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Home arrow Political science arrow Evaluating Democratic Innovations: Curing the Democratic Malaise?


Innovations can be judged according to the amount of change they produce, weighed against their costs in time, money and effort. They may be expensive or cheap and yield large or small returns. Some innovations try to produce a deep and lasting effect on a small number of people; others concentrate on large numbers of citizens, recognizing that the effects may be more superficial or short-lasting. As Beetham points out in this volume, new and old forms of politics may have different sets of advantages and disadvantages to be weighed against each other. Equally, one innovation may work at the expense of another, perhaps because it absorbs the lion’s share of the resources of time, money and interest, or because its effects contradict the effects of the other. For example, an innovation designed to increase participation may reduce government efficiency, or vice versa (Dahl 1994). Equally, mass participation and the careful marshalling and monitoring of public opinion takes time, which means the decisions may be delayed. A good deal of writing on democratic innovation is concerned with improving citizen understanding of, and participation in, politics, but rather little has considered innovations that might help to increase the speed of decision making. What are the merits and deficiencies of different democratic innovations and how do they compare with the merits and deficiencies of more conventional forms of representative government?

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