Journal Manager, Policy & Politics
Welcome to our first virtual issue of 2021 and to a new year of reflecting on some of the latest thinking on the major policy questions of our time including the growing importance of digital democracy and on-line public service delivery, the decline of public trust in conventional politics, and the potential of citizen participation to reconnect electorates with political and policymaking processes.
Given that on-line working has become so pervasive and so important during the coronavirus pandemic, we start this virtual issue with a collection of papers that explores the role of digitalisation in promoting public participation and delivering public services. Read on as we journey from analyses of these innovative examples of digitalisation, stopping off at some familiar but important themes for regular readers of the journal including direct democracy, political leadership, and new insights into citizen participation.
So our first article, Political innovation, digitalisation and public participation in party politics, investigates ways in which public sector institutions are increasingly using technology to exchange knowledge with stakeholders and involve external actors in decision-making. The authors argue that public participation has the potential to facilitate innovation and improvement in policy-making, and to increase public trust and citizen satisfaction. Their research, which investigates the ways in which a political party involved citizens in the development of its programme using an on-line platform, validates this premise, showing that citizen participation in political decision-making can be a valuable tool for political innovation and offers a way for parties to improve their relationship with the electorate.
Our second article, Parliamentary petitions and public engagement: an empirical analysis of the role of e-petitions by Cristina Leston-Bandeira, provides a fascinating insight into the efficacy of e-petitions. It shows how their impact depends on the processes which policy makers use to assess and respond to them. The ways in which petitions are produced seems to matter less than the way in which they are then evaluated by those with the power to determine policy. The implication is that moving petitions on-line does not guarantee that politicians will become more responsive to public pressure.
Our third and final article examining digitalisation looks at the impact of virtual courts. The pandemic has accelerated the use of on-line proceedings so this article is now particularly timely. Sarah Moore provides an incisive and critical analysis of the assumptions underpinning the move to increase deployment of digital government services. She elucidates how re-designing services and increasing citizen decision-making and participation have become conflated to present virtual courts as an obvious means of responding to (pre-pandemic) pressures on criminal justice systems. She suggests that the main driver behind digital government services is the desire to make services as convenient as possible and questions this assumption, arguing that there is a need to broaden our understanding of what citizens need and want from public services in order to sharpen our awareness of what’s potentially lost in the move towards digital government.
Moving on to our second theme of democracy, our first article entitled The input and output effects of direct democracy: a new research agenda by Adrian Vatter and colleagues, provides a state-of-the-art analysis of the field of direct democracy. This is a timely review of what we know about the field, warts and all, and proposes a new research agenda to address some of the important gaps in our current understanding. The authors highlight the need to develop a better understanding of why citizens vote the way they do, as well as the necessary conditions for the successful implementation of policy changes as a result of direct democratic votes, which occurs less frequently than is often assumed.
Our next article on democracy and political leadership asks if local government by lottery can increase democratic responsiveness? The author, Joseph Drew, argues that the use of a lottery process to elect local government officials could result in improved representation of citizens’ views. He argues that it would force political representatives to listen to the voice of the people throughout their terms of office and not only at election time.
Our final section looks at the latest thinking on citizen participation. Our first article discusses how we might improve the political judgement of citizens. The authors, Benjamin Leruth and Gerry Stoker, identify a gap in the research which looks at the impact of the task environment on the political judgement of citizens. They conclude that concerns about the internal political efficacy of voters prevalent in the literature should be addressed by exploring how the task environment created for political choice might be improved, and that this in turn might improve the political judgement of citizens.
Finally, in our last article on participation, Fit to govern? Comparing citizen and policymaker perceptions of deliberative democratic innovations , Vesa Koskimaa and Lauri Rapeli suggest that the public is becoming increasingly disenchanted with the way in which representative democracy functions. The paper is highly topical given the rise of popularism in the US and elsewhere and the recent storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters. The authors argue that the detachment of policymakers from citizens’ everyday problems prompts citizens to turn their backs on conventional politics. Many scholars have looked to democratic innovations for solutions, arguing that these have the potential to restore the link between the public and political leaders. The paper explores one such innovation – deliberative democracy – but the authors find that although citizens showed high levels of trust in their own capacity to make decisions through deliberative mechanisms, policymakers remained very sceptical of their value. The authors set out proposals for advancing understanding of this ‘trust gap’, so do read their article which is free to download until 31 March.
All the articles featured in this virtual collection are listed below and are free to download until 31 March 2021:
Political innovation, digitalisation and public participation in party politics
Parliamentary petitions and public engagement: an empirical analysis of the role of e-petitions
Digital government, public participation and service transformation: the impact of virtual courts
The input and output effects of direct democracy: a new research agenda
Improving the political judgement of citizens: why the task environment matters
Can local government by lottery increase democratic responsiveness?
Fit to govern? Comparing citizen and policymaker perceptions of deliberative democratic innovations