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


In politics, effectiveness refers to the capacity of a democratic system to achieve the shared, collective goals of a constituency, for example social justice or low criminality. It also refers to the ‘substantial’ or ‘materialist’ conception of democracy. From this perspective, one criterion to measure the quality of a democracy is to check whether it effectively promotes and meets the collective goals of the citizens (Scharpf 1999: 6). Accordingly, effectiveness comprises two components: first, the collective goals of a constituency are identifiable and uncontroversial; and, second, a community has the capacity to implement policies effectively in order to reach these collective goals.

However, the collective goals of a community are frequently not evident, but contested. In these cases, collective aims must be identified - or compromised - before they can be ‘translated’ into policies. Some participatory innovations are designed to support the identification of shared goals. In fact, participatory innovations are often regarded as a ‘necessity for establishing what the public interest really is’ (Beierle and Cayford 2002: 5). Thus, in order to evaluate participatory innovations, one must ask two questions: are they really helpful in, first, identifying collective goals and, second, reaching those collective goals?

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