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This week’s front page editor

Constitutional conventions: best practice

Do think-tanks have a future? Francesco Grillo poses the predicament. Can they rise to the challenge of global awareness? Or fend off encroachments by the cults of delivery and market testing? From his unique experience in the UK Geoff Mulgan explores what a learning culture means in the emerging global commons. Tom Bentley retorts that he is ignoring the central challenge to our democracies. Must those who craft our demos return to the drawing board?

Still 'Our Man in Havana': foreign policy reporting's elitism problem

Foreign policy reporting in the British media is dominated by an elite and a false neutrality presenting a particular ideology simply as authoritative. The question of who is positioned as the voice of reason must be examined. 

Amnesty International: the politics of morality

The expansion of Amnesty International's remit to include "full-spectrum" human rights may entail costs as well as benefits, says Stephen Hopgood.

(This article was first published on 7 June 2006)

China, NGOs and accountability

A Beijing conference exploring the issues surrounding civil society and its stakeholders finds that Chinese NGOs have lessons to teach as well as learn from the west, reports Martin Vielajus.


Rhetoric, rights and reality

Amnesty International is seeking to broaden its humanitarian ambitions to meet new challenges. Maryann Bird reports from the launch of its 2006 report.

The darker side of global civil society

The way NGOs and other global civil society organisations operate must be reformed if they are to embody the progressive claims often made on their behalf, argues Leni Wild.

US think-tanks: casualties in the war of ideas

The partisanship of modern American politics is narrowing the agendas of think-tanks of left and right. James McGann asks what can be done to raise the quality of debate.

Evidence-based policy and democracy

A lesson of recent failures on British government policy is that the quality of a democracy is measured in the way decisions are reached as much as in their outcomes, says William Davies.

'Full-spectrum' human rights: Amnesty International rethinks

The interdependence of the modern world is leading the human rights organisation Amnesty International towards a fresh conception of its work, explains its UK campaigns director, Stephen Bowen.

Thinking about 'Blink'

Could the next George W Bush or Tony Blair learn to make decisions that are accountable and transparent as well as quick? Jeremy Hardie on the missing element of Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink”: democracy.

Write the constitution down!

The battle over fox-hunting in England has led to a crisis of authority in the state itself. Anthony Barnett asks John Jackson, a key figure in the case and chairman of a leading law firm, Mishcon de Reya, to comment on the significance of the latest decision by a high-level panel of judges.

A single family: Shirin Ebadi speaks

Shirin Ebadi, Iranian human rights activist and Nobel Peace laureate, recently toured North America, where openDemocracy interviewed her about her life, work and assessment of the prospects for her homeland.

Tall tales and home truths

Why are government and media in Britain so hostile to each other? Because each seeks to control the narratives that shape people’s lives, says Tom Bentley of the think-tank Demos. In the process, both are damaged – and so is democracy itself.

Global civil society: the politics of a new world?

From Porto Alegre to anti-war movements, 2003 was a tumultuous year of political mobilisation. As the 2004 World Social Forum opens in Mumbai, will “global civil society” build an enduring space in support of a more humane form of globalisation?

The man who built the WTO: an interview with Peter Sutherland

Does international trade help poor people? The man who created the World Trade Organisation, has no doubt: the answer is yes. In a confident interview, Peter Sutherland champions economic integration, welcomes the entry of China, India, Russia and Brazil into the global economy, and claims that the failure of the latest WTO summit at Cancún needn’t be permanent – provided both north and south are committed to multilateralism.

"We the peoples of Europe..."

Why did the Brussels summit on the European Constitution collapse? Perhaps because it deserved to. The EU must move from government by elites who seek to manage, to one grounded on citizens’ support.

Who did it? Who is responsible for the failure of European heads of states and governments to agree to a proposed new Constitution at their inter-governmental conference (IGC) in Brussels on 12-13 December?

There is a temptingly easy answer.

Making 'global' and 'ethical' rhyme: an interview with Mary Robinson

The former Irish president and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, now architect of the Ethical Globalisation Initiative, talks to openDemocracy about the 21st century human rights agenda – one that connects universal principles to the daily lives and needs of the world’s poorest people.

Brazilian future

The election of Lula as president of Brazil, says his special adviser, is the signal for a national project that will have a profound impact beyond the country's borders. The aim is a confident place for Brazil in the world commensurate with its immense size, energy and global character. 

From Brazil to the world, or Twenty theses for a democratic theory of the state

The historic election of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula) as president of Brazil in October 2002 was a crucial stage in the development of a political project informed by the accumulated experience and thinking - tested in local and regional administration as well as earlier electoral defeats on the national stage - of a generation of Brazilian intellectuals and activists. Tarso Genro, former mayor of Porto Alegre and now head of the special secretariat of the new Economic and Social Development Council, maps this trajectory via a series of reflections on the problems and possibilities of a way of governing that is at once democratic, socialist, and popular. 

Governance as learning: the challenge of democracy

While Geoff Mulgan makes a strong case that learning has become central to effective governance, Tom Bentley registers a missing dimension in his argument: democracy itself. Learning is not just openness to international experience among policy-makers, or a better chain of command. It is a process that entails deep accountability, transparency, network-based cultures of information at every level – one that recasts relationships between governments and people.

A new way for British government?

In advance of a global summit of centre-left leaders in London, Geoff Mulgan has mapped a vital cultural shift in the inner life of British governance – from ‘we know best’ to ‘we learn best’. The openness and practicality of his argument make it both welcome and deceptively radical, says Anthony Barnett; but does it, like Tony Blair's 'Third Way' itself, also carry some Old Britain paternalism into the new media age?

Global comparisons in policy-making: the view from the centre

The principle guiding successful governance is changing. Until recently, policy ideas evolved (and too often failed) within a vacuum of national experience and cultural superiority. Today, the global commons – a shared space of experience, knowledge, and experiment – is transforming the way political systems think and operate. One of the architects of the New Labour reform programme in Britain, writing in a personal capacity, maps a key transition.

The Club of Madrid

An under-reported meeting of developing democratic governments in Madrid can be seen as part of the search for a positive globalisation. As the process continues, might the pupils soon become teachers?

Global civil society comes of age

The emergence of a global civil society is one of the vital factors in global politics in the last decade. The co-editor of a comprehensive sourcebook on the subject maps its contours. A new ‘global dialogue’ is needed, but must it include even those committed to ethnic or religious fundamentalism?

The era of the local

Sue Goss’s recent book “Making Local Governance Work” explores the changing experience of local centres of power in Britain under the impact of political reform and cultural change. Geoff Mulgan of the Performance and Innovation Unit in the Cabinet Office (writing here in a personal capacity), welcomes the space of debate she has opened up, but warns that the forces of local revival must still negotiate some traditional obstacles.

Think tanks in the global marketplace of ideas

Think tanks can survive the pressures of competition, and maximise their resources of independence and flexibility, argues the director of the Italian organisation Vision. But they must adapt to a change of scale, and start thinking globally – without maps.

Crafting the mental goods

The fragmenting of traditional politics is making the life of think tanks more difficult. Their potential recruits are seduced by the glamour of power, their funders prefer topicality to thoughtfulness, their university rivals are raising their game. In a political culture transfixed by “delivery”, an experienced grant-maker asks: where will the independent ideas of the future come from?

Coming or going? NGOs in the new political landscape

The influence of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) - on governments, corporations, and public opinion - has not been matched by a clear understanding of their own role in the global order. What is their relationship to power? Are they agents of positive change, or merely of protest?

Do we want freedom, or simply to rattle the bars?

Talk of freedom often masks a clamour for rights. And the instincts of survival and belonging can seem more truly precious than the lonely attractions of non-conformism. Yet, says the chairman of the Countryside Alliance, there is a freedom beyond rights that must be guaranteed in writing if democracy is to work well.

Voting alone

Turnout is down across the world. The ‘crisis of democracy’ is more than a cliché. But is the problem not too little choice for potential voters, but too much?

Circling the wagons around the constitution

Faith in the constitution has made mummies of the founding fathers. A European came to Washington, found it suffused with self-righteousness, and left.
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