Strengthening democracy and freedom in backsliding contexts: mapping and synthesizing the evidence
In recent years, international observers such as the V-Dem Institute have highlighted an alarming crisis of democracy with a decline in competitive elections, political participation and public accountability. For the first time in two decades, the Institute’s 2023 Democracy Report found more closed autocracies than liberal democracies in the world.
While many international actors are designing and implementing interventions to curb this trend of democratic backsliding, they often lack evidence of what interventions work in these complex socio-political contexts. To support these actors in finding relevant evidence, 3ie is bringing together existing findings in a rapid evidence assessment, with support from the UK government’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
Mapping the evidence base
The rapid synthesis builds on the body of evidence identified through six recently-published evidence gap maps on Democracy, Governance and Human Rights. Our recently-published evidence gap map report and rapid evidence assessment protocol share findings from the evidence mapping, in addition to laying out the process we are following to produce the rapid evidence assessment.
When we first mapped studies that focused specifically on the effectiveness of interventions in democratic backsliding contexts, we found that this body of evidence was small (197 studies) relative to the overall democracy, rights and governance evidence base (1,867 studies). The 188 quantitative impact evaluations and nine qualitative evaluations analyzed six relevant intervention domains and five outcomes (see Figure 1).
There were clusters of studies measuring the effectiveness of accountable governance and civic space interventions on outcomes such as institutional capacity, knowledge, norms, and participation. However, there were also gaps in the evidence, particularly with respect to interventions targeting inclusive politics, corruption, other aspects of economic governance, and media freedom. The mapping showed there was no systematic review specifically focusing on democracy and freedom interventions in contexts of democratic backsliding.
The Rapid Evidence Assessment
To address this synthesis gap more rapidly than a traditional systematic review can, we are narrowing our focus to relevant interventions in a subset of countries selected with the FCDO. We are including the six intervention and the five outcome domains identified through the evidence mapping. This process still uses a rigorous synthesis approach but cuts the required time and cost in half compared with a standard systematic review by focusing on 64 of the 197 studies relating to 13 countries in four regions of interest.
As we extract and analyze data from the 64 studies, we would appreciate your suggestions. You can also write to firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to join our REA project advisory group or a mailing list to receive the preliminary findings and updates from this project.