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The University of Southampton
Economic, Social and Political Sciences

Designing participation?

Published: 17 August 2009 Origin:  Politics and International Relations

At a time of growing disillusionment with the institutions of advanced industrial democracies, can we design institutions that increase and deepen citizen participation in the political decision making process?

This is the question at the heart of a new book, Democratic Innovations: Designing Institutions for Citizen Participation (Cambridge University Press), published this month by Graham Smith, Professor of Politics at the University of Southampton.

Drawing on evidence from around the world, Graham argues that one strategy to revitalise politics is to find new ways of involving citizens in the political decisions that affect their lives. The book offers detailed evaluations of a range of democratic innovations, including participatory budgeting in Brazil, Citizens’ Assemblies on Electoral Reform in Canada, direct legislation in California and Switzerland and emerging experiments in e-democracy. The book offers a rare systematic analysis of this diverse range of democratic innovations, drawing lessons for the future development of both democratic theory and practice.

The book is the culmination of a decade of work by Graham, who continues to teach a module on democratic innovations to Masters students at Southampton. As he says: ‘Students are the best critics of your work and I continue to learn a great deal from our discussions in seminars. Many of the ideas in the book have been developed through long and challenging debates with Masters students’. Praising the book, Professor Mark E. Warren, a leading democratic theorist from the University of British Columbia, comments that it is ‘a systematic and fine-grained assessment of new forms of democracy. Smith provides a smart, jargon-free, and comprehensive understanding of the potentials and challenges of new democratic practices. A stellar contribution to an exciting new approach to democratic theory and practice.’

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