ECPR Conference day 3

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On the last day, I attended the panel dealing with critical approaches to innovation in local governance. The usual suspects stuck to the social media and politics section🙂

The first paper asked how democratic innovation processes in the Norwegian municipalities are. Seven innovations were identified, e.g. community centre innovation or the farm school, a on-the-farm educational service. Generally, the major was very visible in the process. There was hardly any grassroots participation, and if so, with little impact on the innovation process itself.

The next paper was about cooperative networks for forest conservation, a project from Finland (Riikka Borg, Riikka Paloniemi). The METSO network is a national forest biodiversity program focusing on private forest owners. In the program, aspects of voluntariness and cooperation are underlined.

Networks established by the state can be seen as an implication of top-down democracy. Cooperative networks can be studied from the perspective of two different government approaches: multilevel governance and adaptive governance. They are structures that have been built around certain themes and issues in order to make them work better or to solve practical questions. Amongst the main findings was that these networks are creative, but participation in them has not so far increased outside the steering groups.

The next paper was based on a re-reading of a French grassroots movement (Selznick’s TVA) in order to understand participatory innovation. (Alice Mazeaud)
Participatory democracy is not a new discourse and organisations need to cooperate with local forces for innovation. However, participants also use the processes in their own interest. Innovations is a key point of representative democracy. In the example of a participatory budget, positive effects were the good participation rate, but we cannot control the whole process, although governments seek to do this. Innovations in the public sector demand a different set of tools than in the industrial sector. Also, it is very difficult to measure innovation, and sometimes processes are just presented as such. Often we are talking about democratic innovation without defining it. It might also not be a question of definition but on the expectation of innovative processes. On a side note, participatory budgets are coming from Brazil, so there is also space for more comparative work in the field.

The last paper presented was the reason I was interested in this panel: a critical examination of the rhetoric and practices of innovation. (Stevd Griggs and Helen Sullivan). The aim of the paper is to demystify the concept by looking at the rhetorics of the innovation industry. The question was posed whether innovation might be an ideological cover for spending cuts (Howarth and Griggs 2006). Local government can be both a barrier or enabler of innovation, so there’s a certain paradox as well. Innovation rhetorics can also depoliticize processes through the articulation of a manageralist logic.

The study was part of an  evaluation of local strategic partnerships and local area agreements from 2007 to 2010. What is important is the naming of innovation. The study found little evidence of collaborative innovation and innovation was always talked about who benefits and not who looses from innovation. It was also not seen to enhance democracy. Rather, it is now part of the chain of good leadership as an additional ingredient in commonsense of how local governments must be lead.

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