Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy
20 July 2021

Thirty Years of Democratic Innovation in Latin America

Yanina Welp, Research Fellow at the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy, takes part in the LATINNO project closing event.

On June 24, Yanina Welp, Research Fellow at the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy, took part in the closing event of the LATINNO research project, which collected data on four thousand cases of democratic innovations in 18 Latin American countries (1990-2020) over five years. Entitled "Thirty Years of Democratic Innovation in Latin America", the conference started with a keynote lecture by Mark Warren (University of British Columbia). Warren stated that "the crisis of democracy is a crisis of electoral democracy. Democratic innovations need to target to democratic deficits, by including those who tend to be excluded from electoral politics".

After that, Thamy Pogrebinschi (WZB), Coordinator and Founder of LATINNO, presented the analytical framework of the project, the concepts used and findings brought by it, as well as sharing the final report of the research project. This presentation opened the room to an exchange between Maxwell Cameron (University of British Columbia), Gisela Zaremberg (FLACSO-MŽxico), Brian Wampler (Boise State University) and Yanina Welp.

"I believe we need to understand democratic innovations in the general context of democracy. [...] We should think better about how democratic innovations engage with parties and governments", said Cameron. Brian Wampler, after highlighting the importance of state capacity and the design of democratic innovations, pointed to certain challenges, such as understanding what is left behind after the end of a democratic innovation. Gisela Zaremberg marked that "it should be noted, as a challenge, that authoritarian actors/governments in Latin America are participating in the mechanisms of participatory democracy".

Pointing out lessons learned in the period, Yanina Welp mentioned that: first, there was over-enthusiasm for the capacities of democratic innovations to renovate democracy; second, too many studies did a tabula rasa with previous informal experiences of citizens participation which could have helped to better understand the challenges faced by the new mechanisms; and third, more systemic approaches continued to be lacking, something also stressed by the other panelists. Regarding contemporary challenges, Welp mentioned the risk of instrumentalization, the weaknesses of institutional designs, as well as the expectancy of a growing discontent that will challenge political systems.  She also mentioned the opportunities opened in Chile with the constitutional convention.