A Typology of Democratic Innovations

Stephen Elstub and Oliver Escobar


Stephen Elstub, (Newcastle University, & Oliver Escobar, (University of Edinburgh

Paper for the Political Studies Association’s Annual Conference, 10th -12th April 2017, Glasgow 


A variety of institutions and processes, collectively termed ‘democratic innovations’ are increasingly being utilised around the world in order to increase, diversify, and deepen opportunities for citizen participation in governance, policy, and public administration processes and are attracting substantial academic interest as a result. Despite this there is little agreement in the academy about which governance processes should be classified as ‘democratic innovations’ and a lack of clarity and precision in the use of the term. Indeed, democracy itself is widely regarded as an ‘essentially contested concept’ and ‘innovation’ is interpreted in a number of different ways across different countries and policy areas. This article seeks to survey the history of the term’s use and critically review the different and dominant definitions currently employed, in order to produce an analytical typology that can provide greater clarity and coherence. Drawing on Freeden’s morphological analysis of political concepts a set of ineliminable, quasi-contingent, and contextual features of democratic innovations are offered to enable a degree of consistency to be achieved in the understanding of ‘democratic innovations’ independent of specific contexts. Following this it is argued that democratic innovations can be seen as Wittgensteinian ‘families’ of conceptual clusters that include spaces and processes that have certain resemblance but, also differences determined by context. They are similar because they all reimagine the role of citizens in governance processes, and thus renegotiate the relationship between government and civil society. 

Read the paper