Size and Democracy Revisited

A Critical Discussion of the Claimed Trade-off between Problem-Solving Capacity and Citizen Participation



Abstract Classic literature on size and democracy argues that there is a trade-off between opportunities for broad citizen participation and communities’ ability to deal effectively with the challenges faced by their locality. Consequently, smaller political units enrich democracy, while larger units strengthen the capacity to govern. We argue that although the trade-off may be relevant within a framework concentrating on representative democratic institutions, the trade-off is questionable in the light of more recent contributions on democratic, network-based governance. The article develops this argument, and suggests elements that should be included in a revised theory of municipal size.

Keywords: • local government • citizen effectiveness • citizen participation • system capacity • governance capacity

CORRESPONDENCE ADDRESS: Asbjørn Røiseland, Ph.D., Professor, Nord University, Faculty of Social Sciences, N-8049 Bodø, Norway, email: Signy I Vabo, Ph.D., Professor, University of Oslo, Institute of Political Science, Postbox 1097 Blindern, N-0317 Oslo, Norway, email: ISSN 1581-5374 Print/1855-363X Online © 2019 Lex localis Available online at

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