ReformCard: a tool to help voters decide

The editors and contributors behind have teamed with a large volunteer team of project managers, web designers and others to produce ReformCard a measurement tool to rank each party based on the quality of their policies on political reform.  We hope this will prove a critical instrument in informing 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:

  1. Score each party based on their manifesto commitments to reform
  2. Monitor transfer of manifesto commitments into the Programme for Government
  3. 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)

20 thoughts on “ReformCard: a tool to help voters decide

  1. Should there not be a more proactive role for the President in all of this?
    For instance , given the proper constitutional power, the President could have placed a brake on the disastrous government decision of 29th September 2008 , the Bank Guarantee.

    Provision for such Presidential intervention could be made in any government proposals held to cost over one billion Euro.

    The President could act on appeal by the Leader of the Opposition in such a case, and refer any such government decision to the Supreme Court for determination .
    The government could then have final appeal to the Council of State.

    ( Congrats on the new initiative, looks good)

  2. ( and concerning the one billion Euro cut-off mark , provision could be made to intercept any government ploy to , say, cost the one billion expenditure at 999,999,999.99 Euro by insert wordage such as ‘ in the general area of one billion Euro’ with parameters)

  3. Great to see votes for emigrants included. Though I think the limitation to “new emigrants” is hard to defend – only 3 EU countries limit by time (Denmark 2 yrs, UK 15 yrs, Germany 25 yrs if out of a Council of Europe country) – and in the UK, the 15-year time limit is being challenged in both the High Court in London and in the European Court of Human Rights.

    All other EU countries offer unlimited voting rights (bar Greece, which is yet to institute absentee voting following a ECHR ruling last year (though Greek expats can return home to vote, and their constitution specifically provides for expat voting (again, not limited by time)).

    Our constitution says all citizens are part of the Irish Nation – any time limit on voting rights would be completely arbitrary, and it would be hard to claim it was based on any recognised democratic principle.

  4. This is a magnificent public service. Bravo!

    I presume a programme is in hand to ensure as many citizens as possible get sight of it and may employ it.

    I don’t wish to be categorised with the nigglers and begrudgers, but I think there might have been scope for something on the EU dimension. I know I’ve been discouraged previously from seeking to open this can of worms, but the deliberations taking place at the European Council which will reach final decisions on 24/25 March (where Ireland is a probem to be solved – having lost its sovereignty – and is represented by a Taoiseach that doens’t even lead his own party) will have far-reaching implications for Ireland in the short to medium term.

    Whether they like it or not the EU’s Grand Panjandrums will have to amend existing treaties to enforce whatever they will decide at the end of March. They should be encouraged to address the national and European parliamentary scrutiny of legislation and treaty amendments that allowed the ill-designed Euro system and the much re-packaged EU Constitution to be rammed through without securing the direct consent of most EU voters. In any event, since so much national legislation involves the transposition of primary EU legislation, I think it should be included specifcially on a scorecard of this nature.

    • Paul we will have to discuss this, one proposal has been to utilise a reformed Senate to perform this EU scrutiny function which as you points out exists under the Lisbon Treaty.

      • Thank you. The inevitable increase in EU governance is driving this up the list of priorities. However, I’m content that it’s in the mix and I have no wish to detract from this excellent initiative.

  5. You say, “The starting point is that Ireland’s economic crisis exposed the malfunctioning of the political system.” This is true but the creation of the crisis exposed something else: the extraordinary lack of ability, common sense or in some cases integrity among the quite large number of people on whom citizens depend. A reformed system cannot be effective if it is dependent on a raft of managers, advisers, journalists, commentators, teachers etc. – in short, those whom we pay to think – who can now be shown to be incapable.

    Quite a number of people need to be moved aside and asked to remain silent:

    Here’s a piece that is flawed. However, it not only calls a spade a spade but identifies people beyond “the usual suspects”.

    • Great idea! Hopefully this will get the kind of media exposure it deserves. Good potential to shape the political reform debate. Well structured and thought out set of headings and subheadings for the scorecard. The only small niggle I’d have is that the issue of government appointments/tackling cronyism (judicial appointments, police appointments, state boards/quango positions etc.) gets a little lost amongst the various subcategories. But I guess this subject should be more than amply covered elsewhere under various headings such as the committee system, openness/transparency and civil service accountability.

  6. think it would be better to rename the fifth category as civil/public service reform

    it’d be more accurate description of the sub-elements and there’s a certain inference from it being just named public sector reform, I know you trying to keep it focused on political reform but if this was political party manifesto I’d ask what about the financial reform, the subtopics cover the finance department, i’d nearly think it needs its very own category, to prevent hands off regulation, you’ve discussed the issues here the central banking commission has already been set up but there’s more responsibility to be taken, along with allowing the central/banks to be independent.

    there’s a lot of work gone in there and you haven’t had time to build the tracking parts but thats the key issue, how are you going to track them, what are the stages of implementation, it would be good to figure out how things work, how do these issues progress within departments or legislation, here’s a good example of something we need an irish version of

    which could be converted into a gantt chart with expected timeframe and stages vs actual

  7. ReformCard: a tool to help voters decide misses the fundamental point. it is not who has the best policies, it is who is most likely to carry out any reform.

  8. Thanks Steve that’s really helpful and something that I hope the team will be working on. The second stage of this project will track progress from the Programme for Government through the use of Gantt charts along with other tools. It is based on a tool Joe has been working on with the OECD to monitor climate change implementation. That should also we hope tackle Peter’s problem. In the first stage we cannot know who is most likely to carry them out.

  9. @Finbar

    Good point on cronyism. Jane and the academic panel may be able to integrate this point under one of the existing indicators.

    The tool also has the possibility to be tweaked and modified over time.


    As Jane said, this is something we are considering for stage 2, and gantt charts are very much part of the picture. We would greatly consider your thoughts on this, and if you would like to contact us and discuss further please drop us a line at We will use programme for government 2011 document as basis for implementation tracker. Lots of technical challenges ahead!

    We would also like to integrate public weighting of priorities on the website, as a the moment we assume everything is of equal importance.

  10. I think that is a very interesting idea and that there is a lot to be said for the political science community engaging in this election. However, I think it would be better that if instead of ‘grading’ the efforts of the political parties against preset ideas of what good reforms are, that the proposals of the political parties would be judged on their own merits and a judgement made as to whether proposals will actually do what is proposed. So, if a party proposes to reform the Dáil in x,y and z way to achieve Q, then political scientists will say that the literature does or does not support this and to what extent. This would be a particularly useful tool in the context of post-election when the programme for government is being implemented. I’m just not sure that giving parties a grading based not on what reforms they want to do, but what the political reform community want them to do is incredibly useful.

    For example, I don’t believe that extending voting rights to emigrants is automatically a good idea. I think there are serious issues with it, as it creates a situation where some non-resident citizens are entitled to a vote but other non-resident citizens are not. If the Dáil is to represent the state, then non-residents should not have a vote. If the Dáil is to represent the nation, then all citizens should have the vote. If a party shared my view, they would get marked down.

    But anyway, those are slight misgivngs, and I wish this project the best. There is far too much of a gap between the academic and political worlds in Ireland, and hopefully this will help to bridge the gap.

  11. @ Steve

    Thanks for your interest in my career:). I’m lead consultant with OECD on and ongoing project with the objective of designing a monitoring framework for Copenhagen pledge implementation. The work is not publicly available. It is hard to explain the connection between the two projects, but one paper: Adcock, R and Collier, D (2001). Measurement Validity: A Shared Standard for Qualitative and Quantitative Research. The American Political Science Review, Vol. 95, No. 3 (Sep 2001), may provide you with some insight if you are creatively inclined.

    @ John

    Thanks for the insights and positive feedback. Jane and the academic panel are better placed to answer your concerns. A few points from my perspective:

    1. There is a very high threshold for inclusion as indicator- consensus among the 8 independent experts on the panel;
    2. In many cases indicators have been selected based on evidence, either empirical or based on what has worked elsewhere;
    3. This is not a blueprint for reform, nor an exhaustive list. We are trying to maintain a focus on reform across a broad spectrum. This will prevent proposals for Senate or other seeming radical measures being put forward in the place of addressing arguably much more important issues.
    4. As you seem propose, the intention is to be as un-proscriptive as possible. The academic panel have identified key weaknesses in governance, and are open to new and innovative approaches to solving them eg: “Senate reform” could be either “abolish” or “radical reform”. Have a look at the scoring system:

  12. I cant seem to find details of how party proposals were rated. I feel the breakdown of public sector reform requirements are very limited. There are too many people who know exactly what should happen in the public service without any recourse to the ideas of those working in the public service.

  13. The criteria you have selected seem to omit the one over-riding factor that is crucial to the future of this country – the quality of decision-making at the highest levels of governance.
    How can the electorate ensure that those appointed as ministers have the necessary skills and expertise to make high-quality decisions in the areas that come under their ministry?
    The system needs to be reformed, somehow, so that we can no longer have ministers who are solicitors and barristers making crucial decisions on financial and economic matters on the advice of senior civil servants with honours degress in history.

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