Democratic innovation - use of the term and its meaning in this study

As already pointed out in the introduction to this volume, ‘innovation’ is a complex term, which is used mostly in technology and economics but attracting increasing interest in the context of politics (Papadopoulos and Warin 2007; Smith 2005; Casper and van Waarden 2005). In technology and economics, about 70-80 per cent of what firms interpret as innovations are not really new for the sector, but are actually imitations or reinvention (Unger 2005: 21). This is also true in the world of politics. An innovation can be new in one country, but well-established in another. Thus, given the fact that, for example, direct democracy is common in Switzerland, direct democratic elements in other countries could be considered as imitation, but also - as in technology - as an innovation (see also Budge in this volume). Accordingly, as a working definition, I refer to democratic innovation as new practice or process consciously and purposefully introduced with the aim of improving the quality of democracy, irrespective of whether the innovation in question has already been tried out in another state.

The literature on democratic innovations covers checks and balances between the branches of representative government, institutions controlling the political elite (for example, Beyme 2003; Offe 2003), or combinations of local and global democracy (Held 1995). However, for the most part, the literature has focused on innovations promoting citizens’ participation in processes of political will formation and decision making. This is currently seen as the most important issue and my chapter thus focuses on participatory innovations. Similar political terms, such as ‘strong democracy’ or ‘participatory democracy’, refer to analogous developments, but often portray ‘more participation’ in a normative way, as a desirable project with utopian features. In contrast, my research project aims to evaluate existing participatory procedures empirically.

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