1963-2018 - 55 years of Research for Social Change

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Governance (2000 - 2009)

Democracy currently enjoys the status of a core value in the discourse of the international development community, where a consensus seems to have emerged that democracy improves the quality of public policies. It offers prospects for better citizen participation in the formulation of government policies and opportunities to ensure that office-holders are accountable, greater transparency in policy making, and conflict resolution through constitutional, non-violent, means. But the performance of many countries in promoting basic rights, public services and the well-being of citizens is inadequate. Many new democracies retain elements of authoritarian practices and seem unresponsive to voters’ interests. It is not enough for countries to be democratic: the substance or quality of their democracies is equally important.

Research under this programme seeks to understand the conditions under which democratic regimes can improve the well-being of citizens. What are the intrinsic properties of democracy that can facilitate or constrain effective social development? Under what conditions can democratic regimes deliver adequate social protection to citizens? How do different democracies promote the well-being of citizens? And what role can social policies play in consolidating complex democratic transitions?

Two defining features of democracy are the periodic renewal of the mandates of leaders through competitive elections, and a set of basic rights of expression and organization that facilitate the exercise of political choice. In order to understand how these features of democracy can provide a basis for delivering good social outcomes, the research will focus on four areas: economic reform, organized groups and welfare development in middle-income democracies; political competitiveness, public expenditures and pro-poor policies in low-income democracies; the potential and limits of decentralization and public sector reforms in making services serve low-income groups; and the role of social policies in consolidating complex transitions to democracy.

UNRISD's work under the Governance Programme Area focuses on the following aspects;
  • Organized groups and welfare development
  • Politics of poverty reduction
  • Decentralization and service provision
  • Social policy and transitions to democracy

Research projects under way in this Programme Area are listed on the right.