Founded in 2013, Democracy In Practice is dedicated to democratic innovation, experimentation, and capacity building. We believe that underlying many of today’s social, economic, and environmental problems are approaches to democracy that are exclusive, unrepresentative, and ineffective. In order to address these collective problems, we believe we first need to think beyond elections and develop better ways to do democracy.
As a result, we 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. With that aim, we help transform open-minded groups and communities into laboratories of democratic innovation where new approaches to governance can be experimented with, developed and learned about.
We operate on a non-profit basis and in our efforts to transform democracy we push ourselves to be as democratic as possible – allowing individual members of our team a good deal of autonomy while making all group decisions by consensus. We work hard to be procedurally and financially transparent, and although we have a long way to go, we are striving to become a more diverse team with respect to our demographic makeup as well as our perspectives and skill sets.
We also try to operate in ways that are responsible, socially conscious, and environmentally sustainable. To that end, we undertake several precautions given that our work involves children and young adults, including requiring police background checks for those of us working directly with children. We also make a strong effort to source locally and collaborate with organizations that share our values – especially worker-cooperatives and collectives – for everything from our web hosting to our printed materials. Further, we also make an effort to use open source software in support of the movement to democratize information and technology.
We feel that open-minded practical experimentation is key to developing better ways to do democracy. Accordingly, we seek out groups and communities who strive to be more democratic and are willing to pioneer innovative and often untested ways of governing themselves. We then try to check our own assumptions and biases at the door, and help them tinker with a broad array of processes and practices to let a diversity of effective and adaptable democratic models evolve over time. In working with these groups and communities, we relate as equals and try to interact in ways that help everyone involved feel respected and empowered.
Students in one of our projects administering a lottery
to select their student government representatives
In the big picture, we are working to help further the much larger movement of democratic experimentation that is happening worldwide by bringing something unique to the table. Events such as Citizens’ Juries and Deliberative Polls have dramatically advanced practical understanding and the public’s awareness of democratic alternatives such as random selection of representatives. However, these are typically temporary, one-off events that focus on gathering feedback and making policy recommendations on a single pre-selected issue. Our work builds off of this and ventures into the unique challenges of permanent day-to-day governance and goes beyond recommendations by giving citizens direct decision-making power.
We also try to share the successes, failures, and insights that come out of our collaborative experiments in a variety of ways that are widely accessible: case studies, blog posts, videos, and academic publications. We encourage individuals, groups, and communities everywhere to experiment and share as well!
For more information on how we work and why we work where we do, see our FAQs section below.
Adam co-founded Democracy In Practice in 2013 while volunteering with the Foundation Abril in Cochabamba, Bolivia. His passion for democracy has led to a broad base of experience, which includes an independent study of the jury system; dialoguing with members of the 2011 Icelandic Constituent Council; co-facilitating two NYC General Assemblies; co-writing the Spokes-Council Proposal at Occupy Wall Street; and teaching and learning at the democratically-run Brooklyn Free School. Adam grew up in Baldwinsville, a town outside of Syracuse, NY (US) and lived for several years in Kingston, Ontario (Canada).
Raúl studied Social Communication in the University of San Simón in Cochabamba, Bolivia. He also studied for three years in the Catholic Union of Journalism of Latin-America (UCLAP). Raúl worked with Maryknoll in capacity building for indigenous religious leaders in the Bolivian Amazon and in popular education with youth of mining families that have migrated to Cochabamba's outer neighborhoods. He was the co-Director of the Andean Information Network (RAI), focusing on issues such as coca farming, drug trafficking, and development. More recently, he was the Executive Secretary of Franciscans International Bolivia from 2007-2009, with a particular focus on ecology and the environment. In 2010, Raúl worked in the Union of Economic and Social Development of the Tropics (UDESTRO) under the Vice-Minister of Coca and Holistic Development. He has hosted various environmental education programs in different radio stations in Cochabamba and is the coauthor of the first-grade environmental textbook Educación Ambiental. Currently Raúl volunteers as a member of the Permanent Assembly of Human Rights of Cochabamba.
Jeff is from rural Prince Edward County, Canada and is currently completing his doctorate at McGill University’s Faculty of Law in Montréal. There, his research explores the (currently uneasy) relationship between democracy and criminal sentencing. Having earned degrees at Queen’s University (B.A.), the University of Leicester (LL.B.) and McGill University (LL.M.), he has a love for scholarship, but also a drive to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty. Throughout his studies, he has maintained active involvement with community engagement initiatives, with a particular focus on prisoner re-integration, and has seen firsthand the potential of everyday people to tackle difficult social issues. This potential, and his passion for putting imagination to work led him to help found Democracy In Practice in 2013. He now serves as an unpaid member of the Board of Directors and is involved in a research and planning capacity.
Simon is fascinated by how seemingly simple changes in systems and structures can lead to transformational change. From a young age he had a curiosity about how systems work and how people can transform those systems. He has worked, studied, and researched in four continents, speaks multiple languages, and has taken on a wide variety of work and volunteer roles, including serving as a director for a non profit restorative justice society, training as a reservist in the Canadian Armed Forces, and working in variety of international business roles at The LEGO Group. These experiences have not only helped him better understand the complex nature of social phenomena and helped him grow personally and professionally but have also more often than not shattered his assumptions and made him look deeper and think harder. Simon is an unpaid member of the Board of Directors at Democracy In Practice, and he is involved in a variety of projects regarding research and organizational knowledge. He is also currently completing his doctorate in business administration with a research focus on organization change for sustainability in international contexts.
Camila has helped out with workshops and student lotteries in the schools. She has also captured some of the pictures and video found on our website and edits all of our Spanish materials - including our website. Camila is from Cochabamba and works full-time on grassroots projects related to water for one of our partner organizations, the Foundation Abril.
Raydel has helped out with student lotteries and was particularly active in the introductory workshops that were given at each school. Raydel is originally from Havana, Cuba and is currently pursuing a degree in Business Administration.
Founder and Director of the Foundation Abril
Oscar was an industrial metal worker for 40 years, and served as a factory workers’ union leader from 1980 to 2010. He is best known for his important role as an organizer, activist, and spokesperson for “La Coordinadora del Agua” during the so-called ‘Water War’ protests in Cochabamba, Bolivia (2000). He has received numerous awards, including the Letelier-Moffit Human Rights Award (2000) and the Goldman Environmental Prize (2001). Currently, Oscar is an active member the Andean School of Water and the Director of La Foundation Abril, a non-profit organization that promotes alternative participatory and democratic processes in labor claims and in the management of water as a common good, through initiatives based on organization, management, education, research and grassroots mobilization.
Professor of Applied Politics and Director of the newDemocracy Foundation
New South Wales, Australia
Lyn Carson is a professor of Applied Politics with the University of Sydney Business School and a Director of the newDemocracy Foundation (NSW, Australia). She has extensive experience with deliberative democratic processes at local, state, and national levels, having been involved in the design and facilitation of Deliberative Polls, Citizens’ Juries, Televotes, and Australia’s first Consensus Conference, Youth Jury, and Citizens’ Parliament. Lyn has also written a number of handbooks on community engagement, many articles and book chapters on public participation, and co-wrote the book Random Selection in Politics (Praeger, 1999). She has a long history of community engagement, dating back to her 1991 election to the Lismore City Council, NSW, much of which is documented on her personal website: http://www.activedemocracy.net/.
Executive Director of the newDemocracy Foundation
New South Wales, Australia
Iain is currently the Executive Director of the newDemocracy Foundation, an independent, non-partisan research organization aiming to identify improvements to the democratic process, to replace the adversarial with the deliberative, and to move out of the "continuous campaign" cycle. Since 2004, the newDemocracy Foundation has pioneered the use and study of citizens juries, random selection in participatory budgeting, and other democratic innovations in Australia. Iain holds a Masters in Public Policy from the University of Sydney and a Bachelor of Business (Marketing) from the University of Technology, Sydney. Before joining the newDemocracy Foundation, he held commercial roles in professional sport at the PGA Tour and Golf Australia, as well as in the technology industry at Microsoft Australia.
Co-director of the South American Office of Terre Des Hommes Alemania
Elizabeth was the Director of the Cochabamba Office of Defense of the Children International from 1993-2003. During that time she also served as the National Coordinator of the Bolivian Network of Institutions Working with Children and Adolescents (1995-2001), as the President of the Inter-institutional Committee of Human Rights (2002-2003), and as an Advisor to the Bolivian Diplomat of the Rights of Children and Adolescents (2001). From 2003-2005, she was the Bolivian Vice-minister of Children, Youth, and Senior Citizens. Since 2006, Elizabeth has been the Co-director of the South American Regional Office of Terre Des Hommes (Germany), and she also teaches at the master's level on public policy as it relates to childhood and adolescence.
Principal and Co-founder of MASS LBP
Peter is one of Canada's leading experts in public engagement and deliberative democracy. He is the Co-founder and Principal of MASS LBP, an innovative firm based in Toronto, Canada which works to deepen and improve public consultation and engagement. Since 2007, MASS LBP has led some of Canada's most original and ambitious efforts to engage citizens in tackling tough policy options while pioneering the use of Civic Lotteries and Citizen Reference Panels. Over the past ten years Peter has worked with leading organizations in North America and Europe, including Vancouver's Wosk Centre for Dialogue, Britain's Demos think tank and the Kaospilots, a Danish school for business design and social innovation. A graduate of the University of Toronto and Queen's University, he writes and speaks frequently about the citizen's experience of the state, the importance of public imagination and the future of responsible government. He is an Action Canada fellow (2003), the 2008 recipient of the Public Policy Forum's Emerging Leaders Award, and a Director of Toronto's Wellesley Institute for Urban Health.
The Foundation Abril is a Bolivian non-profit organization that promotes alternative participatory and democratic processes in labor claims and in the management of water as a common good, through initiatives based on organization, management, education, research and grassroots mobilization. La Foundation Abril provides hands-on logistical and advisory support as well as office space for Democracy In Practice.
New South Wales, Australia
The newDemocracy Foundation is an independent, non-partisan research organization aiming to identify improvements to democratic process. It aims to replace the adversarial with the deliberative, and move out of the "continuous campaign" cycle. The nDF provides advisory support for Democracy In Practice, and has provided a grant for us to conduct research regarding our work.
We started our work in Bolivia primarily based on the advice of Oscar Olivera, a Bolivian activist and organizer well-known for his lead role in the Cochabamba Water War (2000) and in subsequent grassroots protests and social movements. After discussing the type of work we wanted to do, we agreed with Oscar that there were a number of reasons why Bolivia was an ideal place to get started:
We are keenly aware of – and do our best to be sensitive to – the distinct colonial and geopolitical history of the region, as well as the cultural differences between Bolivia and places like the US or Canada (that several of us call home). In trying to navigate these differences responsibly, we are fortunate that one of our two team members on the ground in Bolivia is Bolivian and has a wealth of grassroots experience with communities and organizations throughout his home country. We are also lucky to have two extremely knowledgeable Bolivian Advisors, and to be partnered with the highly regarded Bolivian grassroots organization, the Foundation Abril.
There are several reasons why starting in schools makes sense, a few of which are worth mentioning here:
Given that they are a relatively vulnerable population, we take special precautions in our work with children and young adults that are informed by Elizabeth Patiño, one of our Advisors in Bolivia who has extensive experience working on children’s rights and protections. All of us who work directly with children are required to submit a police background check upon entry, and we have internal policies for interacting with children and young adults to try to ensure safe and responsible contact between them and our team members. Additionally, our school projects are first approved by both the directors and the teachers. Participation by students in our projects is explicitly voluntary, and permission is acquired before using pictures and video. As well, the student governments in the younger schools are accompanied throughout the year by teacher-advisors.
When you’re as passionate as we are, it’s hard not to want to do more! At the same time, we recognize that quality can be more important that quantity, especially in starting out. At the moment, we are learning to walk before we run, but have a number of things in mind for the future, both near and far.
One of our more immediate goals is to better document and share the learning that is coming out of our projects. We’re working on creating new content in a variety of different mediums: stay tuned for the videos, articles, and podcasts that are just around the corner. We’ll also be launching a blog to share day-to-day updates and reflections.
We’re also planning on taking a step and expanding our work beyond schools. We’ve started meeting with different groups to explore the possibilities for working with a community association, union or cooperative that is interested in pioneering innovative approaches to democracy. There is a lot of interest among groups in Bolivia, and we are taking a prudent approach in finding a good fit for this type of collaborative experimentation.
Lastly, the long term sees us moving beyond Bolivia to work in other parts of the Americas. The challenge of fair, inclusive, and effective governance is universal, and while every context is unique, we can all benefit from bringing an innovative spirit to democracy.
TALK ABOUT US. If you know anyone that might be interested in our work, tell them about us! We make it easy by being active on social media, so Like, Follow and Share us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We know you hear this every day, but it can make a huge difference!
DONATE. To date, we’ve relied solely on the generosity and commitment of people who believe that democracy can be more than a vote every few years. To the degree that you’re able, please donate to keep our work going – every bit helps! If you’re part of a granting organization and are interested in our work, we would love to talk so please contact us.
GET YOUR HANDS DIRTY. Given our small size, we’re in the funny position of needing a lot of help while not always having the capacity to make use of every offer. That said, if you care about our work and have a particular skill or passion that you think might help us, let us know! (Note: At the moment, we are especially on the lookout for experienced graphic designers / illustrators who might help us better share our work through our website)