New database in the making

Lessons from Latin America: Democratic innovations in comparison

In Montevideo, citizens are not forced to bite the bullet when they notice potholes in the road or vandalised public spaces. They can register these problems connected to public services in the online geolocation platform “For My Neighborhood”, which forwards them immediately to the city’s Single System of Complaints. This is merely one of many cases the project “Latinno” is currently compiling in the first comprehensive and systematic database on new forms of citizen participation in Latin America. The new database, which has been developed under the guidance of WZB-researcher Thamy Pogrebinschi, will be allowing comparisons across about 2000 institutional designs in 20 countries, including their effectiveness and impact.

For the new database, the researchers are collecting qualitative and quantitative data from 1990 to 2016 on “democratic innovations”, new institutional designs aimed at enhancing the quality of democracy by means of citizen participation in Latin America. Democratic innovation is defined broadly, thereby encompassing forms of deliberation, e-participation, direct voting and various cases of citizen representation. The database is not merely identifying various instances of democratic innovations, it will also enable comparisons across both cases and countries.  

Research about innovations in democratic participation is often limited to qualitative data and case studies. A systematic and comparative data source on democratic innovations across countries and institutional designs did not exist up to today. Therefore, Thamy Pogrebinschi and her team are filling a gap in this field.

The empirical research is based on a theoretical framework Thamy Pogrebinschi designed for the project. She assumes that citizen participation is not only the end, but first and foremost the means of democratic innovations. This approach, which she calls “pragmatic democracy”, lies at the core of the project and is a unique feature of “Latinno”. It consists in showing how the many means of citizen participation in democratic innovations (such as deliberation or e-participation) aim at enhancing diverse dimensions of the quality of democracy. The researchers believe that the trend they are documenting is not only promoting democracy in Latin America through an increase in citizen participation, but also by making institutions more accountable for their actions and governments more responsive to citizens’ concerns. These democratic innovations may equally strengthen the rule of law whilst promoting social equality.

To date, 1602 cases have been collected and evaluated and 15 countries have been covered. “Latinno” aims to cover Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. From October 2016 onwards, the team will slowly be uploading the first country datasets. In February 2017, upon its launch at an international conference at the WZB, it will be released in full.

You can follow the team’s progress on their website, where the database will be made accessible.