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What are the normative principles?

Principles embedded in the governance assessment framework constitute the normative basis against which governance performance will be measured. Ideally, the framework will be straightforward with regard to which standards, universal principles, democratic governance attributes or other normative guidelines it uses. If not, these principles will need to be unpacked in order to secure transparency. Frameworks that describe governance with a normative adjective, such as "democratic governance" or "good governance," already signal that normative principles will be used.

Ways of addressing normative principles within a governance assessment framework include:
  • Select principles and attributes of governance based on conventional understandings of the meaning of democratic governance. (Examples of frameworks that use this approach include International IDEA Citizen Assessment of Democracy'(hyperlink) and the framework for World Governance Assessment.)


  • Refer to human rights as a yardstick for assessments. Frameworks that incorporate human rights-based approaches often identify duty bearers and claimholders of human rights issues.
  • Choose international agreements to which a country is signatory as a normative standard. Agreements may include the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), regional agreements such as SADC, EU accession criteria, APRM, African People Charter of Human Rights and so on. The main human rights treaties used include:
         Universal Declaration of Human Rights
         International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
         International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
         International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
         Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
         Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
         Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • Refer to national legislation or other government commitments.
UNDP defines democratic governance through the principles of inclusive participation, responsive institutions and specific principles and values, including human rights, gender equity and integrity. No universal rule on how democratic governance may be made operational in every country context, and defining attributes requires consensus building and stakeholder consultations.
In addition to which principles, agreement is also required on the number of principles pertaining to the concept of "governance." Maximalist definitions decrease the usefulness of a concept by narrowing the reference base and making the concept complex. On the other hand, minimalist definitions risk omitting a relevant attribute in the definition of the concept.
The task of defining principles of democratic governance amounts to specifying the meaning of the concept. The result will affect the entire process of data generation and provide the anchor for all subsequent decisions. You must also consider how these principles are related to each other: Some principles will be more concrete or abstract than others, and some principles might be considered more important than others.
Examples of principles and attributes commonly used in democratic governance assessment frameworks include:
  • Inclusive participation
  • Responsiveness
  • Representativeness
  • Accountability
  • Transparency
  • Equity
  • Efficiency
  • Integrity
  • Solidarity
  • Fairness
  • Decency
  • Human rights
When the principles and attributes have been decided upon, the challenging task of selecting and defining indicators still remains. The selection of indicators has many difficulties and is addressed in the section on "How to select indicators." (hyperlink) 

Decision-making tree for operationalizing principles

Decision making tree for operationalizing principles

Once a decision has been made to assess democratic governance, operationalizing normative principles of democratic governance in a deductive or top-down manner is a three-step process:
Step 1) Define the concept of "democratic governance"
Step 2) Based on the definition of democratic governance in step 1, select your principles and attributes (these will often form the basis for aggregate indicators)
Step 3) Ooperationalize attributes through defining and selecting indicators that can be directly linked to single primary or secondary data sources