Democracy ProjectThursday 15 October – the IDEAL team meets Jornt van Zuylen (programme manager Local Democracy in Action at VNG) to discuss democratic concepts, values and democracy in practice both in the Netherlands and abroad.

These days it is mostly the non-voters who are on the winning side in the Netherlands, the so-called “silent majority”. In addition, more and more votes are cast for local or provincial instead of national parties. People are staying closer to home and no longer feel represented. Whilst there is trust in the concept of democracy, and especially in institutions, the same cannot be said of politicians, bankers and civil servants.

What makes a process, person or municipality democratic? In order to determine this, we must first define “democracy”. Democracy can be described as the way we are living together. It is about listening and being heard, sharing supervision and giving a voice to everyone. There are several ancient values, on which our democracy is built, that characterize a democracy: representation, inclusion, deliberation, transparency, continuation, checks and balances. Moreover, a democracy can come in many shapes and forms. In general we distinguish four: 1) representative democracy 2) participatory democracy 3) direct democracy and 4) social democracy.

What happens after common values have been determined? Below we provide a number of tips and tricks:

  • It is very important to take stock of people’s interests. People generally act and respond to things that concern them.
  • In order to stimulate involvement, it may help to anonymize the process and one’s input.
  • One of the most crucial skills is listening and it is extremely important to provide proper feedback after input has been given.
  • In order to find the best fit, it may be good to experiment (on a small scale) with different shapes and tools.
  • Ensure the presence of independent local press, citizen labs and watch dogs (checks and balances, transparency).
  • A democratic process should be carried out scalewise (street, neighbourhood level, etc.).
  • To reduce the risk of a "participation elite" one can try to combine different democratic forms  or apply different methods such as a citizen council.

Food for democratic thought:

  • BZK/VNG, Democratic Challenge, ‘Het democratisch zakboekje’, Den Haag, november 2017
  • John A Kline, ‘Listening effectively’
  • Dilara Bilgiç, ‘De black box democratie’ (Dutch)
  • John Keane, ‘Life and Death of Democracy’
  • John Dunn, ‘Democracy: A History’