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Democratic Innovations and Citizens in the EU

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Shedding light on democracy

New 'innovations' in democracy may have their merits, but a thorough study is needed to re-examine Europe's most trusted political model.

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Democracy is frequently considered to be a tried-and-tested political system that has proved its viability over others, but it is increasingly being challenged by a decline of political satisfaction and trust. While European governments have tested diverse democratic innovations to enhance political satisfaction and increase citizens' understanding of political matters, public discontent remains. In light of this climate, the EU-funded 'Democratic innovations and citizens in the EU' (Demos-act) project is particularly important as currently there are no comprehensive data, theories or systematic evaluations of democratic innovations in Europe. The interdisciplinary centre of excellence Democracy: A Citizen Perspective at the Åbo Akademi University in Turku, Finland, hosted the project. It aimed to pool the theoretical and empirical knowledge on different democracy-related innovations and develop a theoretical framework to evaluate and explore these innovations. The project examines the merits and risks of democratic innovations by taking into account qualitative as well as quantitative studies. Not only has it benefited political scientists, but it has also offered politicians and policy-makers advice on which innovations to use to address specific problems, offering guidance on best practice. One finding, for example, was that in many instances, a small group deliberating sophisticated suggestions for a larger societal group may not offer up the right solution. It was also demonstrated that a simple majority issue agreed upon by voting was not always the ideal solution either. However, the combination and 'sequencing' of the two concepts could counterbalance some of the weaknesses of each form, creating a better democratic paradigm. Project partners noted that research on each type of direct democracy requires separate evaluation and decision-making features to establish strengths and weaknesses of each one independently. This means that rather than bundling different forms of direct democracy together, it is better to evaluate binding and non-binding procedures, bottom-up and top-down initiatives, and decision-controlling features separately to achieve a much more in-depth analysis than is currently available from the political sciences. In addition, the context of direct democracy has to be considered in a comparative perspective. Notwithstanding other universal trends towards participative innovations in democracy, the national context is crucial to forming an analysis of the subject. Political representatives and civil society stand to gain much from the results of Demos-act which is expected to cause ripples in the political environment, both on academic and practical levels.

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