Handbook of Democratic Innovation and Governance

Handbook cover

We’re really excited to present the Handbook of Democratic Innovation and Governance, co-edited by Stephen Elstub and I, featuring 38 chapters by 60 authors covering this field of research and practice around the world

The book includes six sections:

  1. Types of democratic innovation
  2. Democratic innovations and the democratic malaise
  3. Actors in democratic innovation
  4. Democratic innovations in policy and governance
  5. Democratic innovations around the world
  6. Research methods for the study of democratic innovation

There are two open access chapters offering an overview of the book, you can read and share for free here:

An introduction to the field of democratic innovation

And a chapter defining and typologising democratic innovations

Thanks to contributors & supporters working with us for 3 years. We share the hope that the book satisfies curiosity & inspires action. Can 2020 turn around the democratic recession by reimagining political life? This is the challenge & opportunity of our generation!

E-books available to purchase from:

Elgar Publishing

Google Play


Vital Source

Hardback edition for institutional libraries

back cover

Community Planning after the Community Empowerment Act

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Open access to the Report and Executive Summary.

Community planning partnerships are a central platform for local governance in Scotland. They are key vehicles to drive public service reform in line with the 2011 Christie Commission, and to improve local democracy and equality as proposed by the COSLA Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy and as articulated in the 2015 Community Empowerment Act. This places community planning workers at the frontline of delivering effective processes of collaboration and participation in policymaking and public service delivery. This new report offers an overview of key dynamics, challenges and accomplishments from the perspective of community planning officials across the country. The survey took place in 2018, two years into the implementation period of the Community Empowerment Act, and therefore reflects some of its early impact on local governance and community planning practice (using our 2016 survey as a baseline).


Participatory Budgeting in Scotland: The story so far

The open access ebook Hope for democracy: 30 years of participatory budgeting worldwide is the largest collection of articles about participatory budgeting (PB) on a global scale.

One chapter outlines key lessons from the Scottish experience so far. Participatory budgeting in Scotland: The interplay of public service reform, community empowerment and social justice was co-written by members of the PB Working Group, which works with civil society and the Scottish Government to inform and advance the development of PB.

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The authors highlight how PB has become central to policy action that aims to advance community empowerment and public service reform. The chapter shows the importance of the interplay between civil society and government in opening a window of opportunity for this democratic innovation.

They conclude that the mainstreaming of PB which is now under way in Scotland, carves up space for more complex participatory participatory and deliberative processes to decide on core local government budgets. However, for PB to make a substantial difference in the lives of citizens and communities, democratic innovators (i.e. politicians, activists, public servants) across Scotland will have to overcome challenges related to culture, capacity, politics, legitimacy and sustainability.

For more information about PB in Scotland, visit the WWS website.

Report: Transforming communities? Exploring the roles of community anchor organisations in public service reform, local democracy, community resilience and social change

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This report explores the developing roles of key community sector organisations known as community anchors. It draws from six exemplar anchor organisations to explore their roles in engaging with, leading and challenging public service reform; how public services and the state can better support community anchors and community sector development; and the potential roles of anchors in building local democracy, community resilience for sustainable development, and wider social change.



New report: Survey of Community Planning Officials – Participatory governance in Scotland

Screen Shot 2018-04-24 at 10.35.17Community planning officials constitute one of the most significant groups of local public servants in Scotland today. They work across a broad range of key policy areas and are at the forefront of advancing the agenda laid out by the Christie Commission on the Future Delivery of Public Services and legislation such as the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act.

This Survey report and Executive Summary present the findings of the first survey of community planning officials (managers and officers) conducted in Scotland.

For more information and to download the report please check the What Works Scotland site.

The university as a school of democracy -or, personal memories in #USSstrike times


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The last few weeks of the strike to protect pensions for university workers in the UK have been, as most worthwhile things, both challenging and exciting. Yesterday this tweet made my day and brought back memories of a student experience that changed my life, personally & professionally. I shared that story in a publication some time ago (Public Dialogue and Deliberation, p. 7) and I’m reposting it here. 

My interest in public dialogue and deliberation began in the winter of 2001 at the University of Santiago de Compostela (Galicia, Spain). It was the final year of my degree in political science, and little did I know, I was about to learn more in the next three months than in the previous five years.

The Spanish Government at the time was preparing a new legal framework for our universities (the Ley Orgánica de Universidades, or LOU). The LOU was controversial. Most student organisations saw it as a threat to our public education system, as well as to our capacity – as students – to contribute to university policies. This set in motion one of the largest student mobilisations in our young democracy, with 200,000 students mobilised in 53 cities. The interesting part, however, was how this was to take place.

The diverse landscape of the student union movement in Santiago, as elsewhere in Spain, was the result of a history of acrimony amongst factions across the ideological spectrum. Accordingly, student organisations acted as partisan blocks with entrenched ideas and ways of working. Adversarial show-offs and deprecating routines were commonplace. It was a bit like that iconic scene depicting rival factions in the film Life of Brian, but less funny. This put many students off from getting involved in the union movement.

When the LOU protests began, many non-unionised students wanted to get involved. In Santiago this meant that, from the very first forums, a different modus operandi started to settle in. Unconcerned with the internal dramas of the student unions’ world, these  participants brought alternative ideas and communication patterns. Soon a tacit consensus emerged: this was not going to be simply a series of strikes spearheaded by various student unions, this was to become a student assembleary movement, including a broad range of participants.

Accordingly, assemblies were formed in each Faculty and there was also a general assembly every evening in a large public square. They typically included a diversity of non-unionised students as well as student representatives who rarely gathered together to discuss issues of common concern. One of the first collective decisions was for the unions to put down their respective flags and rally under shared banners. Everyone accepted that the assemblies would make the decisions and lead the mobilisations collectively using a distributed model of leadership.

The assembly movement became a truly creative operation in which thousands of participants became involved –the largest rally saw 25,000 participants through the streets of Santiago. Firstly, we discussed how to organise ourselves and the dynamics between the local and general assemblies. Soon we decided that we might as well take advantage of our disciplinary structures. Accordingly, the Faculty of Law’s assembly would be in charge of proposing amendments to the LOU, as well as coming up with an alternative law altogether. The assembly at the Faculty of Political Science would lead on political strategy. The one in Journalism would coordinate anything to do with the media. The one in History would lead on daily activities and keep records. And so on and so forth. These assemblies were open to everyone and always included members of other assemblies to keep communications going (this was before the social media era). We met early in the morning, and then reported to everyone during the evening’s general assembly.

You may begin to gather that this gave place to something beyond the typical string of demonstrations. One of the initiatives, for instance, was to take academic activities to the streets of Santiago. Accordingly, many of our lectures and forums were taken to public squares and corners. To do this, we forged an alliance with teachers, researchers and staff. During those three months the university was not simply brought to a halt, but actually transformed into the kind of alternative university that the assembly was building as a vision.

Santiago was a quintessential student’s city, and thus, we soon gathered substantial public support, from small businesses to various organisations (including local media), as well as individual citizens. Daily public activities (e.g. street art and performances, teach-outs, symbolic events, gigs, etc) and ongoing assemblies became the signature of the process. Therefore, alongside the demonstrations, myriad parallel processes of public dialogue and deliberation took place.

This multiplication of civic conversations across spaces became, in my mind, the closest thing I had witnessed to the vibrant public sphere advocated by some democratic theorists. This public sphere materialised in multiple conversations from street corners to classrooms, from shops to offices, from media outlets to living rooms across Santiago. For many of us, those were three months of I4-hour working days characterised by constant communicative action.

For the assemblies to work, we had to get beyond the usual communication rituals and transform previous patterns of shallow confrontational interaction. In other words, we had to find new ways of talking to each other, ways which would allow us to understand issues and positions, and to foster collective enquiry, in order to engage in collaborative decision-making.

To be sure, this was not an easy process, and the idealist tone of my personal account should not obscure the fact that these became extremely difficult conversations about complex issues beyond the LOU itself. The assemblies were dissolved after Christmas 2001-2002, as the process of amendments to the law proceeded. Much disappointment followed. Despite similarly strong mobilisations in many Spanish cities, the LOU was minimally changed as a result.

You may be left wondering, ‘well, in the end the conclusion was politics as usual’. I disagree. Firstly, many of these processes became  schools of direct democracy: spaces where we developed capacity to engage democratically across alternative, often opposing, perspectives within the student movement. Secondly, it changed relationships between students and organisations that previously struggled to find  ways of working together. Thirdly, these deliberative dialogues enabled patterns of communication that are crucial for building community resilience, social capital and collective action. Arguably, it was processes like this that prepared the ground for more recent assembly movements such as Los Indignados in Spain in the spring of 2011. Finally, the Santiago assemblies showed that ‘uninvited’ participatory processes can have impact on parliamentary business (e.g. many of our amendments were taken by opposition parties and tabled at parliamentary sessions), and that they can be as effective as traditional political party machines in creating agreements about strategies, actions, and alternative proposals.

Ever since that time I have wanted to understand the quality of communication which enabled those assemblies to become genuine sites for democratic talk oriented to problem-solving and the re-imagining of collective futures. How can we create spaces where passionate engagement can be put to productive ends? How can we use tensions, conflicts, and difference as catalysts for collective enquiry and action?

New evidence review: equality in community engagement

evidence reviewEquality and community engagement are central to core policy developments and frameworks that guide current public sector reform: i.e. Christie Commission on the Future Delivery of Public Services; Community Empowerment Act 2015; Fairer Scotland; Convention of Scottish Local Authorities’ Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy.

The key motivation for this review of the literature is to explore the intersection between community engagement and inequality. This is important because inequalities in health, wealth, income, education and so on, can be arguably seen as stemming from inequalities in power and influence. Therefore, community engagement processes can simply reproduce existing inequalities, unless they are designed and facilitated to distribute influence by ensuring diversity and inclusion.

Find out more and download the publication in our WWS website.