An election is the largest and most complex logistical operation that a country ever undertakes in peacetime. This is often not well understood, and indeed, the better an election is run, the simpler it looks. Committed, ethical, professional and confident people are the key to increasing the prospects of running a good election, in both emerging and more established democracies.
Electoral assistance providers recognise that the building of a strong and stable electoral culture in-country is more important than providing ad hoc electoral assistance from outside. Two of the largest, UNDP and European Commission, have specifically recommended incorporating an electoral cycle approach and focussing on capacity development in their electoral assistance programming (see Electoral Assistance Manuals from the respective organisations).
UNDP defines capacity development as the process through which individuals, organisations and societies obtain, strengthen and maintain the capabilities to set and achieve their own development objectives over time.
Ideally, BRIDGE should be one component of an integrated package of broader electoral assistance or of a wider and longer-term capacity development strategy that incorporates other interventions such as technical assistance, operational training, and mentoring. BRIDGE is not a ‘fix-all’, a ‘stop gap’, and a ‘stand-alone’ product that can meet all needs. BRIDGE can neither deliver a total electoral assistance package nor take complete responsibility for capacity development. Designing and implementing BRIDGE programs as multi-partner initiatives goes a long way to maximising BRIDGE’s institutional development potential. BRIDGE partner organisations are well placed for such cooperation.
BRIDGE as a professional development tool primarily affects participants at the individual level. The BRIDGE activity based workshops use an activity based approach that maximises retention of knowledge and skills learned in a workshop. In addition, the workshops are designed to promote or reinforce professional confidence, ethics, understanding of principles of best electoral practice, and access to networks of peers.
BRIDGE has the potential to trigger change on the organisational level: broader understanding of the organisation, morale, and cohesion within the organisation. Workshops encourage participants to reflect on their organisation, providing comparative examples and alternative approaches, generating blueprints or support for organisational reform.
BRIDGE has the potential to impact change also on the environmental level. As a dialogue tool, the content, methodology, and non-threatening environment can contribute to a shared understanding of the challenges ahead and improved relationships between disparate stakeholders. By practicing skills such as analysis of alternative approaches, advocacy, and legislation drafting participants are well placed to affect change on a broader level.
BRIDGE programs have resulted in networks of professionals within institutions, regionally and internationally that have provided peer support and served as triggers for reform long after the end of the formal program.