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


What makes co-governance institutions unique in the universe of democratic innovations seems to be at the root of their political and social success. Iterated participation allows citizens to become competent enough to take wise decisions, more directly in their interest. The empowered nature of co-governance attracts more directly subaltern groups, which fulfils both the will of participatory democrats to include the traditionally politically excluded, and to foster social justice. The question remains, however, as to the impact of these generally local democratic innovations on the wider political system (Chambers 2009; Geissel in this volume). Whilst they were initially designed to answer the democratic malaise faced by representative government, a reflection on the connection between micro and macro politics appears necessary.

When participatory democracy is promoted by national political leaders, like French former presidential election candidate Segolene Royal, or Hazel Blears in the UK, they generally remain vague in their definitions of the concept and elusive in the degree of empowerment they are ready to grant to new institutional designs. Whilst democratic innovations have mushroomed across the globe in the last two decades, participation embodying ‘the new spirit of democracy’ (Blondiaux 2008), it is not certain whether dramatic transformations will result from such changes. The vast majority of democratic innovations remain consultative, and co-governance institutions - while sometimes having a decisive impact locally - are not sufficiently numerous to have an aggregated impact on national policies. At the macro level, they might, nevertheless, have a more diffuse impact on the political culture of a country. In Brazil, where they are the most widespread, state/civil society relationships have been partly reconfigured in the last decade (Baiocchi 2005). Similarly, the learning of new skills and competences made available to low-income and depoliticized individuals can also have an impact on political culture, by nurturing a more competent citizenry. The importance of these transformations will depend on the political will of elites and the mobilization of civil society organizations in making co-governance institutions either instruments of legitimation of traditional policies, or tools fostering social justice and a more vibrant democracy.

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