Representative democracy benefits from new combinations of deliberation and voting
Persistent problems of representative democracy can be addressed with clever combinations of deliberation and voting, for Dutch democracy particularly: the structural complaint of citizens that they are not heard and seen and the 'stop and go' culture of governing. So argues Frank Hendriks, Professor of Comparative Governance at Tilburg University, whose book Rethinking Democratic Innovation came out recently.
In Rethinking Democratic Innovation, Hendriks discusses both the theory and practice of democratic innovation worldwide. Compared to many countries discussed in this book, Dutch democracy is actually not doing so badly, Frank Hendriks states. But there are always reasons for democratic renewal, both positive and negative. Positive reasons are related to the emergence of new opportunities for public learning, driven by new technologies and experiments that proved successful.
Negative reasons, when it comes to the Netherlands, are two main ones: the lack of responsiveness of political democracy and, as a result, the feeling of many citizens that they are not heard and seen; and the "stop and go” culture of governing – jumping to conclusions in policymaking where pause and reflection would have been better; standstill where things should be pushed through and implemented.
Hybrid innovations, new combinations of vote-centric and talk-centric democratic innovation, can add sharpness to our representative democracy, according to Hendriks. Particularly combinations of deliberation and voting that are able to touch different audiences and values. For example, Antwerp has developed a variant of participatory budgeting new-style, in which residents develop, discuss and select improvement proposals for the city together with the involvement of the broader public via digital public voting. In Ireland, the combination of citizens’ assembly and referendum, also well embedded in existing political democracy, led to breakthroughs on same-sex marriage and abortion. "There is no one way to engage citizens in the democratic process, nor is there one way to enrich representative democracy with hybrid innovation. Context sensitivity and practical wisdom are called for," Hendriks says.
Learning to innovate
Much has already been tried in recent decades in terms of citizen participation, also in the Netherlands: variants of public consultation, co-determination, local referendums; variants of interactive policymaking, do-ocracy, citizen initiative, participatory budgeting, lottery democracy, digital deliberation and voting, facilitated by new methods and techniques. But there is much chaff among the wheat, Hendriks argues. "We must continue to critically examine what works and what doesn't and what may or may not warrant further development."
"With hybrid innovations, we can harness the power of society to strengthen democratic governance," Hendriks says. "A vital civil society is needed to keep representative democracy sharp and on its toes."