Citizen Engagement

Populist parties are winning elections across Europe. Instead of ignoring them, established parties should be taking notes.

Today, every fourth European is governed by a populist leader. Populists have grabbed the reins in Italy, Greece, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. They’re busy reshaping the political landscape in countries such as Austria and Finland, where they are in government with established parties, and in Germany and the Netherlands, where they make up the largest opposition force.

But first, what exactly is a populist?

Read the full commentary published in Politico (Europe Edition) on 25 June 2018.

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Democracy happens at the interface of citizens and institutions. As new trends in technology, representative institutions, and participatory processes transform politics at all levels, so too will they redefine the way citizens and governments engage with each other.

As the traditional linkages of democratic governance show signs of wear, innovation and creativity in the civic space have flourished.  Whether through developing or using new forms of information and communications technology or through harnessing the power of social movements to drive political change, citizens across the globe have been attempting to renew the interface between people and politics. Yet as these new platforms and mechanisms transform civic discourse, governments and institutions have often faced considerable lag in their responsiveness and capacity to adapt to these new forms of engagement.

In this rapidly changing political and social landscape, International IDEA strives to meaningfully connect citizens and their representatives. Through knowledge gathering, assisting representative institutions, and influencing debates on the future of citizen engagement, we hope to help harness the power of innovation to drive a renewed sense of connectedness between institutions and those they serve.


Vibrant democracy requires active citizen participation during and between elections. In representative systems, this is usually conducted through intermediaries, including both national representative institutions and, increasingly, alternative movements and platforms. For democratic systems to function at their optimal level, politically engaged citizens must be involved in all phases and levels of political agenda setting and decision-making, including in critical functions such as electoral processes, peace- and constitution-building.

Today, citizens are driving change by innovating and inventing new methodologies of participation and representation. Driven by demands of more control over representative bodies, more accountability in government and more meaningful participation beyond elections, citizens are striving to influence how policies are created and politics is conducted.  This process has been profoundly transformed by new forms of technology which have given more citizens the ability to voice their views in larger public conversations that have the potential to decisively impact policy and political outcomes. Pressure to accommodate the increasing participation and changing demands of citizens, as well as a backlash against the perceived distance between citizens and professional politicians is creating space for systemic changes in many countries, particularly at the local level.

International IDEA supports implementing best practices in democracy by developing comparative knowledge, providing technical assistance and influencing global agendas to support citizen engagement. In re-energizing the relationship between citizens and representative institutions, International IDEA places its emphasis is on four interface areas:

  • Participatory processes
  • Popular movements, protests and platforms
  • Technology for inclusive engagement
  • Local-level innovation

International IDEA’s response is based on the belief that representative institutions will be more responsive to all citizens if the enabling environment, the mechanisms, and the organizational structures of the people-politics interface allow for inclusion, innovation and influence. National laws and policies, for example, must enable the participation of all groups in society, including women, minorities, and other disadvantaged groups in public affairs. Furthermore, inclusive political participation requires active citizenship. Both remain vital goals and components of conflict prevention, peacebuilding efforts, fostering respect for the rule of law and sustainable development. 

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 Photo credit: The Myanmar Photo Collective,

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Photo credit: The Myanmar Project Collective,

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Musical act during the graduation of YWDA, Khartoum, Sudan-09-08-2022. Image credit: International IDEA

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Rumbidzai Kandawasvika-Nhundu
Senior Advisor, Democracy and Inclusion
Rumbidzai Kandawasvika-Nhundu is International IDEA's Senior Advisor for Democracy and Inclusion.