top of page
< Back

Citizen agency in democratic innovation: insights from citizen-led governance innovations (CLGIS)

Carolyn Hendriks & Albert Dzur

Tue 17 July 2018

11:00am - 12:00pm

The Dryzek Room, Building 22, University of Canberra


Many aspects of contemporary politics and its institutional practices frustrate citizens. But what kinds of democratic reforms do citizens wish to see, and how do they wish to achieve and sustain them? Most scholars and practitioners of democratic innovation assume that citizens would prefer to engage in politics via more deliberative and participatory forums. However, as critics have argued participatory forums can be piecemeal and tokenistic, and often disempower and co-opt citizens by serving the state and corporate interests (e.g. Lee, McQuarrie, and Walker 2015). For insights into how to make democratic reform more substantive and sustained, we examine citizen-led, action-oriented, and highly pragmatic forms of democratic innovation. We are particularly interested in the collective journeys that citizens themselves embark on to resolve — not just participate in — traditional public policy problems. In this paper we empirically examine various cases of Citizen-Led Governance Innovation (CLGI) where citizens are creating democratic pathways to their own policy and reform endeavours. We show how these citizen innovators are not waiting to be invited into government, or agitating from the sidelines. Instead they are taking proactive and pragmatic steps to address policy failures or dysfunctional institutions. In so doing, citizens self-organise and adopt simple, inclusive, and replicable procedures that foster citizen buy-in and ownership. Citizen agency in CLGIs differs from what is found in other forms of democratic innovation, and related civic practices, such as activism, community organising, and volunteer work and may help address concerns about substance and sustainability. We consider the implications of our findings for debates on democratic innovation and, more broadly, deliberative democracy.

About the speakers

Carolyn Hendriks is an Associate Professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University. Her work examines democratic aspects of contemporary governance, particularly with respect to participation, deliberation, inclusion and representation. She has taught and published widely on democratic innovation, public deliberation, interpretive methods, network governance and environmental politics. Her current research projects are exploring the possibilities of democratic innovation within conventional and alternative modes of political participation. Carolyn is an appointed member of newDemocracy's Research Committee and sits on the editorial board of several international journals, including the European Journal of Political Research.

Albert W. Dzur is a democratic theorist with an interest in citizen participation and power-sharing in education, criminal justice, and public administration. He is the author of Democracy Inside: Participatory Innovation in Unlikely Places (Oxford, in press); Rebuilding Public Institutions Together: Professionals and Citizens in a Participatory Democracy (Cornell, 2017); Punishment, Participatory Democracy, and the Jury (Oxford, 2012); Democratic Professionalism: Citizen Participation and the Reconstruction of Professional Ethics, Identity, and Practice (Penn State, 2008);and a co-editor of Democratic Theory and Mass Incarceration (Oxford, 2016). His interviews with democratic innovators appear in Boston Review, The Good Society, Restorative Justice: an International Journal, and National Civic Review. He is a professor in the political science and philosophy departments at Bowling Green State University.

bottom of page