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ECPR Virtual General Conference 2020

The Cherry on Top or Too Much Salt in the Soup? Participatory Innovations in Swiss Local Direct Democracy

Local Government
Political Participation
Referendums and Initiatives
philippe koch
University of Zurich
philippe koch
University of Zurich
Nico Van Der Heiden
University of Zurich
Daniel Kübler
University of Zurich

Participatory innovations are often conceived as supplementary to electoral/representative democracy, enhancing policy-specific legitimacy and compensating for functional shortcomings. However, we witness an increase of new, often policy-oriented participatory procedures in many Swiss municipalities that have various established means of direct democracy (initiatives/referenda/municipal assemblies). Swiss municipalities are thus an interesting place to study participatory innovations because they are introduced into a political system that already relies on direct and deliberative institutions for interacting with the broader public. The proposed paper looks at the newly emerging participatory instruments in Swiss local democracy and compares their raison d'être and their impact on policy-making with the direct-democratic and with the representative decision making process. We are thus interested in the role participatory instruments play in a system that combines representative and direct democratic elements at the local scale.

The paper presents the results of an encompassing study of the emergence of participatory instruments in Swiss communes. We use a quantitative overview of all Swiss communes that have used participatory procedures (some 300) to show that they have indeed found widespread use in Switzerland. Based on statistical methods, we compare municipalities that have introduced new participatory venues with those that have not. In doing so, we focus on common and differing democratic properties of these municipalities and how these properties might be related to the emergence and use of participatory innovations. This allows us to contribute to the theoretical debate about the interplay between the representative and/or direct democratic procedures and participatory innovations at the local level.
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