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Democratizing Democracy

March 10, 2020

Policy Research Talk | Washington, D.C. and Online


VIDEO Mar 10, 2020

Democratizing Democracy

  • Democratic institutions face a growing threat. Over the last two centuries, electoral democracy emerged as an effective means to solve collective action problems and hold governments accountable to citizens. However, a number of challenges—from elite capture to corruption, clientelism, and even the increased availability of big data—are putting this system to the test. At the same time, democracy is evolving to become more informal, local, and technology-driven, with civil society organizations playing a more important role. Opportunities for extra-electoral accountability are increasing, but so is polarization. The importance and legitimacy accorded to elections is consequently in decline. 

    Can anything be done to reverse this growing “democracy fatigue”? In this talk, World Bank economist Vijayendra Rao will examine three approaches to reinvigorating democratic systems in developing countries:

    1. Direct Democracy: How effective are forms of direct democracy, where collective action is resolved not by counting votes but by consensus building? Rao will present results from analyses of large samples of transcripts of village meetings in rural India – where such meetings are constitutionally sanctioned and fundamental to local government.
    2. Performance Incentives: How effective are salary-based performance incentives for elected representatives, as well as incentives that raise public budgets and provide non-monetary rewards for good performance?
    3. Democratizing Data: New methods can empower citizens to analyze and act on their own data. Rao will present tools for democratizing data that have been developed in the context of large World Bank projects in India and Indonesia.
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    Vijayendra Rao (Speaker)

    Lead Economist

    Vijayendra (Biju) Rao, a Lead Economist in the Development Research Group of the World Bank, works at the intersection of scholarship and practice. He integrates his training in economics with theories and methods from anthropology, sociology and political science to study the social, cultural, and political context of extreme poverty in developing countries. He leads the Social Observatory, an inter-disciplinary effort to improve the conversation between citizens and governments.


    Aart Kraay (Chair)

    Director of Research

    Aart Kraay is Director of the Development Research Group at the World Bank. He joined the World Bank in 1995 after earning a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University (1995), and a B.Sc. in economics from the University of Toronto (1990). His research interests include international capital movements, growth and inequality, governance, and the Chinese economy. His research on these topics has been published in scholarly journals such as the Quarterly Journal of Economics, the Review of Economics and Statistics, the Economic Journal, the Journal of Monetary Economics, the Journal of International Economics, and the Journal of the European Economic Association. He is an associate editor of the Journal of Development Economics, and co-editor of the World Bank Economic Review. He has also held visiting positions at the International Monetary Fund and the Sloan School of Management at MIT, and has taught at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

  • The monthly Policy Research Talks showcase the latest findings of the World Bank’s research department, challenge and contribute to the institution’s intellectual climate, and re-examine conventional wisdom in current development theories and practice. These talks facilitate a dialogue between researchers and operational staff and inform World Bank operations both globally and within partner countries. Read More »


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