Despite the world-wide triumph of democracy, the quest for an optimal politike has not yet reached the “end of history.” It turns out that representative democracies do not necessarily satisfy citizenries. These malaises are regarded as causes for concern and political actors increasingly pin their hopes on participatory innovations as re-legitimizing responses. But do they work? Germany is an especially interesting case for empirical research. Analysis of the variety of participatory innovations utilized at the local level in Germany—often varying considerably among the different Bundesländer—provides preliminary insights. The German case shows overall that participatory innovations have the potential to cure some of the current malaises of representative democracy. Participatory innovations, however, are certainly no fast-track cure. The useful implementation of participatory innovations requires comprehensive consideration, caution, and, (up to now limited) knowledge about possibilities and pitfalls.
Seven Conceptual Building Blocks
Rikki Dean, Jonathan Rinne, and Brigitte Geissel
The notion that democracy is a system is ever present in democratic theory. However, what it means to think systemically about democracy (as opposed to what it means for a political system to be democratic) is under-elaborated. This article sets out a meta-level framework for thinking systemically about democracy, built upon seven conceptual building blocks, which we term (1) functions, (2) norms, (3) practices, (4) actors, (5) arenas, (6) levels, and (7) interactions. This enables us to systematically structure the debate on democratic systems, highlighting the commonalities and differences between systems approaches, their omissions, and the key questions that remain to be answered. It also enables us to push the debate forward both by demonstrating how a full consideration of all seven building blocks would address issues with existing approaches and by introducing new conceptual clarifications within those building blocks.