Closing In on Democracy

The concept of participation and majority decision making expressed in the term democracy is related to equity. Although democracy may be interpreted differently in var ious intercultural contexts, there is a claim for democracy as a universal principle for institutionalizing sustainable development. This can include access to and participation in processes of generating knowledge, developing indicators, and using them to guide action. There is a risk that certain ideas become embedded as authoritative in the conceptual framework and governance of sustainable development, whereas others are marginalized. Given the normative dimensions of indicators and the biases they contain, democratic processes are particularly necessary to ensure access to and inclusion of different types and sources of knowledge in indicator development (Berkhout et al. 2003:25). This entails engaging scientists and users from a much broader spectrum of countries (particularly developing countries), cultures, and disciplines (see Chapter 4, this volume).

Multistakeholder processes of dialogue, decision making, and implementation are increasingly institutionalized across governance levels, as in local Agenda 21 round-tables, the practices adopted by the CSD, and the emphasis on partnerships at the WSSD (see UNCED 1993; United Nations 2002; CSD 2004). Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration outlines the right of access to information, participation, and justice embodied in the Aarhus Convention.16 Although there are indicators designed to account for the degree of implementation of democratic principles, most developed by nongovernment organizations such as the Corruption Perceptions Index (Lambsdorff 2003), the International Standards of Elections (OSCE 1990), the Worldwide Press Freedom Index (Reporters without Borders 2004), and key indicators for the violation of human rights (Amnesty International 2004), the challenge remains to develop indicators for democratic practice concerning sustainable development.17

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