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Why do Some Municipalities use Democratic Innovations and Others Not? Evidence from Finland

Comparative Politics
Democracy
Local Government
Referendums and Initiatives
Maija Jäske
University of Turku
Maija Jäske
University of Turku
Maija Setälä
University of Turku
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Abstract

This paper discusses why some autonomous political units – municipalities – introduce democratic innovations while numerous others do not. Citizen juries, co-governance and other democratic innovations are usually used on ad-hoc basis. Although institutions of direct democracy often derive from national or state legislation, there are only few examples where deliberative forums have been institutionalized in the legislation or in the guiding principles of elected body. Thus, the decision to engage citizens or take their initiatives into account in the decision-making remains at the hands of elected representatives. Despite growing use and research of democratic innovations, it still seems rather unpredictable where and under what conditions they are implemented. In this paper system-level data from municipalities in Finland are used to analyze the conditions facilitating the use of democratic innovations. Consultative referendums and citizens’ initiatives were introduced at the local level in Finland in 1990. Since then, more than 60 referendums have taken place, and alongside several new consultative and co-governance innovations have been applied. During the last few years some municipalities have even experimented with deliberative citizen forums. Data on the variety, quantity and effects of democratic innovations during 1990-2012 are constructed with a survey questionnaire to all 336 municipalities in Finland between January and April 2013. Independent variables used are size of the municipality, geographical location, political parties’ share of votes in the municipality, turnout rate in municipal elections, economic indicators and formal organization of citizen participation. Although some scholars argue that democratic innovations should ideally be implemented at the national or international levels of government (Newton 2012; Parkinson 2006), looking at the local level may give us some ideas of favourable preconditions for the implementation and political impact of democratic innovations in general.