BRIDGE in Electoral Assistance and Capacity Building Programs

Focus on: the Electoral Cycle
August 17, 2009
Developing a program framework
August 17, 2009

(see also 1.3 BRIDGE as a Professional Development Tool)

As a component of electoral assistance programming, BRIDGE should not be seen as a ‘sand-alone’ feature but as a cross cutting capacity development tool with the ability to value-add in each assistance area.

BRIDGE workshops integrate well with technical assistance programs in the earlier design and consultation phases of an electoral assistance program, and then periodically as a tool for reflection and analysis. BRIDGE workshops can serve as an effective launch activity for corresponding thematic sub-components of a broader technical assistance program. For instance, a voter registration technical assistance phase could be initiated by a customised implementation of the Voter Registration module with a registration specialist serving as an expert for the training alongside BRIDGE facilitators. As participants, the EMB staff and relevant stakeholders build confidence and knowledge about the upcoming voter registration process, the specialist gains an understanding of the local situation, and the relationships fostered between both parties could help to ensure that the success of subsequent technical assistance.

Much as it does with other stakeholders, the BRIDGE workshop can be used as a dialogue tool to build mutual understanding and trust between the technical assistance program and client. Broad substantive relationships between the staff of both institutions, and deeper understanding of the real problems faced by both institutions, can lead to greater trust between the technical assistance program and the EMB, more effective program design, and eventually more successful implementation.

The periodic implementation of BRIDGE modules throughout a technical assistance program can provide unique avenues for reflection and assessment away from the normal relationships and operational priorities. This integrated, consultative, reflective approach is in line with the recommendations on electoral assistance outlined by the European Commission and UNDP.2

Specific examples of electoral assistance and capacity development programs in which BRIDGE can be used an integrated or complementary tool are:

  • technical, operational and management training programs
  • public administration assistance
  • institutional exchanges where members and staff visit other institutions
  • international cooperation between EMBs and stakeholders from different countries
  • international election observation by EMB staff and electoral stakeholders
  • election practitioners networks whether global or regional
  • degree programs in fields related to public administration and electoral processes
  • mentoring programs whether within EMB staff or where international experts mentor national staff as part of technical assistance programs

BRIDGE programs are ideally developed following the 10 principles established by UNDP Policy Group on Capacity Development:

UNDP’s 10 Default Principles for Capacity Development

  1. Don’t rush.  Capacity development is a long-term process.  It eludes delivery pressures, quick fixes and the search for short-term results.
  2. Respect the value systems and foster self-esteem.  The imposition of alien values can undermine confidence. Capacity development builds upon respect and self-esteem.
  3. Scan locally and globally; reinvent locally. There are no blueprints. Capacity development draws upon voluntary learning, with genuine commitment and interest.  Knowledge cannot be transferred; it needs to be acquired.
  4. Challenge mindsets and power differentials. Capacity development is not power neutral, and challenging mindsets and vested interests is difficult. Frank dialogue and a collective culture of transparency are essential steps.
  5. Think and act in terms of sustainable capacity outcomes. Capacity is at the core of development; any course of action needs to promote this end. Responsible leaders will inspire their institutions and societies to work accordingly.
  6. Establish positive incentives. Motives and incentives need to be aligned with the objective of capacity development, including through governance systems that respect fundamental rights.  Public sector employment is one particular area where distortions throw up major obstacles.
  7. Integrate external inputs into national priorities, processes and systems. External inputs need to correspond to real demand and be flexible enough to respond to national needs and agendas. Where national systems are not strong enough, they should be reformed and strengthened, not bypassed.
  8. Build on existing capacities rather than creating new ones. This implies the use of national expertise, resuscitation and strengthening of national institutions, as well as protection of social and cultural capital.
  9. Stay engaged under difficult circumstances. The weaker the capacity the greater the need. Low capacities are not an argument for withdrawal or for driving external agendas. People should not be held hostage to irresponsible governance.
  10. Remain accountable to ultimate beneficiaries. Any responsible government is answerable to its people, and should foster transparency as the foremost instrument of public accountability.  Where governance is unsatisfactory it is even more important to anchor development firmly in stakeholder participation and to maintain pressure points for an inclusive accountability system.

    Source: UNDP, Ownership, Leadership and Transformation, NY (2003), p. 13.

Sustainability & Capacity Development

The BRIDGE activity-based methodology uses an approach that maximizes retention of knowledge and skills learned in the workshop. On the individual level, the impact of a BRIDGE program lasts well beyond the program in terms of confidence, sense of professional identity, skills and knowledge directly applicable to work, ethics, and access to networks. The BRIDGE philosophy is that through professional development, individual participants are in turn empowered to affect organizational and systemic reform.

Evidence of success of a BRIDGE program in terms of sustainability, that is, if one was to visit an institution where a comprehensive BRIDGE program had been run 5 or 10 years earlier could be:

  • Professional development is a higher corporate priority inside the institution reflected in human resource practices.
  • A BRIDGE-like active learning approach is incorporated into a training regime making use of fully customized resources informed by the original BRIDGE materials.
  • The morale of staff, institutional pride, and commitment to the values of democratic electoral processes is thriving.
  • The performance of the institution in delivering certain elections-related functions that were the focus of the BRIDGE workshops has improved because of increased skills and processes inspired and informed by the BRIDGE experience and resources.
  • There is increased understanding of broader issues of sustainability within the institution, for example as regards the introduction of IT solutions, procurement decisions etc.
  • The improved state of relations between stakeholders brought together in BRIDGE workshops serves as an enabling factor for credible electoral processes.
  • An improved policy framework is in place in specific areas corresponding to the focus of the BRIDGE program.

Obviously, the level of expectation would have to be commensurate with the scale and quality of the original intervention. Factors that will affect the impact of a BRIDGE program are the extent of national ownership; the responsiveness and relevance of the programs; and the appropriate fit with a wider electoral assistance programming.

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