A look back at ReformCard: the political reform score card

ReformCard was really the brain child of Joseph Curtin, my colleague at the IIEA. I co-founded it with him. The idea was to measure the truly structural rather than partisan/point scoring reform commitments that each political party made in its manifesto for the 2011 election. With the calamity of the economic collapse fresh in the mid, and public ire about the “cosy consensus” between public and private decision makers that allowed it to happen, there was a sense on the ground that this election would prompt a sweeping reform agenda. We wanted to monitor that, and make sure that parties would be judged on their commitment to structural reform, measured in political science terms, rather than superficial measures. We set out the idea in The Irish Times’ election podcast: click to listen.

Here is some of the blurb that once was live at ReformCard.com (I post it here because the site is no longer live).

ReformCard: a measurement tool to rank each party based on the quality of their policies on political reform to inform the election 2011 debate. It provides the 25 proposals for political reform in Ireland which we believe provide the best possible combination to transform the political system and ensure it is fit for purpose in the 21st century.The starting point is that Ireland’s economic crisis exposed the malfunctioning of the political system. We need to change how politics works to ensure this never happens again.

Each party has policies for political reform, but on 25 February, it is voters, not experts who will choose the next Government. ReformCard, the scorecard for political reform, is a tool to help voters decide. It provides a framework to analyse and score the reforms proposed by each party. To examine each manifesto and assess parties’ reform policies is a mammoth task for even the most enthusiastic voter. ReformCard does the job.

ReformCard judges each party’s reform policies in five broad areas of the political system – legislative, electoral, open government, local government and public services – using five indicators for each area. In total, each party will be scored on 25 aspects of political reform, and will be graded out of a maximum of 100 for the effectiveness of their proposals. The results will be available once the manifestos have been published.
ReformCard does not stop at the election; it is a three-step process that will:

Score each party based on their manifesto commitments to reform
Monitor transfer of manifesto commitments into the Programme for Government
Track implementation of commitments to reform in the Programme for Government, and illustrate progress online.
ReformCard will look in detail at five areas of reform

How we make laws (legislative)
How we elect politicians (electoral system)
How transparent our Government is to its citizens (open government)
How we govern ourselves locally (local government)
How the public service does its job (public sector reform)
In each of these five areas our expert panel has selected five key reform indicators, outlined in each of the paragraphs below.

1. How we make laws/legislative

Now, the Cabinet (ministers selected by the Taoiseach) can take decisions to enact laws and policies without scrutiny by the Dáil. How decisions are made is not transparent and accountability is weak. Backbench TDs, opposition TDs, and Senators, do not have the opportunity to examine and debate proposals in detail. Committees do not scrutinise laws before they are enacted. The opposition is always on the back foot, with few research and policy resources compared to Government, which has the whole civil service at its command.

Experts suggest that strengthening the Dáil to balance Cabinet power is a necessary reform.

ReformCard will score each party on its policies around:

Cabinet dominance
Reform of the Dáil
Reform of the Senate
Strengthening the Committee System
Empowering the Opposition
2. How we elect politicians/electoral system

Our electoral system is often blamed for all of the problems in our politics. This is too simplistic. All electoral systems involve trade offs and compromise: none is perfect, and so it is impossible to agree on whether we need a whole new electoral system and, if so, exactly what it might look like. .

Experts do agree that some change is required, starting with an independent electoral commission to bring together existing electoral law and examine some basic problems with our system. The disconnect between people and politics, the alarmingly low rate of women TDs, low voter turnout (especially among young people), new emigrants’ right to vote; and better ways to involve people in the decisions that affect them will all be evaluated.

ReformCard will score each party on its policies around:

An Independent Electoral Commission
Women in politics
Increasing voter turnout
Votes for new emigrants
Citizen involvement in policy-making
3. How transparent our Government is to its citizens/open government

Trust between people and politics has eroded and must be rebuilt. An open and transparent Government system, accessible to citizens, is central to achieving that trust. Access to Government information through improved Freedom of Information processes oand simply by sharing Government data online is required. Rules for party and election funding should be improved, whistleblowers should be protected and lobbyists must be regulated.

ReformCard will score each party on its policies around:

Freedom of Information: restoring and strengthening it
Access to Government data
Political party and election funding
Protecting Whistleblowers
Regulating lobbyists
4. How we govern ourselves locally/local government

If national politicians to focus more exclusively on national issues then we need stronger local government to make sure things are working locally. Now, local government has very limited power: it has tiny areas of control, little financial autonomy/funding, and is very fragmented. With power comes responsibility, and so if local government is strengthened it must also be more accountable to local citizens.

ReformCard will score each party on its policies around:

Funding for local government
Structural re-organisation of local government
Empowering local government
Accountability in local government
Evaluating the impact of policy at local government level
5. How the public service does its job/public service reform

Government makes decisions, while the public service plays a role in making policy and implementing it: it is responsible for ensuring that what Government says happens. The need for significant public service reform is accepted. Basic elements of a strong public service, delivering for its citizens are: accountability for decisions taken, evaluation of policy based on outcomes (policy speak), and attracting new talent by recruiting from outside the civil service, planning around policy making so that is ‘future-proofed’.

ReformCard will score each party on its policies around:

Evaluating policy based on outcomes
Accountability among civil servants
Institutions for driving reform
Hiring talent from outside the civil service
Planning for the future (not just until the next election)

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