Comparing innovations

The last part turns to trade-off and impacts of new and emerging forms of democratic innovation and to the question of their impact. The effectiveness of a broad variety of innovations is considered in the chapter by Newton. The oldest are the town meetings, initiatives and recalls that are used in some states in the USA to provide their citizens with the political teeth and claws that, in theory, enable their citizens to keep politicians in line with grass roots opinion. The newest are the experiments with co-governance, mini-publics, citizen forums, and deliberative assemblies that have sprung up around the globe in the last two decades or so. The most widely used are probably the referendums and electoral quotas that are increasingly common in democracies of all kinds and ages. There is also a huge diversity of attempts to improve citizen political competence, knowledge, awareness and activity, including e-democracy and new forms of electoral democracy. In theory, all these could be important additions to the institutions and practices of conventional democratic government, but a closer look at the evidence suggests that their influence is often limited by the rules governing their operation and by the powerful social, economic and political influences that induce political indifference and inactivity in modern society.

Brigitte Geissel evaluates the impacts of democratic innovations from a comparative perspective. Geissel first sets up a framework of four criteria for the assessment that focuses on (1) input and legitimacy, (2) throughput and process, (3) output and effectiveness, and (4) democratic education and civic skills. Next, she uses these criteria to conduct a meta-analysis of direct-democratic innovations, co-governance, and deliberative procedures, choosing a wide variety of examples from Europe. In her conclusions she emphasises the strengths and weakness of different types of innovation and the need to assess the trade-offs between them. She also points to the need to take different designs into account when evaluating their effects, the need for cross-national comparisons of (more or less) success and (more or less) failure, and the need for comparative research to complement case study approaches.

Julien Talpin covers a wide range of cases in his careful assessment of cogovernance, the prime ones being the Porto Alegre experiments in participatory budgeting, the Citizens’ Assembly that deliberated electoral reform in British Columbia, the community policing system set up in Chicago, and decentralised planning in Kerala. In previous chapters Beetham, Fishkin and Smith raise the question of whether co-governance makes a difference to government policy - whether it has a real influence over public policy and decision making. Talpin draws out some general conclusions in his discussion of the strengths and weakness of experiments scattered across the world. He also considers the circumstances in which co-governance experiments can fail, and elaborates on five conditions that are necessary for their success.

The conclusion by Geissel reflects on the problems authors who evaluate democratic innovations have to face. It discusses the main theoretical and empirical challenges concerning the evaluation of democratic innovations: yardsticks and empirical methods. The conclusion also shows future theoretical and empirical work research on democratic innovations has to process.

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