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Guardrails for Democracy

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Effective communication can help foster public trust and support for an independent institution that can strengthen its independence in the face of political pressure. Institutions can engage with the public by maintaining an up-to-date and easily navigable website and social media and conducting public awareness campaigns.
Guardrails for Democracy: A Guide to Strengthening Independent Institutions

Democracy thrives on the vibrant exchange of ideas, transparency, and confidence in government institutions. Corruption can have disastrous effects on democracy, from derailing a government’s response to a public emergency to driving distrust in democratic institutions and damaging the credibility of governments, both at home and abroad. Holding governments accountable and limiting opportunities for abuse is instrumental to maintaining public trust and to helping countries weather shocks to democracy.  

Independent governmental institutions – including Supreme Audit Institutions, National Human Rights Institutions, Anti-Corruption Authorities, Ombuds Institutions, and Election Management Bodies — are an essential part of the democratic fabric. These institutions should serve as guardrails to keep democracy on track, but, absent safeguards, can become ineffective, irrelevant, or even tools for state capture.  

This Guide draws on IFES’ evidence-based Autonomy and Accountability Framework (AAF) to support an assessment of threats, risks, and weaknesses in the autonomy and accountability of independent institutions at any stage of establishment or development. An institution can use the assessment to help insulate itself from political interference and conflicts of interest, shore up its ability to execute its mandate effectively and efficiently, and build or preserve public trust. The AAF also provides a blueprint for legislatures seeking to enshrine effective protections for new institutions in the law.  

This Guide can be used by an institution on its own or in collaboration with partners to conduct a thorough, introspective review of its own autonomy and accountability mechanisms, or by a civil society organization seeking to advance the work of a specific institution or inform the design of advocacy campaigns. Constitutional or legal drafting committees might also find this resource useful to identify key elements for reform. The Guide includes a series of question sets to identify and understand strengths and threats to autonomy and accountability, and to assist in identifying the specific considerations that may apply given the institution’s unique mandate, structure, or legal context. The Guide also includes sample strategies to fill the gaps identified in the assessment and build institutional resilience.