Democracy in Practice is a non-profit organization based in Bolivia which focuses on challenging traditional approaches to governance, focusing in particular on reinventing student government.
Mission and Purpose
Democracy In Practice is an internationally-collaborative nonprofit organization focusing on democratic innovation, experimentation and capacity-building. They are working to transform how people envision democracy, and to develop innovative ways for even the largest organizations, communities, and governments to be truly democratic—not just in theory or in name, but in practice.
By putting into practice more inclusive and participative forms of government, they aim to work on a social level to foster individuals that are both engaged and capable of working with those different from themselves. The organization believes this underpins not only the political change toward a better democracy, but also the long-term success of democracy itself.
Origins and Development
Founded in Bolivia in 2013, Democracy In Practice helps transform open-minded groups and communities into laboratories of democratic innovation where new approaches to governance can be experimented with and developed. They then share the insights and ideas generated by this experimentation in order to inspire others to see democracy in new ways.
Organizational Structure, Membership, and Funding
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Specializations, Methods and Tools
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Major Projects and Events
Democratic experimentation is currently underway in the student governments of three schools in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Typically, student governance mirrors the basic structure of adult governance: a few students seek nomination, run one-day campaigns, and hold elections. After the votes are cast, the vast majority of students are excluded from further participation. Instead, Democracy In Practice is helping students – in their first encounter with ‘democracy’ – experiment with new approaches that are more inclusive, representative, and effective.
One such approach involves random selection and rotation. In these schools Democracy In Practice has replaced candidates and elections with lotteries in which students are randomly selected to assume temporary positions within the student government. After limited terms, these students rotate out and are replaced by other randomly selected students so that, over time, all students (even the shyest and least popular among them) have the chance to work as part of a team, assume responsibilities, and serve their peers and school as student-leaders. Combining random selection with rotation ensures that the student governments broadly represent the diversity within each student body (e.g. gender, age, and ethnic differences) instead of a single clique or type of student, and allows more students to participate directly.
Putting these innovative approaches to the test means encouraging and empowering students to improve their school community in concrete ways that they identify. To that effect, randomly selected student governments have organized enjoyable events such as school-wide field trips and theater competitions, while also addressing complex problems like the need for more sustainable waste-disposal systems, the lack of a school library, and the high cost of transportation to and from school. Beyond tackling challenging issues within the structure of these new approaches to government, the organization is also pushing students to take ownership of the design itself, direct the experimentation with different democratic practices and processes themselves, and develop their own original ideas.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
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Democracy In Practice: Democratic Student Government Program in Cochabamba, Bolivia
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