Institutionalizing Deliberative Democracy: the 'Tuscany laboratory

Rodolfo Lewanski  University of Bologna, Italy 


Abstract Although deliberative theory has attracted increasing attention from many quarters, a relevant question that has not yet received adequate consideration is whether it should be institutionalized (Fung et al. 2005), and how that might be done. Although there have been many successful ‘one shot’ experiences of deliberative participation, there are few examples of institutionalization as a routine practice. This raises several issues including the relationship of deliberative processes with representative institutions and processes. Compared with other developed nations, Italy has not traditionally been a leader in the application of public participation practices. However, several regional administrations have ventured into this field in recent years. At the end of 2007 the Region of Tuscany passed Law no. 69 defining Rules on the Promotion of Participation in the Formulation of Regional and Local Policies, an innovative legal provision explicitly aimed at pro-actively promoting citizen engagement in local and regional decision making. This law, by incorporating features explicitly derived from deliberative theory, institutionalizes citizen participation; that is, the involvement through group dialogue of citizens and stakeholders in decision-making about issues or problems of public interest. Tuscany has become a remarkable ‘laboratory’ for empirically testing the validity of deliberative participation in the real world, for verifying the effects and possible benefits of its institutionalization, and for applying a specific model which enables representative government and mini-publics to co-exist (and to become complementary and mutually reinforcing). The results from this laboratory will be of relevance to scholars, practitioners and politicians who are interested in such democratic innovations. Law no. 69/07 might well inform the uptake of citizen engagement well beyond Tuscan borders, both in Italy and internationally. An analysis of the approach adopted by the Law offers an opportunity to reflect on how authorities might go about actively promoting and institutionalizing citizen participation. This paper examines the impetus for the Law and the participatory process through which the Law itself was designed; it illustrates the goals of the Law and how these have been operationalized into legal provisions, with specific attention to the role of the administrations (including an ad hoc independent Authority) who were entrusted with the implementation of the Law; it highlights the deliberative features of the Law; and finally it offers a preliminary discussion of the outcomes of the Law – both successful and less so – during its first three years of existence.

Keywords institutionalization, deliberative participation, Italy, Tuscany, Regional policy