Focusing the electoral debate: CIES’ experience during the Peru 2011 campaign

7 October 2014
SERIES Think tanks and elections 17 items

[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Javier Portocarrero, Executive Director of the Consortium for Economic and Social Research(CIES). CIES led two experiences intended to influence electoral campaigns in Peru in 2006 and 2011 –as well as others focused on local elections. The author thanks contributions made by Norma Correa in the identification of lessons learned and Leandro Echt in the editing of this article, as well as the insights made by Gina Alvarado, Carlos Eduardo Aramburú, Micaela Pesantes y Jorge Salazar in previous reflections on both experiences.]


In 2010 the Consortium for Economic and Social Research (CIES) launched the project “Elections Peru 2011 – Focusing the electoral debate” (in spanish, it is referred to “centrando el debate electoral”), reediting an experience first carried out in 2006. The project aimed to deepen the link between academia and political parties, as well as raising the Consortium’s profile both in the media and the political community as a whole.

The project sought to raise the level of the electoral debate through public policy proposals on key issues for national development. It intended to strengthen both the parties’ policy proposals and the next government’s policies.

Funding and alliances

More than a year before the elections, a funding effort was promoted in order to develop the project. Compared to the 2006 initiative, it was possible to raise donors’ participations from 7 to 19, most of them from among the international cooperation in the country.

Since the 2006 effort had promoted the emergence of similar projects (e.g. Universidad del Pacífico launched its own project), the Consortium tried to minimize duplication of efforts by widening the net of strategic allies to eight institutions, even including the National Election Board.

Intervention model

The intervention includes 5 stages:

  1. Production of 15 public policy documents,
  2. Discussion over them with main parties’ planning teams,
  3. Production of ad hoc resources for the press; and
  4. Broad dissemination campaign in Lima and regions.
  5. Electoral debates

Production of policy documents

The objective of this stage is to systematise existing knowledge and prepare proposals concerning key policy issues. In the case of the Peruvian project these were:

  1. Public Management;
  2. Corruption and Governance;
  3. Security and Narcotics;
  4. Tax Policy;
  5. Tax policies to minerals and oil;
  6. Regional Development;
  7. Rural Development;
  8. Natural Resources;
  9. Social Conflict;
  10. Interculturalism;
  11. Climate Change;
  12. Social policies and poverty;
  13. Education;
  14. Innovation, Science and Technology; and
  15. Genre

Once the issues were defined, a competition was launched to prepare the policy documents with terms of reference that aimed at standardising contents, emphasising available policy options, including costs and benefits, and taking into account obstacles to implementation and strategies to overcome them.

Furthermore, each team of authors would have to develop three roadmaps: one for the first 100 days, another for the first year, and another for the full five-years period.

The authors then prepared the documents between October 2010 and March 2011. Before they were published, they were reviewed by academic peers and draft presentations to donors were organised.

Dialogue with political parties’ planning teams

CIES contacted the policy planning leaders from the main five political parties (according to the surveys) and promoted 25 close-door meetings between the authors and the party technocrats. The meetings took place away from the press and were focused on the presentation of two or more documents, depending on each party’s interests.

Dissemination tools

Six different communication formats were designed to disseminate the content of the documents:

  1. A folder with 15 policy documents (1,000 copies), distributed among candidates, politicians, academics, journalists and policy makers;
  2. A special edition of the CIES’ Economic and Society magazine, “Contributions to the Peruvian government 2011-2016”, with an abstract of the 15 documents (3,000 copies);
  3. An insert with a one-pager journalistic version of each document, distributed by the most important newspapers of Lima and other regions (142,000 copies);
  4. 30 radio spots (two for each document) disseminated by 150 radio stations;
  5. Press dossiers with suggested questions for the press to interrogate the candidates;
  6. 15 brief videos (7 minutes) about each document; and
  7. Informative brochures shared in different regions (87,500 copies).

In addition, videos and policy documents were used as background information for the authors to participate in various radio and television programs devoted to the election. Regarding digital communications a website was developed in order to gather everything linked to the project: policy documents, Power Point Presentations, videos, etc. Social networks and massive mailing were also used reach interested people.

Seminars in Lima and regions

The dissemination campaign included 7 seminars in different regions (Piura, Loreto, Trujillo, Chiclayo, Ayacucho, Cusco and Arequipa), which reached out to more than 1,000 attendees. For this purpose, the Consortium worked with regional entities which also supported press conferences and meetings with opinion leaders as well as TV and radio interviews with the authors of the policy documents.

Two events were organized in Lima, the capital: a lunch workshop with national public opinion leaders and a seminar consisting of three consecutive working breakfasts with more than 300 attendees from academia, the public sector, civil society, political parties, international cooperation and press.

Moreover, meetings were organised in order to present the documents to different agencies from the public sector.

Electoral debates

In partnership with the National Election Board and the National Democratic Institute, CIES co-organized a debate among the 11 first-round presidential candidates, and two debates during the second round.

The first one was named “programmatic” and was promoted by the Consortium following the 2006 example. The negotiation between the parties was facilitated by the three co-organizers. This collaboration led to the organisation of a technical debate between the teams of the two parties that met during the second-round (Fuerza 2011 and Gana Perú), broadcasted live through the State channel to a record of audience.

The last debate was held between Keiko Fujimori (Fuerza 2011) and Ollanta Humala (Gana Perú). The negotiation among candidates’ representatives was very time consuming in a context of high political polarisation, typical of a second-round in which surveys talked about as a virtual draw.

During both debates, the two parties demanded fixed time schemes for intervention, questions and cross-examinations. Each issue and question was had to be previously known by both candidates. Citizens all across the country sent 1000 questions through the website and they were selected by a committee. The audience for the presidential debate broke records, being broadcasted by every channel that requested to retransmit it. The debate was also broadcasted by CNN in Spanish.


The Project contributed to enrich the policy proposals and government plans of the parties that participated of the 2011 electoral process. It also offered technical elements to the debate and inputs to the journalists covering the process. Moreover, it offered the new government a roadmap with 15 important issues for Peru’s development and governance. The initiative also facilitated links between researchers, technocrats and politicians beyond the project.

Post elections

After the elections, CIES participated of an official induction seminar with the newly elected congress, organised by the Major Office of the Congress. In that opportunity, the project participated with an presentation of the challenges for the Peruvian economy between 2011-2016 and with a presentation of the project itself, complemented with a distribution of the 15 documents to each representative.

The relevance of the second round debates stimulated the organisers to publish a memoire of the debates, a responsibility that fell to CIES. In addition to the report of the discussions the book included interviews with key stakeholders, in order to facilitate the organization of future debates. The publication was distributed among politicians, journalists and members of academia.


A number of lessons can be learned from the experience:

About the context:

  • National elections are an exceptional opportunity to promote the link between research, political parties, civil society, international cooperation, and the media in order to achieve three objectives: making technical contributions to parties, raising the level of the electoral debate, and contributing to the new government’s policy design.

About the funding:

  • CIES was an already established and solidly reputed consortium, an asset at the moment of obtaining funding.
  • The shaping of a basket of funds among many agencies was essential, with a leading donor and a flexible scheme, where the Consortium adapted to each donor’s modus operandi.
  • The participation of 19 donors led to a meaningful fund, and none of them had to commit a big amount of resources.
  • From the donors’ point of view, the main incentive was participating with their peers in an interesting, highly-visible project, that offered a channel to facilitate the continuity of their technical contributions to the government.
  • It was important to involve the donors not only in the funding, but also in designing and implementing the project.

About the life of the project:

  • It is difficult to ensure complete synchrony between the project’s schedule and the electoral calendar. Ideally, funding should be anticipated and the policy documents be ready before the parties present their government plans.

About the choice of policy issues:

  • The weight of the international cooperation in the funding of the initiative meant that the definition of issues was eventually biased to their interests. This should be addressed early on.

About the policy documents:

  • The technical quality of the papers is very important, since it promotes the project’s capacity to dialogue with different stakeholders. In Peru, parties and the National Electional Board did not have that technical expertise, and they needed it.
  • However, technical quality is not enough. Documents should include practical and actionable recommendations and be friendly to their audiences.
  • The terms of reference and some guidance through their production are important for ensuring their quality and studies’ standardisation.
  • CIES is a ‘second-floor’ entity that gathers centres with different orientations. In these cases, a dilemma between plurality and coherence of policy advice could arise. The former is useful as a contribution for debate, whereas the latter is helpful as a contribution for the next government.
  • It is important to promote cross-fertilisation among authors.
  • It is necessary to include non-academic readers’ perspective, too.

About the coordination of activities:

  • Paying attention to the agendas, priorities and administrative requests of a diverse group of donors is a challenge for the management of the project.
  • The nature of CIES’ network facilitated that the studies were carried out in a decentralised way via a competition, while the dissemination was centralised and coordinated in collaboration with strategic allies.
  • This type of initiative requires a balanced investment between research and dissemination. The documents, more than new studies, are systematisations and updates by professionals already experts on the issues. Most of the efforts were instead directed to communication.
  • The coordinator is very important and must be experienced in the interaction with different type of actors, particularly politicians. Moreover, it is important to avoid or mitigate possible conflicts that would emerge among allies (for instance, due to appearance in the media).
  • Although the organisation of the debate reported a greater visibility to CIES, this process took a great cost in terms of time. As an example, organising the first debate took 15 meetings with the parties and the electoral authorities.

About building alliances:

  • It is important to map the institutional context and the actors’ location, orientation and interests. The alliance with the National Electoral Board was very important in order to get closer to the parties and organising debates.
  • It is also important to generate synergies with similar initiatives.

About communication:

  • Communications staff are key. The editing of the original documents is very important, but its translation to different formats (newspaper, radio, TV) was even more so. Press conference organisation, interviews, and brochures, as well as the media training of the authors were critical.
  • If evidence demand from the media is stimulated, it is important to have the resources and the interest to answer those requirements (reciprocity relationship).
  • The project focused the communication of documents depending on the parties’ demand. However, this decision produced a heterogeneous dissemination of the documents among the various technical teams. Some issues, like gender, require more promotion to be perceived as important.

About the links with political parties:

  • The closed nature of the meetings with parties injected a degree confidence in their campaign managers.

About the expected impact:

  • The major strength of the project has to do with diversifying and decentralising spaces of debate, incorporating new voices and calling the attention on key issues for the public agenda. It cannot guarantee impact in specific policies. In future projects the influence strategy with the elected government could be reinforced.
  • Another strength of the project was its replication in other Latin-American countries where CIES has contributed as an advisor.
  • M&E of the project should be strengthened for institutional learning as well as for future fund-raising.

About the link with other activities of the institution:

  • A tension between circumstantial projects –as the electoral ones- and middle term projects may arise. That is why it is very important that what is achieved in the electoral influence projects (as a greater relation with parties and media) is used in daily institutional activities.

[Editor’s Note: this post was translated to Spanish by Federico Frascheri and Fiorella Ormeño.]