Participation Requests: A Democratic Innovation to Unlock the Door of Public Services?

AuthorOliver Escobar,Evgeniya Plotnikova,Artur Steiner,Clementine Hill O’Connor,Hayley Bennett
Date01 April 2022
Published date01 April 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Administration & Society
2022, Vol. 54(4) 605 –628
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00953997211037597
Participation Requests:
A Democratic Innovation
to Unlock the Door of
Public Services?
Hayley Bennett1, Oliver Escobar1,
Clementine Hill O’Connor2,
Evgeniya Plotnikova1,
and Artur Steiner3
Democracies are under pressure and public administrations must evolve to
accommodate new forms of public participation. Participation processes may
reproduce or disrupt existing power inequalities. Through a multi-method
empirical study of “Participation Requests,” a new legislative policy tool to
open up public services in Scotland, this article addresses an empirical gap on
governance-driven democratic innovations (DIs). We use Young’s distinction
of external and internal inclusion and find Participation Requests replicate
the pitfalls of traditional forms of associative democracy. We contend that
DIs should be co-produced between institutions and communities to bring
a participatory and deliberative corrective to temper bureaucratic logics.
democratic innovations, collaborative governance, governance-driven
democratization, participation requests, public service reform
1The University of Edinburgh, UK
2University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK
3Glasgow Caledonian University, UK
Corresponding Author:
Hayley Bennett, Lecturer in Social Policy, The University of Edinburgh, 4f1 18 Buccleuch
Place, Edinburgh EH8 9LD, UK.
1037597AAS0010.1177/00953997211037597Administration & SocietyBennett et al.
606 Administration & Society 54(4)
Democratic innovations (DIs) are processes or institutions “developed to rei-
magine and deepen the role of citizens in governance processes by increasing
opportunities for participation, deliberation and influence” (Elstub & Escobar,
2019b, p. 28). They are emerging across the world as a way of countering
democratic deficits, in part because the normative legitimacy of democratic
decision-making depends on the extent to which “those affected by it have
been included in the decision-making processes and have had the opportunity
to influence the outcomes” (Young, 2000, pp. 5–6). Governments, civil soci-
ety, democratic reformers, and scholars are increasingly collaborating to
develop various forms of DIs. Although much attention focuses on traditional
politically driven initiatives, it is functional needs in policymaking and gov-
ernance that tends to drive such reforms. Warren (2009, p. 3) calls this phe-
nomenon “governance-driven democratization” and comments,
Who would have thought that policy and policy-making—the domain of
technocrats and administrators would move into the vanguard of
democratization? And yet it is in this domain—not in electoral democracy—
that we are seeing a rebirth of strongly democratic ideals, including empowered
participation, focused deliberation, and attentiveness to those affected by
This article addresses the need for empirical research into DIs that emerge
from, and operate within, these policy contexts.
In the United Kingdom, as in many other countries, the nature of demo-
cratic decision-making and the working of public institutions are currently
the focus of major political debates. Such arguments featured heavily in the
referendum from 2016 and subsequent legal and political processes for the
United Kingdom to leave the European Union (Hobolt, 2016). Furthermore,
the multilevel governance arrangement of the United Kingdom, where
Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales have their own tiers of government
with particular policy making functions, has created the space for tense
debates about democratic engagement and subnational relations for over a
decade. The Scottish Government and Parliament (led by the Scottish
National Party) has not only held an independence referendum (in 2014) but
also engaged in large-scale public service reform emphasizing democratic
renewal and community empowerment (What Works Scotland, 2019).
In 2017, the Scottish Government introduced a DI called “Participation
Requests” as part of a wider “Community Empowerment” legislative agenda
in an effort to change state–citizen relations. Participation Requests, the focus
of this article, are a legal tool allowing certain organizations and groups the

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