Political participation

Democracy in action – German system accomplishment

The Federal Republic of Germany has a stable democracy and a strong economy with relatively sound public finances and a high standard of living. German society is largely tolerant and peaceful.

One of the factors that have contributed to this is the functioning political participation of the population. The issue of civic participation has recently attained prominence on the political agenda, against the backdrop of electoral protests surrounding major infrastructure projects such as Stuttgart 21, the Fehmarn Belt Fixed Link and other major projects in Germany and other countries.

Democracy is an essential prerequisite for a life of dignity and freedom. However, free and fair elections are not the only fundamental principle of democracy. Citizens must also have the right and opportunity to express their interests and to participate in political decision-making and decision-making processes between election dates – a mechanism that we take for granted in Germany today, but one which represents an accomplishment that many countries have not yet achieved.

Political participation becomes possible if democratic institutions (e.g. parliaments) are strengthened at state level and formal structures for participation are established (e.g. through participatory decision-making processes). At the same time, democratic principles and procedures must be anchored at the social level. This includes strengthening civil society as a mouthpiece and educator for the population and improving access to information.

German Development Cooperation (DC) promotes democracy as a value and a bastion of political order in the partner countries. Support is provided for the establishment of formal structures and democratic institutions, as well as the social anchoring of democratic principles and procedures. Free, general and secret elections are the most important expression of the political will of citizens. They justify the legitimacy of elected representatives and political decisions – and for sanctioning state action, they are the strongest mechanism available to citizens in democratic systems. Our parliaments and local councils are important contact points for promoting democracy. They serve as a link between the state and society, as well as a platform for discussion and decision-making on issues of importance to society as a whole. Democracy and good governance cannot be realised without a parliament that effectively fulfils the core functions of representation, legislation and control.

Ongoing dialogue and accountability between policy-makers and citizens is critical. In addition to formal participation procedures such as petitions and citizens’ decisions, a new variety of informal dialogue formats has emerged in Germany in recent years, the importance of which should not be underestimated; these formats include advisory councils and roundtables, model development processes and future workshops, civic budgets and participatory change projects, e.g. in land use planning or in the development of municipal and regional sustainability strategies. In particular, in order to achieve the goals for sustainable development (SDGs) of Agenda 2030, it is imperative to foster an intensive exchange and closer cooperation between politics, administration, business, research and civil society; only then can pragmatic and regionally-adapted solutions be found and implemented.

The aim of the Governance Fund is to make German experience with political participation available to partner countries and to support these countries in their transformation towards greater political participation of the population. The  Governance Fund's instruments are expert missions, study trips, dialogue formats and education and training to promote knowledge transfer and exchange in the field of political participation.

Examples from the pilot countries


Priority: Participatory land use planning

1. Gradual improvement of the land readjustment approach.

2. Advice on the structuring of the law on land readjustment including the following ordinances.

3. Support for the institutional reform of the competent authority



Focus: Decentralisation and public participation

  1. Qualification offers for employees of local government and tax administration
  2. Advisory and research services for the local government level
  3. Dialogue between local associations in Pakistan and Germany


Studies on behalf of the Governance Fund

Achieving Success in Public Participation

A multi-stakeholder perspective on the state of citizen involvement and participation in Germany, and implications for international cooperation

2020 | Nils Napierala und Henrik Schober-Oschmann | Governance Fonds | Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH

Public participation is highly sensitive to context. In Germany, numerous local frameworks exist, but institutionalization on the national level is yet to be achieved. Key considerations surrounding citizen participation include the design and implementation of processes as well as enabling conditions related to politics and culture. Based on expert interviews with stakeholders from government, administration, civil society and academia in Germany, this paper develops a set of success factors for citizen participation. In addition, it addresses the question if such conclusions might provide input for international cooperation. A second set of interviews, conducted with GIZ staff in six African countries, offers briefings on regional characteristics of citizen participation and the involvement of civil society organizations. Matching both threads of analysis shows that political ownership, accountability, transparency, communication and a sense of community are among the key indicators for assessing citizen participation.

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