The Oslo Center Approach

Democracy is identified by many as majority rule, often combined with a winner-takes-all approach. The Oslo Center approach is to understand democracy as majority rule that accommodates minority rights. This mindset reflects the key principles of inclusive participation and accountable representation.

The Oslo Center has a holistic approach, acknowledging that democracy is often a complex fabric within a society with multiple layers and components. In democracy, we observe, there are many actors with different roles and responsibilities. In this regard the Oslo Center works with political parties, political and democratic institutions and civil society. We acknowledge that each and every actor must perform its tasks to its fullest, but equally important that actors perform their roles in a coordinated and collaborative manner with a holistic approach to democracy i.e. developing systems that correspond to each other. As much as the Oslo Center is assisting individual institutions, we recognize the importance of inter-institutional relations and processes.

Competition is an important element in democracy performance. The Oslo Center recognizes political cooperation as equally important. A well-functioning, sustainable democracy must include a balance between the two, where dialogue is crucial to achieve sustainable results. Dialogue never casts competitors as opponents, but as actors representing diversity in a democracy.

Dialogue can be an activity in itself or as a methodological approach. We may facilitate a dialogue between two or more parties or we may use dialogue as a method when working with a partner organization. The aim of dialogue is increased understanding and trust-building, that may lay the foundation to identify challenges and common solutions.

Four Keys in the Oslo Center’s Approach
The first key of the Oslo Center’s approach is maintaining the highest possible level of local knowledge and understanding of the political, cultural, historical, social and economic contexts. It means knowing and understanding the actors and all relevant processes including identifying the “drivers of change” and the
“barriers to change”. It also requires building relationships between the actors and the Oslo Center. This is a prerequisite for building trust, which is fundamental when providing relevant assistance. Trust is also a prerequisite for being seen as non-partisan. With respect and tolerance we appreciate the equality of this
diversity. It is not enough to be non-partisan in perfomance; we must also be perceived by all involved as non-partisan. This remains a constant challenge in the sensitive environments where the Oslo Center operates.

The second key for the Oslo Center is the issue of local ownership, which is fundamental in all our programs and activities. The Oslo Center responds to requests from, and initiates activities with, key actors and stakeholders. Our approach includes sharing options and comparative experiences, looking at pros and cons,
but acknowledging the right of the relevant decision-makers to draw conclusions.

The third key in the Oslo Center’s work is the issue of good timing, i.e. we remain sensitive, through understanding of the context, to “do the right thing at the right time”. This is important in order to avoid backlashes or destroy traditional structures needed as a foundation for change. Flexibility, and tailored activities to respond to requests, challenges and opportunities, is important. Hence sequencing the activities in order to secure the highest level of relevance is crucial for successful processes. The fourth key is “learning by doing”, combining theoretical knowledge with practical experiences. So-called ‘best practice’ should be included in dialogue with partners, as the process is often as important as the outcome.

The Oslo Center, with its special approach described above, has been highly appreciated in the countries where we are working. An example is the external evaluation of Oslo Center`s programs in Somalia and Kenya. The evaluation report conclusion stated that the Oslo Center is moving in a new direction of democracy support, where Oslo Center`s stakeholders are carrying the full ownership of the process and the outcome of assistance provided. Oslo Center`s partners have clearly stated that the key to the success is close collaboration along with the Oslo Center staff’s in-depth knowledge of the specific context they are working in.

Read more about the Oslo Center and democracy assistance as an area of work HERE.