General Issues
Science & Technology


New forms of participation in Finland - research project

September 17, 2017 Elias Laitinen
November 3, 2015 Elias Laitinen
General Issues
Science & Technology

This two-year research project, covering academic years 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 and funded by the Prime Minister's Office, aims to analyze the use, impacts and prospects of new forms of civic participation in the context of Finnish representative democracy both at the national and at the local level. The project is carried out at the Department of Political Science and Contemporary History at the University of Turku.

Mission and Purpose

Research question 1: How widely are democratic innovations used in Finland?
RQ 2: How democratic innovations affect and are perceived in policy processes?
RQ 3: Does the use of democratic innovations increase legitimacy of the decision-making?
RQ 4: What kinds of civil society actors and individuals have taken advantage of the new possibilities for participation at the national level?
RQ 5: How can the use of democratic innovations be modified to improve the quality of Finnish democracy?

By the end of year 2016 the research team led by prof. Maija Setälä hopes to provide a more comprehensive understanding of how democratic innovations can help improve the functioning of the representative democracy both from the perspective of decision-makers and citizens. This includes identifying what the main obstacles are for realizing the potential benefits promised by the democratic innovations and how these can best be achieved. These results are given out on several channels, including peer-reviewed articles, a final report, a closing seminar and popularized writings.

History and background

The interest in democratic innovations has increased also in Finland, although from a comparative perspective Finland has been a cautious user of democratic innovations. At the national level, advisory referendums have been constitutionally provided since 1987, and the institution of citizens’ initiative was adopted in 2012. This new instrument has raised a lot of interest and public debate in Finland. In a comparative perspective (Setälä & Schiller 2012), the Finnish system of citizens’ initiatives has certain specific characteristics. First, the possibility for collecting signatures online on is relatively unique in the world. It is also possible for non-state actors to organize the collection of signatures online. Second, the decision made in Spring 2012 to use open committee hearings in conjunction with citizens’ initiatives can potentially increase the overall transparency of parliamentary proceedings. In addition, deliberative mini-publics and crowdsourcing have also been tested at the national level.
At the local level, the repertoire of democratic innovations is larger. Instruments of advisory municipal referendum, agenda initiatives and initiatives for an advisory referendum have been provided in the municipal law since 1990. Different forms of discursive participation, such as citizen juries, citizen committees, public hearings and online platforms are used in many municipalities. In a comparative perspective, democratic innovations are most widely used at the local level (Newton & Geissel 2012). In the area of local public administration the interest in new forms of participation has increased especially because of municipal mergers and New Public Management. Traditionally strong local autonomy, however, makes Finland a special case together with other Nordic countries. There is not much legislation obliging municipalities to consult and engage citizens outside elections, and the Local government act only recommends how citizens could be engaged in the decision-making, resulting thus in great variance in the actual use of democratic innovations across municipalities. The local political context is therefore more crucial for political equality in Finland than in many other countries exploring forms of civic participation.
Finland is, however, still predominantly a representative democracy in the sense that the formal decision-making power always remains within representative institutions. In this respect, it is uncertain whether the use of democratic innovations has changed the patterns of power-sharing in Finland.

Specializations and activities

Research questions are answered by analysing a set of different materials with both quantitative and qualitative methods. As part of the project new datasets will be gathered on subjects and use of the different forms of participation on national and local level. Several surveys will be conducted on the participators themselves.

Major projects and events

Upcoming closing seminar in the fall of 2016 in Helsinki, Finland. Open to public.


The project is funded by the Prime Minister's Officein Finland.

Publications and External Links

For updates and more information (including a complete list of publications), please visit the tri-lingual blog or social media channels in Facebook or Twitter.