Hearts and Minds: Democracy Education and the Kosovo Civic Forum

By Zach Vila Post date: Feb 04, 2016


Plagued by initial democratic deficits stemming from ethnic tensions and weak institutional government, the Republic of Kosovo has only had absolute control over its own governance since 2012.Before that, an EU representative had express power to control government outcomes in an effort to steer Kosovo towards a more liberal democracy and eventual EU membership. Viewing it as a comparatively fledgling nation, there are those who advocate for an increased focus on civic education programs that target the voting age population in an effort to normalize democratic ideas and participation.

To accomplish this goal, the Kosovo Civic Forum was established in the summer of 2000 by the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute. The Civic Forum program within NDI is not unique to Kosovo, however; though NDI adheresto the same guiding principles for civic education no matter the country of operation, each case takes on a distinct character depending on local needs. Specifically, the people of Kosovo dealt with issues such as ethnic toleration, political empowerment, familiarity with democratic processes,their role in popular representation government, and popular organizing strategies. Civic Forum was established in an attempt to address these knowledge gaps.

When NDI first began work to establish a Civic Forum project in Kosovo, it was clear that these were hurdles to be overcome so that the end goal of lasting democracy in Kosovo could be realized. This goal would take time and many small victories, beginningin the form of personal, face-to-face interactions between trained NDI staff, and participant citizens. From there, Civic Forum education on democratic values can spread through population networks to more individuals. Extended engagement networks were paramount in NDI’s vision for instilling a meaningful civic education outcome that would both empower Civic Forum participants through their outreach and additionally provide exponentially more influence than Civic Forum ever could through direct means.

The Kosovars responded relatively well to educational programs upon further examination of NDI’s evaluation surveys conducted in 2002 to measure the current effects of the program. Hands-on facilitation of democracy oriented discussions led to concrete results, where citizens began to learn the functionality of a democratic government system and the role they had to play as constituents. Especially, three tangible grassroots projects emerged as a result of Civic Forum educational outreach programs. A road to connect five villages was planned and advocated by residents of a local town. A trash collection project spearheaded by environmentally conscious youth brought the young generation one step closer to developing into civic minded adults. Finally, elderly pensioners began to advocate for better pension programs to cover their needs, and had their voices heard as a result of an enhanced understanding of social contract theory brought about by education from Civic Forum.

Yet, the successes of the NDI Civic Forum in Kosovo are not immune to criticism. In 2014, Kosovo government and community organization leaders convened to draft a National Democracy Action Plan under the leadership of the Council of Communities for Democracy. This document raised prevailing issues in democracy education, and came to the conclusion that more work needed to be done in Kosovo, especially as it pertained to targeting youth in schools.

Lessons Learned

  • Kosovo is still arguably beset by significant civic education shortcomings[1], where measurable outcomes stemming from Civic Forum over the span of 10 years are difficult to measure.
  • The original NDI Civic Forum in Kosovo has been abandoned in favor of more frequent, targeted programs; its long term goals will only be realized through other NDI operations.
  • No mechanism for long term effects evaluation was put in place, and potential remediation efforts were not considered in the case that educational efforts did not endure or evolve into a greater democratic consciousness.
  • By choosing to deepen existing values in certain individuals, others are alienated from benefiting by virtue oftheir lack of prior training.Less citizeninvolvement from 2002-2003 was justified with the claimthat there was a “deepening” rather than “widening” of outreach. While this may have been true, it does not account for the fact that participants lost from the program could have still benefited from further training and discourse.
  • Policy advocacy can be expanded upon once the foundations for civic involvement have been established. Civic Forum made strides toward this goal but in several cases the outcomes were minimal.
  • Establishing a moral democratic imperative across a virgin nation requires long term investment, planning, and forecasting. The Civic Forum program began with this in mind, but did not follow through to ensure lasting results.


Kosovo is currently not recognized as sovereign by Serbia: they contest Kosovar independence along with 5 other EU member states. This contestation regarding Kosovo’s international status of statehood immediately presents a backdrop of disputedautonomy associated with the country. This makes it inherently difficult on a supranational level to coordinate multilateral democracy promotion efforts, especially from the EU perspective, when some of its own member states do not agree on Kosovo’s status of statehood. However, unilateral aid and democracy development need not be hindered by nations that recognize the Kosovo government and wish to develop programs there.

Pristina, the capital, is also not recognized by ethnic Serbs living in the North within the country’s own borders. As a result, this presents a challenge to democracy promotion groups such as Civic Forum that wish to reach the entire population with the same effectiveness, and without heightening ethnic tensions or appearing to show favoritism. Ethnic Serbs and Albanians are constantly at odds within Kosovo, creating tension and disunity whileacting as an obstacle for promoters who want to unite citizens under a common ideological understanding of democracy.

Moreover, Kosovo has only been overseeing its own governance for three years, making it a fledgling republic marked by a limited functionality. Before 2012, anInternational Civilian Representative in Kosovo had the "ability to annul decisions or laws adopted by Kosovo authorities and sanction and remove public officials whose actions he/she determines to be inconsistent" with the articulated plans of the administration.[2]  Still, the government in Pristina operates as a statebereft of the attributes generally associated with a liberal democracy. Survey results from the 2002 Civic Forum in Kosovo showed that thirty-five percent of respondents felt their representative were entirely unaccountable to them.[3] Over third of those surveyed seemed to have had a clear understanding of the democratic deficit in Kosovo.

As an international actor operating since 1983, NDI often employs educational programs to empower local citizens with the knowledge they need to advance civic engagement and strengthen popular commitment to democracy.The goal is not to get involved directly with the foreign government in question, but rather to serveas a means to enable the citizenry and give them the knowledge and tools they need to build a better nation for themselves; one that is not plagued by internal strife and ineffective governance. NDI’s Civic Forum program was established with these aims in mind, so as to substantiate stated goals through concrete projects geared towards popular mobilization. In Kosovo, the project took on a targeted approach to firstly educate, and secondly, to support participants in their own democratic advocacy.


The principal actors involved in Civic Forum operation in Kosovo constitutedthe U.S.-based organization NDIInternational, NDI management and staff, as well as the participating local citizenry. NDI International is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization directed towards advancing democracy in the world, loosely affiliated with the Democratic Party. Their primary goal is to work with local partners “to promote openness and accountability in government by building political and civic organizations, safeguarding elections, and promoting citizen participation”.[4] In the Kosovo case, these local partners were individuals recruited for their expert experience, as determined by NDI officials who conducted a recruiting process to secure facilitators for Civic Forum.

In total, the NDI affiliated staff numbered just 17 employees in the field; these facilitators acted as direct inroads for interaction with the Kosovo population. Directing trainings and dialogues among Civic Forum participants was their primary responsibility, along with administering the evaluation surveys that would ultimately help NDI assess the program’s effectiveness. In total, NDI reports approximately 1,700 initial Civic Forum participants in the Kosovo program, with that number shrinking in 2002 with the onset of what NDI termed a “deepening” of civic engagement training. No government actors or NGOs were affiliated with Civic Forum, since the grassroots nature of the outreach intended that local citizens take what they learn from the democracy education dialogue and apply it directly with progressively limited guidance.


The specific execution of the democratic education goals that NDI outlines in their “Democracy education Civic Forum Style” aims to “increase the willingness and ability of citizens to participate in a range of political processes.”[5]Better governance begins with enhanced civic education, NDI argues, and with the facilitating  work done on the ground by NDI recruited field coordinators. The end goal is to instill a robust consciousness of democratic principles and values into the participating population. When citizens are educated on democratic values, they become more aware of the need to hold governments accountable. The program achievements in furthering democratic understanding came about through the use of targeted strategicplanning to provide for the following educational outcomes:

  • Addressing over 12 civic education topics such as citizen rights and responsibilities in a democracy, human rights, the constitution, and “why we need a government.”
  • Providing strategic advocacy planning (goal setting, ally and obstacle identification, resource assessment, and tools and tactics analysis)
  • Meeting facilitation skills, to be used by individuals and taught to others
  • Grassroots organizing,leadership, Coalition building, Message development, Persuasive meetings strategies (i.e. lobbying), Media skills, proposal writing, “Get Out the Vote”, election monitoring
  • Facilitation of discussions, raising issues and leading reflection
  • Familiarizing locals with democratic terms and processes
  • Assisting with the hopes that citizens will be empowered and able to facilitate the discussions on their own at the very least, but ideally make more of a tangible impact towards change.
  • Instill democratic values, participate in democratic political life[6]

Civic Forum in Kosovo established two primary phases for the program to stratify the distinct methods of outreach that would be provided. The “education-building phase” and the “advocacy-implementation phase”, where each constituted separate forms of engagement provided by field coordinators. In the former case, teaching and dialogue took precedence while in the latter, empowerment from newfound knowledge led Civic Forum staff to shift into more of a support role for participants. Leadership roles would be reversed so that the citizens themselves, equipped with newfound understanding of democracy, would take on primary responsibility for shaping the political climate in Kosovo through “learning by doing”, the principal tenet of Civic Forum education style.[7]  Ideally, the citizens educated and equipped by Civic Forum would go on to form self-sustaining advocacy and discourse so as to need increasingly less support.

According to NeslihaneMati, an NDI field coordinator with firsthand experience with the program, the Kosovo Civic forum is “meant to be in place as long as the democratic process in Kosovo does.”[8]This plan did not come to fruition however, as no further Civic Forum work followed the 2002 program, and it is no longer listed as an ongoing project in Kosovo.[9] Formally, the program might have ended, but the manner of its execution was designed in such a way so as to empower citizens to begin to have their own forms of democracy dialogues without the need for outside facilitation. Field coordinators were considered experts in extending educational programs regarding the democratic process. Their work lives on in the subsequent discussions and advocacy of the citizens touched by Civic Forum.


The tangible, successful outcomes provided by the educational work of Civic Forum include several community projects launched at the grassroots level. Firstly, a youth organized community garbage cleanup took place in the town of Decan, where “their plan included enlisting their public officials’ support in their objective to heighten citizen awareness of needed environmental protection.”[10]The local youth convinced the director of the local garbage disposal company to provide them with free trash bags, arguing that it would both benefit the town and act as a prudent PR move since people would associate the company with environmental consciousness.  Civic Forum noted that “youthgroups have proven to be some of the most effective in implementing successful community-based actions”.[11]

Secondly, pensioners who participated in Civic Forum began to band together with the help of NDI to advocate for better government pension programs to elevate their standard of living. “In 2001, Civic Forum conducted specialized trainings, attended by approximately 45 pensioners” and as a result, increased media attention regarding the issue led to better government transparency on pension legislation.[12] This heightened awareness of pension issues drew attention as a direct result of Civic Forum education and subsequent support of those pensioner’s requests for advocacy assistance.

Thirdly, a group of Civic Forum participants in the village of Krajk decided that it would be beneficial to build a road to benefit five other local villages. “In order to achieve this goal, the group decided to create a coalition ofCivic Forum participant leaders from the involved towns to coordinate alongside community activists from Krajk.”[13] With the help of NDI guidance from the program management level, civic leaders from each town involved were combined into a civilian task force that received additional training and guidance. This was in preparation to meet with government officials in the Ministry of Transportation to pitch their plan. Though these government officials assured them no money could be spared to build the proposed road, Civic Forum leadership was confident that moving forward the group would continue to press the issue.[14] It remains unclear how or whether the road advocacy group was ultimately successful.

Additionally, an added futureoutcome and benefit to Civic Forum (which is by design) is the way in which the scope of influence of the program extends beyond those who participate in training and discussions directly.Through the projects, advocacy, and political discourse that is disseminated from the program itself, other segments of the population inherently become exposed to the benefits of the education that their compatriots received.Ideally, by this mechanism the democratic consciousness that NDI aims to generate through its Civic Forum program will slowly develop through personal interaction and exposure to the work of original participants. Both a widening and deepening of democratic awareness should occur by NDI reckoning once sufficient networks of discourse and advocacy exchange establish themselves in Kosovo.

By educating the citizens of Kosovo on democratic values and the power afforded to them as constituents of government representatives, locals began to more clearly realize the issues surrounding them, and how best to remedy them, as is evidenced by their actions.

Evaluation Method

The Survey mechanism employed by NDI’s Civic Forum staff was both highly methodical and well-orchestrated, so as to deliver a good bevy of data that would allow for program adjustments to be implemented beginning in 2003 based on participant feedback. Conducted at the end of 2001 and 2002, the survey results came from “73 of their action groups, resulting in 662 completed questionnaires. These numbers represent that data was collected from approximately 63 percent of Civic Forum groups, and 48 percent of citizen participants.”[15] Moreover, IT upgrades in the form of utilizing Microsoft Access to streamline survey data analysis made it easier for administrators to conduct the 2002 survey.[16]The results themselves were assessed by NDI as evidence for “appreciably” advancing democracy development to a measurable degree.[17]

The 2001 and 2002 surveys differed slightly in that the later survey asked questions aimed at measuring the actions that participants had taken to shape their communities. This was meant to serve as a metric for determining how participants had progressed towards application of the democracy education they had received. Moreover, the 2002 survey was meant to gauge any differences in participants’ “attitudes, opinions, knowledge, and inclination to act”[18] These survey results would ultimately serve as a heuristic for overall democratization progress in Kosovo at a fundamental level.

Project Assessment

Civic Forum was a well-organized, grassroots oriented program that seems to have produced results in the form of affecting how participants understood and appreciated democracy. Moreover, participant citizens were observed using the material they learned in Civic Forum and applying it directly through advocacy and community projects. These outcomes were measurable thanks to the survey research conducted by NDI in order to evaluate and improve the program. It is unfortunate that NDI could not extend the work Civic Forum began in 2001 for several years in order to magnify the impact of civic education programs performed over a longer period of time. Perhaps lack of funding or the emergence of higher-priority issues left Civic Forum to dissolve. Nevertheless, diverse and specialized democracy education projects continue in Kosovo as lead by NDI, the partners associated with the procurement of the NDEAP in 2014, and many other organizations.



"Civic Update: A Newsletter of NDI Citizen Participation Programs Worldwide." NDI.org. National Democratic Institutue for International Affairs, 15 Nov. 2002. Web. 3 Nov. 2015.https://www.ndi.org/files/1519_citpart_update_110102_0.pdf

"DEMOCRACY EDUCATION CIVIC FORUM STYLE." NDI.org. National Democratic Institutue for International Affairs, 30 Aug. 1997. Web. 3 Nov. 2015.https://www.ndi.org/files/1204_citpart_demedcivforum.pdf

“Kosovo.” NDI.org. National Democratic Institute. Web. https://www.ndi.org/kosovo. 7 Nov. 2015

"Kosovo Country Update." European Forum for Democracy and Solidarity. 3 Nov. 2015. Web. 3 Nov. 2015.http://www.europeanforum.net/country/kosovo

"National Democracy Education Action Planfor the Republic of Kosovo." Education Pilot Projects. UNDEF, Community of Democracies, 15 Nov. 2014. Web. 3 Nov. 2015.http://ccd21.org/activities/education/pilot_projects/Kosovo_NDEAP.pdf

Segal, Julie. "Kosovo Civic Forum: 2002 Program Analysis and Evaluation." National Democratic Institutue, 15 Jan. 2002. Web. 3 Nov. 2015.https://www.ndi.org/files/1549_ksv_civicforum.pdf.

"What We Do." NDI.org. National Democratic Institutue. Web.https://www.ndi.org/whatwedo. 6 Nov. 2015.



[1]NDEAP for the Republic of Kosovo

[2]Kosovo Country Update; p. 1

[3]Kosovo Civic Forum: 2002 Program Analysis and Evaluation; p. 15

[4]"What We Do." NDI.org; p. 1


[6]Kosovo Civic Forum: 2002 Program Analysis and Evaluation; p. 23

[7] Ibid.; p. 12

[8]Ibid.; p. 22

[9] Kosovo, NDI.org; p. 1

[10]Civic Update: A Newsletter of NDI Citizen Participation Programs Worldwide; p. 4-5

[11]Civic Update: A Newsletter of NDI Citizen Participation Programs Worldwide; p. 4

[12]Kosovo Civic Forum: 2002 Program Analysis and Evaluation; p. 7

[13]Ibid.;p. 19

[14]Ibid.; p. 19

[15]Kosovo Civic Forum: 2002 Program Analysis and Evaluation; p. 5

[16] Ibid.; p. 5

[17] Ibid.; p. 5

[18] Ibid.; p. 5