Home Political science Evaluating Democratic Innovations: Curing the Democratic Malaise?
Which innovations are now worth considering? Based on a comprehensive literature search conducted at the Social Science Research Center Berlin in 2006, using over 500 publications, the following three main democratic innovations can be identified (see also the introduction to this volume; Smith 2009).
Direct democracy: people express their will or decide by popular vote
Direct democratic procedures can be mandatory, for example constitutionally required, they can be initiated by political representatives (‘top down’, e.g. by parliament, city council, president, mayor) or by citizens (‘bottom up’, i.e. ‘popular initiative’ or ‘petition’).1 Citizens’ petitions can either function as agenda-setters, forcing the decision-making bodies to address a neglected political issue (‘decision promoting’), or attempt to change a political decision (‘decision controlling’). Referenda initiated by representatives serve other purposes: representatives often promote a referendum to gain a mandate from the citizens, if decisions are impossible without offending key political actors. The Swedish government, for example, held a referendum on nuclear energy in 1980, because major actors disagreed on the issues and could not find a consensus (see also Kriesi and Budge in this volume). Similar examples include the Spanish referendum on North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) membership in 1986, or the Swedish vote on alternative pension plans in 1957. And, sometimes, a government has held a referendum to demonstrate popular support for its decisions, for example, the French referendum on the Maastricht Treaty in 1994.
In most countries, initiation as well as valid acceptance of a popular vote are subject to strict quora rules. The number of signatures required to launch a citizens’ petition (initiation) and the quora for a valid popular vote differ vastly (see also Budge and Kriesi in this volume). Generally, for a valid acceptance a simple majority of yes or no votes is not enough, but first a minimum number of participants casting their votes and second a certain percentage of votes favoring the proposal are required. In cases of high quora, the initiation as well as the valid acceptance of a direct democratic procedure is unlikely, whereas low quora lead to a more intensive use of direct democratic procedures (see Mittendorf 2008).
Direct democratic procedures are more often not binding than binding. However, at the national level they mostly affect the decision-making bodies: ‘There has never been a case in West European democracies in which the parliamentary majority has ignored the result of a formally advisory government- initiated referendum’ (Setala 2006: 713).
Co-governance and network governance: political representatives share their decision-making power
According to Smith (2005: 56-60), co-governance is distinguished from other innovations by at least some degree of direct citizen influence over decisions. Other terms used in the literature are ‘collaborative governance’2 and ‘empowered participatory governance’ (Fung and Wright 2001). In spite of the abundant debates on these new forms of governance, the reality looks quite different. Forms of co-governance, in which the decision-making power is shared between elected representatives and citizens, are still rare (Geifiel 2009). Participatory budgeting is one of the few - and famous - examples of co-governance (see for details on co-governance Talpin in this volume).
Consultative-discursive procedures, in which public issues are discussed among non-state actors3
Consultative-discursive procedures can have many different facets. On the one side of the continuum - and most widespread - are top-down informationexchanging events with a minimum of discussion, for example public hearings, in which political representatives mainly inform the citizenry about their decisions. On the other side of the continuum, high-quality deliberative procedures can be found, with well-recruited participants, well-prepared background materials, as well as qualified mediators (see Fishkin and Smith in this volume). Furthermore they also differ according to the scale (from neighborhood to supranational level).
Examples of consultative-discursive procedures include ‘Planungszellen' (planning cells), ‘Round Tables’, ‘Cooperative Discourse’, ‘Citizens’ Juries’, and ‘Focus Groups’. One might assume that these different terminologies reflect clear differences between the different procedures and clear-cut procedural structures. However, this is not the case: similar procedures may be named differently and dissimilar procedures can have the same labels. Citizens’ Juries, for example, were developed mainly in the USA and they are similar to Planungszellen developed by Peter Dienel in Germany. The model of Consensus Conferences was developed by the Danish Board of Technology. However, the different labels were soon used for several different procedures. For example, the term Citizens’ Jury is sometimes used for a form of participatory budgeting.4 Thus, the field remains chaotic with respect to terminology and semantics.
Consultative-discursive procedures can be initiated for different reasons. They may be intended to develop new ideas and policies, to negotiate compromises in contentious situations, to enhance civic virtues, or to develop, mould, and clarify citizens’ preferences. The recruitment of the participants also reflects the varieties. Some consultative-discursive procedures comprise self-selected participants; in other procedures participants are chosen randomly. They can also be recruited to mirror the social composition of the constituency, or to guarantee the involvement of all stakeholders (see also Smith 2009; Ansell and Gingrich 2006; Fung 2003). However, all discursive procedures with citizens have in common that they are consultative and without any decision-making power. They can, in most cases, just generate elaborate advice for decision-making bodies, one of the few exceptions being the British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly (see Talpin in this volume).
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