Democratic Innovations is a new (as of autumn 2010) standing group at the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR). The focus is on innovations that aim at deepening “thin” representative democracy and their impacts on communities, structures, systems, policies and democratic participation.
Despite a fundamental triumph of democracy in Europe, several tendencies in contemporary democratic systems give rise to concern. The most common way of participating – voting at elections – has fallen in most democracies since the 1970s and the decline has been particularly marked in established democracies. Another concern is that citizens have become more critical of political parties, politicians and parliaments, i.e. the actors and institutions that form the basis of the representative democratic process.
Both politicians and political scientists have acknowledged these malaises of modern representative democracy and worry about the long-term effects. Many authors have called for more participatory forms of democracy where citizens should be given tools for enlightened understanding and be effectively included in political decision-making. By now, several democratic innovations aiming at involving citizens in democratic decision-making have been put forward and tried out –different forms of citizen deliberation, direct democracy and varieties of governance with citizens’ associations. Although democratic innovations attract considerable scholarly interest since few years, cross-national networking and coordination is clearly underdeveloped. Systematic, comparative research is lacking - especially in Europe. The focus of the Standing Group is to evaluate the benefits, disadvantages and shortcomings of democratic innovations and clarify which innovations are useful to overcome current problems of representative democracies.
The Standing Group seeks to answer the following research questions:
- Are more inclusive participatory models of democracy desirable and feasible?
- How should democratic innovations be designed and how should they relate to existing representative institutions?
- Which democratic innovations can improve which democratic malaises?
For this purpose the Standing Group will analyse democratic innovations following descriptive as well as evaluative questions such as: Who promotes the democratic innovations (top down / bottom up) and why? Who participates in the democratic innovations? What kinds of issues do the innovations approach and in which way is the process regulated? Which innovations improve input-legitimacy and inclusive participation? Which innovations improve output-legitimacy and effectiveness? Which innovations improve deliberation? Which innovations enlighten citizens and improve democratic skills?