Democratic Innovations: Citizen Participation in Political Decision-Making

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: School of Social Sciences


There is growing concern in both academic and policy circles about disaffection and disengagement of citizens from the political system in advanced industrial liberal democracies. Numerous studies within political science offer evidence that electoral turnout is declining, levels of trust in politicians and many public institutions is low, and the traditional networks and organisations through which citizens engage with the political system (e.g. political parties, trade unions, etc.) are weakening. At the same time there has been a resurgence of interest in democratic theories which challenge the theory and practice of liberal democracy, stressing the importance of citizen engagement in building the legitimacy of political decision making processes. This interest in participation is not simply an issue of academic concern -policy makers frequently lament the apparent decline in citizen engagement and at the same time promote policies whose legitimacy rests on achieving high levels of community engagement.

The proposed research aims to investigate the reasons why we value citizen participation and the extent to which such evaluative commitments are expressed in democratic innovations. There are a range of democratic theories which offer different answers to the question 'why citizen participation?' for example, in some theories participation is of intrinsic value; in others of instrumental value. Having analysed the variety of different values we associate with participation the proposed research will investigate the extent to which these values are expressed in different types of democratic innovations (be they electoral, consultation, co governance or direct democratic innovations). It will also raise the question of whether innovations might be combined or sequenced to more effectively embed democratic values in the political process.

The proposed research attempts to connect developments in contemporary democratic theory with emerging democratic experimentation. Not only will
it offer a theoretically informed evaluation of different democratic innovations, but it will also provide an opportunity to reevaluate theories of democracy in light of the lessons learnt from democratic practice. It is widely recognised that democratic theory needs to pay more attention to questions of institutional design -there is a paucity of work in this area. The proposed research will offer one example of how the often disconnected literatures on democratic theory and institutional design can be constructively integrated.


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Description The research developed an analytical framework for analysing democratic innovations (institutions designed to engage citizens in the decision making process) that has been adopted by a number of scholars. The framework recognises that democratic innovations aim to realise a number of goods - inclusiveness, popular control, considered judgement, transparency, efficiency, transferability. However, no single design can achieve all of these goods fully - all designs involve trade-offs.
Exploitation Route This was the first book length treatment of democratic innovations. It has helped establish this area of democratic theory and practice as a legitimate field of inquiry.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description The analytical framework and substantive content in the book has had a number of non-academic impacts, including: (1) The analytical framework informed the development of the Participedia data forms. Participedia relies on crowdsourcing to collect data on democratic innovations around the world. The project is supported by and informs the work of a number of civil society organisations around the world. (2) Leeds Student Union used the research to guide the restructuring of its student engagement and decision making processes. It has also informed the National Student Union governance review.
First Year Of Impact 2010
Sector Education,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services