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Democratic innovations and maxi-publics: Studying the influence of participation possibilities on public perceptions of legitimacy in Finland

Maija Jaske, University of Turku

Tue 6 March 2018

11:00am - 12:00pm

The Dryzek Room, Building 22, University of Canberra


Last decades have witnessed a growing interest in different institutional arrangements that aim to engage citizens directly in the democratic decision-making processes. Citizen juries, citizens’ assemblies, participatory budgeting and citizens’ initiatives are some examples of these “democratic innovations”. Democratic theorists have recently started to emphasize the role these innovations play in the wider political system. While the potential of deliberation to transform participants is still much valued, the focus has shifted – or at least broadened – to macro-political impacts of deliberation and participation. This presentation zooms into a specific type of macro impacts by asking whether and how the availability of participation possibilities influences maxi-publics.

So far, empirical research on democratic innovations has focused on their effects on participating individuals or policy outcomes. It is important, however, that we understand what effects, if any, participatory instruments have on the wider public. Research of procedural fairness suggests that hearing people in decision-making processes contributes to citizens’ evaluations of legitimacy. What all participatory instruments, however, share in common is that tens or hundreds of non-elected citizens represent other citizens – non-participants – in these venues. The emergence of ‘citizen representatives’ raises questions about the legitimacy of participatory instruments and their role in public perceptions of democratic government. Drawing on a study that is part of my Ph.D. dissertation, I distinguish procedural fairness and outcome satisfaction as the main components of perceived legitimacy, and discuss how the availability of participation possibilities could affect these evaluations.

The presentation focuses on the case of Finland, and participatory innovations in local government. I analyze survey data from 9022 respondents living in 30 Finnish municipalities that each have a different ‘participatory toolbox’, consisting of instruments such as public hearings, opinion polls, advisory citizen committees, non-binding referendums and deliberative citizen juries. The study combines individual-level survey data on citizens’ attitudes with municipality-level data on municipality characteristics and the state of local democracy, and gives some preliminary empirical findings on the role of participatory instruments for public perceptions of legitimacy in democratic systems.

About the speaker

Maija Jäske is a Ph.D. Student in Political Science at the University of Turku. She gained her Master’s degree (Political Science) from the University of Turku in 2011, and she was a visiting scholar in the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University in 2014-2015. Her Ph.D. research – supervised by Prof. Maija Setälä – studies the contextual preconditions of participatory instruments, and their consequences for the wider public. In the dissertation, she analyzes large-n data from Finnish local government with statistical methods. She has also conducted research on citizen deliberation experiments and non-binding agenda initiatives, and her articles have appeared in journals such as International Journal of Public Administration and Swiss Journal of Political Research. Her research interests include democratic theory, participatory instruments, procedural fairness and public opinion.

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