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ECPR Standing Group on the European Union 10th Biennial Conference LUISS, Rome

Combining Citizens’ Initiatives and Deliberation – The Case of Avoin Ministeriö

Political Participation
Referendums and Initiatives
Laura Nurminen
University of Helsinki
Maija Jäske
University of Turku
Henrik Serup Christensen
Åbo Akademi

Citizens’ initiatives have been introduced at the European, national and local levels of decision-making that aim for allowing citizens direct influence in the political agenda-setting. However, deliberative democratic theorists have emphasized that popular votes should be preceded by deliberative discussion in the public sphere (Goodin 2008). This paper examines the potential of connecting deliberation and direct democracy by crowdsourcing or co-writing citizens’ initiatives. Since 2012 it has been possible for 50000 Finnish citizens to propose legislation to the national parliament. In order to facilitate this new instrument, Finnish civil society project Avoin Ministeriö (Open ministry) launched a web portal where citizens can debate initiatives and develop their content. The project aims to foster reasoned and technically well-formed initiatives with a popular appeal. Signatures for supporting agenda initiatives can also be collected in the portal. Hence, Avoin Ministeriö combines the direct involvement of citizens in decision making with an emphasis on preference formation. The purpose of our paper will be two-fold. First, we review theoretical literature on the possibilities of combining direct and deliberative democracy using Avoin Ministeriö and how it aims to combine deliberation and direct democracy via the Internet as an example. Following this, we introduce the contours of a study of the users of Avoin Ministeriö and how their attitudes towards the political system are affected by the involvement. This study is on-going, but we present the outline of the study and preliminary results. The aim is to examine how involvement in this hybrid democratic innovation affects attitudes towards the political authorities and politics in general. In particular, it will be examined whether the outcome of the initiative process affects the development in attitudes. This study should hereby help broaden our understanding of how combining deliberative and direct democratic innovations can help improve the functioning of democracy.
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