracy’s advocate

Catoriadis Une vieCornelius Castoriadis was an economist at the OECD and its precursor, the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC), but he was also one of the 20th century’s leading thinkers on society and politics. We asked François Dosse, author of a newly-published biography, to discuss Castoriadis’ thinking on democracy, a theme we’ll be coming back to.

Castoriadis was highly critical of modern-day Greece, but he considered that the Ancient Greeks had created something totally new that we should think about to shake off the torpor he diagnosed in our times. In the fifth century before the current era, Greece created political democracy, with the emergence of the city, the polis, with its community of citizens and institutions whose only foundation was that which they wished to grant it. That said, Castoriadis didn’t argue that this historical experience should be treated as a model. Rather, we should seize it as a fertile seed to create a true democracy.

To support his argument, Castoriadis had to break with the long-standing “continuist” vision. This sees Ancient Greece as a sketch of future Western democracy at a time when the individual didn’t yet exist. This would mean that Greece was the cradle of democracy, but modern democracy went much further in the flourishing of democratic values. This view was summed up in 1890 by the historian Ernest Lavisse: “our history starts with the Greeks”.

Castoriadis on the other hand based his position on the change in Ancient Greek historiography in the 1960s that looked afresh at the subject to rediscover the uniqueness of the Greeks and the exceptional nature of the Greek imagination at the time. According to Castoriadis, the polis that is born in the eighth to fifth centuries BCE is a radical invention that cannot be explained away by some causal system. The feeling of belonging to a common space and its translation into political terms cannot be reduced to a simple desire for territorialisation, since Themistocles said he was ready to found Athens again elsewhere. Castoriadis rejects all the explanations based on a single cause, for example that these cities were born because of the hoplite revolution or the demographic crisis.

The main reason for this invention is to be found in the political imagination of an autonomous community that in this way constituted itself on the basis of a voluntary collective act and rejected all forms of heteronomy. The people (Demos) proclaims its sovereignty (Autodikos) as well as political equality (Isonomia), creating an institution, the people’s assembly (Ecclesia) and proclaims the rules of a society that fully assumes its autonomy, with no transcendental foundation. These Ancient Greeks created a direct democracy for the first time in human history. Castoriadis insisted on the fact that a truly democratic regime is defined in opposition to any form of the delegation of power or representation, that do however characterise modern democracy, which is nothing more than an oligarchy according to him.

In Ancient Greece, politics was not considered as a specialisation reserved for a particular social category trained to exercise authority, as opposed to activities linked to a techne. Politics is everybody’s business and cannot be confiscated by a caste of wise experts. And to the extent that politics is everybody’s business, practical wisdom (Phronesis) is the responsibility of the whole community of citizens.

The other facet of autonomy realised by the Ancient Greeks is existential, and concerns the relationship with the meaning of existence. Another singularity of this Ancient Greece that Castoriadis links to the political dimension, is that there is no revealed religion from Homer’s era already, no promise of eternal life, of individual salvation after death, since the Greek religion offers no horizon of hope. Everything therefore is self-centred on Earthly experience and hope. As Castoriadis says, “What makes Greece is not measure and harmony, nor an evidence of truth as revelation. What makes Greece is the question of non-meaning and non-being.” According to Castoriadis, this sentiment of the absurd, of the certainty of finitude, engenders a reaction that nourishes an imagination founded on rationality, the law, the cosmos.

This democratic deepening is only possible if society conquers more autonomy, a major theme of Castoriadis. It is on the horizon of all his thinking as an objective to draw ever nearer to. It has to be understood in a double sense. It is the conquest of an individual capable of giving the full force of his being (what Spinoza calls the Conatus and Ricoeur names “capability”). In this sense, Castoriadis considered psychoanalysis of great help in reconciling a desire to be and what is done, a personal realisation. But autonomy is first and foremost the fact that a society should strive consciously for its self-determination, give itself limits and rules that can be controlled and revised at any moment by the citizens.

The theme of autonomy expresses the conviction that a human society can be self-governing, both politically and as concerns the economy, deciding what it considers to be good, giving a sense to collective action. From this point of view, Castoriadis defends a radically atheist position, rejecting any form of transcendence, and all heteronomy according to which society would have rules external to itself (although this didn’t stop him dialoguing with Christian intellectuals). His vision appeals to human responsibility because an autonomous society is one that is fully responsible for itself and its orientations. Human freedom lies on the horizon of autonomy. This harks back to what Thucydides meant when he said you have to choose: “rest or be free”.

To me, what seems fundamental is that Castoriadis’ thinking, which is never a system even if it is a very coherent whole, is a work opening on our future that gives us some keys to thinking about the 21st century. He did in fact feel early on the changeover in how we think about history, what we can call “presentism”, and the crisis provoked by the collapse of one of the three terms that time is composed of, the future – the future that foundered in the tragic 20th century. It’s up to our era, at the outset of the 21st century, to rethink a project of the future that isn’t dreadful, to react against barbarous temptations. Castoriadis invites us to revisit our past, not as a museum or tourist attraction, but to reinforce the determination of what Koselleck calls our “horizon of expectation” and he called our “socio-historical imagination”.

Useful links

Castoriadis: l’avocat de la démocratie. François Dosse (The original French text of François Dosse’s article)

Openness and Transparency – Pillars for Democracy, Trust and Progress Speech by OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría at the launch of the Open Government Partnership

Democracy: What future? OECD Observer article by Patrick Love

Institutional (in)competence in 21st century politics was one of the discussions at the 2014 OECD Forum

Do you “Like” your government as much as Chileans Like theirs?

They like us!
They like us!

Today’s post is by Arthur Mickoleit of the OECD’s Directorate for Public Governance and Territorial Development. Inputs from Kareen Schramm and Sofia Varas of Chile’s Ministry General‑Secretariat of the Presidency are gratefully acknowledged. 

Do you “like” your government? For many Chileans, the answer could be yes, I “Like” (or rather, “Me gusta”). That’s because the official government Facebook account has 23,000 likes). If that number sounds low, take a look at their soon 500,000 followers on Twitter. That’s anywhere between one third and one sixth of all Twitter users in Chile (estimates of overall Twitter users range from 1.4 to 3.2 million)

To be fair, public administrations and officials in the United States and United Kingdom led developments in this area. President Obama is one of the top 5 celebrities on Twitter worldwide. His community of 36 million followers sets him on par with personalities like Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga.

The UK government’s @Number10gov can count on the highest “per capita” followership among accounts of top executive institutions across the OECD. But it’s closely followed by Chile’s @Gobiernodechile .


Do all these numbers mean anything for you as a citizen?  Maybe President Obama is an exception, but my guess is that most people would prefer a one-on-one with a celeb to a public policy jam with the president or prime minister. No offense, but the odds of being sought after on social media are probably even lower for a civil servant.

If you look beyond the numbers, though, a pattern seems to emerge where governments and public administrations the world over use the web to defeat popular stereotypes (what comes to your mind when you think “public administration”?). So could it be that social media are profoundly changing the way those who govern talk and listen to their constituents?

To get back to Chile, when the current President Sebastián Piñera assumed office in 2010 he did so with a cabinet of 22 ministers. But not just ministers as usual – each of the 22 had a Twitter account upon taking office. Health minister Jaime Mañalich has a reputation for answering e-v-e-r-y question that reaches him via the online service with the little bird: on whether an adult infected with Hepatitis B as a child could act as a blood donor (no);  on the rising risks of canine rabies contagion starting in the month of August;  on the correct timing for vaccinating a baby against meningococcal disease,  etc.

If you’re not in Chile, can you see your own government’s minister for healthcare doing that? Certainly possible, but still pretty unusual. So along with governments like the US and the UK that make bold use of social media, it seems the Chilean government is doing a pretty good job too.

How did this come about? Chile’s experience with social media started abruptly and dramatically. President Piñera took office in 2010, just days after massive earthquakes devastated parts of the country, killing hundreds of people. In many places, power, communications and broadcasting broke down. Amazingly though, a large number of mobile phone and Internet infrastructures like 3G kept going. So citizens turned to services like Google’s People Finder, Twitter and others, whether via fancy smartphone web access or low-key SMS.

Chile’s government made sure it was present on the main platforms. It decided to adapt to a new situation and operate in the same space in which citizens were already operating. That’s a lesson governments all over are starting to take more seriously. To “go where the citizens are” is the motto, instead of trying to bring citizens into government processes that are often complicated or even opaque for the outsider (thanks to David Eaves for bringing this up at the 2012 OECD E-Leaders meeting).

Chile’s government has used the momentum that built up since then. It published a digital guide) for institutions and individuals in the public administration that want to engage via Twitter, Facebook, Vimeo, YouTube, Slideshare, etc. And their comprehensive ChileAtiende (“ChileService”) strategy gives citizens a wide range of choices for the communications channel they want to use to access information and public services.

You will have understood by now, social media are one of the “valid” channels to get in touch with government in Chile. Compare this with many governments around the world that are still having difficulties considering an email from a citizen as a “valid” means of communication.

Where does all this lead us? What will help more governments take the social media plunge is more knowledge and evidence about what works and what doesn’t.

Chile and some other countries are doing impressive stuff, but when governments use social media, is that mostly to jazz up their image or are they really trying to innovate in the way they provide information and services? How do people react – and who are those people? Are young people really the only target group for social media use? What about opportunities to reach vulnerable people too? For example, immigrant groups in some countries are reported to have high uptake rates for Facebook or Twitter. Can social media actually help civil servants work better? Think of crowd-sourcing of ideas for your local government office. Or is that a pipe-dream when more than one third of civil servants are over 50 years old in most OECD countries?

We will raise most of these questions, and hopefully answer one or two of them, at the next OECD E-Leaders meeting on 29-30 October in Switzerland. Tune in to the webcast and talk to us via #eleaders and @OECDinnovation). We hear a lot from government, let’s hear from you: do you “Like” your government?

Useful links

OECD work on e-government

Chile’s Ministry of the Presidency and its government modernisation

Twiplomacy, analysis of Twitter use by political leaders and GovTwit, which looks at Twitter use in the US administration

Follow OECD on social media via the links at the top of the page

Development in Asia Demands Huge Sacrifices

Click to download
Click to download

In today’s post, Christian Goebel, Professor of Chinese Studies at the University of Vienna talks to Rosa Gosch of Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI) about a new study he co-authored for the Bertelsmann FoundationAssessing Pathways to Sustainable Growth – Need for Reform and Governance Capacities in Asia

Professor Goebel, why are some Asian nations successful while others fail?

First, we must define success. In our analysis of development in China, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, India, South Korea, Vietnam and Japan, we comprehend success not only as economic growth in terms of per capita income, as is often the case. Social development, gender equality, equal access to education, environmental policies and the quality of democracy are equally important. We found that the Asian countries started with economic development, then moved into the social and environmental realm and finally, in some cases, into democratic development. How did they do this? Most governments first developed their executive capacity and only later became more accountable and sometimes more democratic.

Is there a common path for development in Asia?

There isn’t a single recipe for all countries. Development is highly idiosyncratic. Our analysis of Asia, however, shows that countries with strong governments that exhibit high executive capacity tended to be more successful than those with weak executive capacity. The governments of all the countries in our sample first invested in the improvement of executive capacity, and only afterwards in executive accountability and the quality of democracy. With the exception of India, where change has been more decentralized, government has been the main actor in bringing about economic and social change in each case. If there is an Asian model, then it is characterized by a pro-business government that increasingly seeks to govern markets as its executive capacity grows, and which prioritizes social and environmental issues that are beneficial for economic growth over those which are not.

What policy areas did you look at in your study?

We looked at economic policies, which include the transformation from an agrarian economy to a knowledge economy, innovation policies, and social policies like poverty reduction programs and education policies. We also had a close look at issues of gender equality, access to education, and environmental protection. In total, we examined nearly 150 different indicators for every country.

You group the countries in your study into four categories: long-standing democracies (India, Japan), young democracies (South Korea, Indonesia), one-party autocracies (China, Vietnam), and “electoral autocracies” (Malaysia, Singapore). Did regime type affect the performance of the countries?

No, at the aggregate level it didn’t. We didn’t find that democracies are doing better than non-democracies, for example. One of the most successful countries according to the SGI is Singapore, which is not a democracy. China is another example that is developing fast without being democratic. On the other hand, we have India and Indonesia, where development is less impressive despite them being democracies. So it’s not really the presence of democracy but the quality of democracy that matters for development. However, increasing the quality of democracy is very difficult because this requires knowledge, skills and financial resources. High quality of democracy and high executive capacity seem to feed into each other.

So, contrary to the situation in the OECD, policy performance and quality of democracy aren’t correlated in Asia?

That’s true. But that doesn’t mean that democracy doesn’t matter. We arrived at this conclusion because Singapore performs better than Japan, and China better than Indonesia. In the OECD, only democracies were analyzed, and high quality democracies perform better than low quality democracies. The same is true in Asia. Here, however, we have autocracies with high executive capacity, and they perform better than democracies with low executive capacity. This means that democratic quality can help you fine-tune the system only if you have the fundamentals in place.

In which policy areas did the Asian countries perform particularly well?

Nearly all countries did very well in the development of per capita income, poverty reduction, access to education, and access to social welfare. Most children in Asia are today able to access basic education, and the number of years of education has also increased. The gap between boys and girls in access to education has decreased, so there is more gender equality, especially at primary and secondary school level. Interestingly, South Korea – run by a female president today – is among those nations where girls and women don’t have equal access to university education.

Which other shortcomings did you come across?

The developmental models pursued in Asia demand huge sacrifices, notably in the form of inequality and environmental destruction. About half of the countries in our sample are highly unequal; the gains from economic growth are not distributed equally. China, Singapore and Malaysia, for example, have for a long time been very unequal societies with Gini coefficients above 0.45. And the developmental achievements are made at high environmental costs. Moreover, even the established democracies display serious deficits in democratic quality, especially in dimensions such as government accountability, media freedom and even civil rights.

What does your study tell us about future development in Asia?

Our explanations lead us to think about how countries develop and what kind of strategies can be chosen. It is very likely that some of the countries have learned from Japan and from each other. A report like ours should not be taken to say: This is how the world functions. We have discovered regularities, but these are not laws of nature. It should lead us to think: Are these actually good developments? Are there alternatives? We call these developments successful, but the price people pay in terms of social dislocation or environmental pollution can be huge.

What surprised you the most when examining governance in Asia?

We didn’t expect Indonesia to stay democratic, that Indonesians would keep embracing democracy the way they do. The fundamentals are not very good: executive capacity is low, corruption high, rule of law not very strong, and the country is just recovering from the second crisis that affected its economy very severely. Despite this, the country is holding on to democracy. Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world. That tells you something about the alleged incompatibility of Islam and democracy – even when democracy is under stress.

Useful links

OECD work on public governance

Professor Dani Rodrik of Harvard University discusses Asian growth models here