Lessons from Abroad: What US Policymakers Can Learn from International Examples of Democratic Governance

New Roosevelt Institute issue brief shows how governance mechanisms can democratize public investment

October 12, 2023
Ariela Weinberger
(212) 444-9130

New York, NY — In the last two years, the Biden administration has secured unprecedented legislative wins for a green economic transformation—the Inflation Reduction Act, the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, to name a few. With this legislation in place, attention has now turned to implementation.

One of the central challenges of the implementation process is how to ensure that public dollars are democratically distributed and yield democratic results. “Lessons from Abroad: What US Policymakers Can Learn from International Examples of Democratic Governance,” a new Roosevelt Institute issue brief, examines how countries around the world have experimented with various institutional mechanisms to enhance democratic control and curb the power of special interests. Authors Shahrzad Shams, Roosevelt Institute, Johanna Bozuwa, Climate and Community Project, Isabel Estevez, Roosevelt Institute, Carla Santos Skandier, independent researcher, and Patrick Bigger, Climate and Community Project, examine six international, real-world experiments with democratic governance that show the power of public input, public and mixed ownership, and democratic oversight and accountability. These cases demonstrate how different policy design features can help ensure that policymaking and implementation are democratic, quick, and efficient, with a focus on decision-making.

From these six cases, the authors draw four lessons to illustrate how the US can build democratic governance into public investments and institutions:

  • First, crafting inclusive governance structures can help protect against power imbalances and ineffectual efforts at fostering public inclusion in decision-making processes;
  • Second, the way in which public investments are implemented can influence both the ownership and governance of production;
  • Third, the risk of mismanagement is greater in the absence of oversight and accountability mechanisms; and
  • Lastly, crafting a robust civic infrastructure is a long-term, multi-coordinated effort that requires commitment from policymakers.

The international examples explored in this brief and the lessons drawn from them can help guide US policymakers as implementation efforts continue.

Shared insights from the authors:

“To the extent that democratic governance mechanisms succeed in engaging workers and communities, they can also serve as a constructive source of community and broader participation in the democratic process, creating a bulwark against the authoritarian drift championed by far-right extremists.

We must embed robust, inclusive democratic governance structures throughout the broad and scattered set of institutions that administer public investments; in doing so, we can help strengthen people’s capacity to flex their civic muscle and channel resources to deliver real, long-lasting value to their communities.”