Discussion, outlook and some concluding remarks
Political science has several tasks and one of the most important challenges is to find remedies for the current democratic malaise. This chapter focuses on participatory innovations as the currently most debated recommendations, that is, direct democracy, co-govemance and consultative-discursive procedures. The intention is not to provide conclusive results, but to be a starting point for future evaluation of participatory innovations from a comparative perspective.
The study reveals several strengths and weaknesses of all innovations under research. Thus, many hopes concerning democratic innovations can only be fulfilled if participatory innovations are combined in such a way that their weaknesses and strengths can be balanced (see also Smith in this volume). Some examples illustrate this idea: one of the disadvantages of consultative-discursive procedures is the small number of participants who can be involved: they may be able to deliberate sophisticated suggestions, but they cannot make any decisions. With popular votes, the problem is the reverse: a large number of people, in fact the entire electorate, may take part. However, the simple aggregation of citizens’ preferences might not be the best solution, as the preferences are not well thought out and may be based on insufficient information. Thus, neither consultative- discursive procedures nor the aggregation of preferences (‘voting’) are optimal. However, the combination and ‘sequencing’ (Smith 2009) of different innovations could mitigate some of the weaknesses of each innovation (similarly, see Saward 2000). For example, participants of discursive procedures might discuss different options to solve a problem and their suggestions are subsequently decided on via direct democracy. The British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform is one of the rare examples of the combination: selected citizens discussed, in the context of a consultative-discursive procedure, whether and how the electoral system in British Columbia should be reformed, and their advice was then put to a popular vote (see Talpin in this volume). This sequence could serve as a blueprint for the future.
In terms of a future research agenda, the study reveals, first, the need for an analysis that takes different designs of democratic innovations into account. For research on direct democracy, for example, this means to evaluate the different forms separately - for example, binding and non-binding procedures, bottom-up and top-down initiatives, as well as decision-promoting and decision-controlling features - in order to discover the strengths and weaknesses of each of these forms.
Second, the context must be considered in a comparative perspective. In spite of the general trend towards participatory innovations, the national context is crucial. The impacts of participatory innovations depend - besides their respective designs - on long-established institutions and traditions. Or, as Schmitter and Trechsel (2004: 73) put it, the points of departure are different from state to state. It might, for example, not be a surprise that Consensus Conferences started in Denmark, a country well known for its tradition of consensus-oriented decision making and direct engagement with citizens. Taking the different contexts into account, it is also obvious that innovations do not produce the same effects in all countries. Whereas, for example, participatory budgeting seems to work well in some states, other states provide less successful results. Furthermore, political levels play a role: experiences on a small scale can not necessarily be implemented on a larger scale - a problem discussed on several occasions in this volume (and also Levine,
Fung and Gastil 2005: 275; Schmitter and Trechsel 2004: 75). Innovations that might be successful at the local level, might not work at other political levels. However, it is not a certainty that participatory innovations have different impacts at different levels, but a matter that requires empirical research - something that is still lacking.
Third, the study demonstrates the need for comprehensive methods. Case studies have prevailed so far and these studies are necessary and useful because of their depth. However, in the next phase of research, combinations of multiple methods are needed (for a similar comment, see Delli Carpini et al. 2004: 336). Methodological variety including quantitative methods will provide more comprehensive knowledge on participatory innovations than is available today. The findings will then help political actors select the best participatory innovation suited to solving the specific problem within a certain context, hopefully enhancing input-legitimacy, deliberation, effectiveness and civic skills of the citizenry.