Reflections on Participatory Democracy Reforms

Mikko Värttö

Research output: Book/ReportDoctoral thesisCollection of Articles


The objective of this thesis is to empirically assess the use of democratic innovations–new forms of public participation, in which citizens are directly involved in decision-making. Democratic innovations include participatory budgeting, citizens’ initiatives, referendums, and deliberative mini-publics, such as citizens’ juries. In public policy-making, these democratic innovations have qualities that can complement existing democratic political institutions by functioning as a remedy for democratic deficits, such as low turnout and political distrust. However, when implemented in practice, democratic innovations often remain detached from existing organizational practices. Therefore, democratic innovations often lack a decisive impact on decision-making.

Yet despite their lack of impact, democratic innovations are becoming more common in various contexts. There is therefore a need to study how they could be incorporated into existing democratic processes. This thesis aims to explore this question using theoretical literature and empirical research. The thesis consists of an introductory chapter and four articles. The data in the articles were collected in two Finnish municipalities and in one non-governmental organization.

The first article studies the influence of the Hervanta citizens’ jury that was or- ganized in the City of Tampere. In the second article, I examine the experiences of workers who participated in four organizational juries organized by the Finnish Federation of Settlement Houses. The third article investigates the attitudes of local public administrators toward public engagement in the City of Turku. The fourth article explores the experiences of citizens and politicians who participated in the Turku deliberates citizens’ panel.

In the introductory chapter, I assess the findings of the articles individually and comprehensively to address the following three research questions: Why are democratic innovations implemented in different organizational contexts? How can organizational contexts shape democratic innovations? How could democratic innovations be better incorporated into existing organizational practices?

The theoretical framework in my thesis is constructed using democratic theory and institutional theory. I apply normative democratic theory to empirically study democratic innovations. Additionally, I use institutional logic theory to investigate how organizational context can impact the implementation of democratic innovations. Methodologically, I rely on traditions of case studies and action research. The results of the thesis are based on four articles. The data in the articles include interviews and surveys of the organizers and participants. The data are analyzed using both qualitative and quantitative research methods.

Based on empirical research findings, I argue that democratic innovations often fail to democratize organizational practices because the democratic value of the democratic innovations may depart from the core values of the organization which derive from its dominant institutional logic. In fact, as I will show, the norms and practices of the organization often determine the impact of democratic innovations. To tackle this issue, I propose solutions for merging institutional logics. These solutions include creating incentives for adopting more democratic organizational cultures. The results of this study indicate that democratic innovations may be better incorporated into existing modes of decision-making when there are proper mechanisms, regulations, and guidances in place. It also suggests that organizational members could be encouraged to adopt new roles that support the uptake of democratic innovations.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationTampere
ISBN (Electronic)978-952-03-2297-7
Publication statusPublished - 2022
Publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (articles)

Publication series

NameTampere University Dissertations - Tampereen yliopiston väitöskirjat
ISSN (Print)2489-9860
ISSN (Electronic)2490-0028


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