Healthy Democracy Framework
Our democracy is a complex, imperfect system. It is a work in progress that requires the constant rebalancing of competing values and priorities. Our republic has proven itself to be resilient, but it nonetheless requires dedicated and ongoing attention — a fact that feels deeply relevant in our current political climate. In this moment, we believe we must be clear about what Democracy Fund stands for, why we do our work, and how we will stand up to the immediate and long-term threats facing some of our most fundamental democratic principles.
Through a rigorous, bipartisan, and participatory process, we have developed a framework to describe Democracy Fund’s convictions about what a healthy democracy should be. This framework includes our vision and core beliefs, which reflect Democracy Fund’s values, priorities, history, and culture. Our healthy democracy framework is not intended to be objective or irrefutable. We share it in the spirit of transparency and with a firm commitment to our mission of strengthening our nation’s democracy.
Our Vision and Core Beliefs
We envision an open, just democracy that is resilient in the face of change and worthy of the American people’s trust.
We believe that a healthy democracy must respect and protect the dignity and equal rights of each individual. A just system must make the right to vote paramount, remove structural barriers to equitable participation, and expose undue influence. We believe that, in a healthy democracy, power must be held to account by checks and balances, the rule of law, independent journalism, and a robust civil society that is able to flourish in a vibrant public square. Finally, leaders in a healthy democracy must act with integrity and engage in principled compromise that respects facts and pursues the common good.
Our vision and core beliefs are built, in part, upon an analysis of what factors matter most to an effective political system. In developing our healthy democracy framework, we identified six elements that comprise a healthy democracy: energized civic participation, vibrant news and media, independent civil society, effective governing institutions, free and fair elections, and impartial rule of law and equal civil rights.
Democracy Fund employs a systems approach, which means we believe that the people, institutions, and organizations that make up our democracy are deeply interconnected and influenced by countless external factors. Given this approach, our process also included the identification of critical influences that affect a democracy’s essential elements and shape the degree to which any or all of them are able to function. We believe the following critical influences are particularly salient to the pursuit of a healthy, responsive democracy that delivers on its promise to the American people: Economics and Wellbeing, Demographics and Race, Geopolitics, Interest Groups, Political Norms and Culture, Security, and Technology. Progress toward a healthy democracy relies, in part, on understanding and tracking how these forces drive and constrain change.
We champion the leaders and organizations who defend democracy and challenge our political system to be more open and just. We believe democracy requires a robust, effective field of reformers, political leaders, and other allies that can fight for our ideals. As a foundation, we play many roles in service of the field of democracy reform, but first and foremost, we are a funder, an advisor, and an advocate.
In his 2018 annual letter — in honor of our fourth anniversary and marking $100 million in grants — Joe Goldman, president of Democracy Fund, shares more on the development of the Healthy Democracy Framework. Joe further also explores how the framework has and will continue to shape our work: “Even as we continue our ongoing work to strengthen American democracy, we’re taking a stand against real and direct threats to our Constitution.”
Democracy Fund’s effort to create our initial healthy democracy framework in 2017 drew heavily from the work of our nation’s founders, as well as from their modern counterparts. We consulted Republicans, Democrats, and independents coming from a diverse range of expertise. Our debates were robust and messy. We’re grateful to all who contributed in this process and to all who helped us update this framework in 2020. Any errors or omissions are our own.
We hope that parts of our vision and beliefs will resonate with those who care about the health of our republic. We also expect that the inclusion or omission of other topics or nuances may engender debate.
We would welcome your feedback.