About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Democratic innovation and digital participation

Overcoming barriers in democratic innovations to harness the collective intelligence of citizens for a 21st-century democracy.

This report sets out the need for democratic innovations and digital participation tools to move beyond one-off pilots toward more embedded and inclusive systems of decision-making.

This is the first comprehensive analysis of the barriers experienced by democratic innovators around the world. Alongside the barriers, we have captured the enablers that can help advance these innovations and tools to their full potential.

The report is published alongside the advancing democratic innovation toolkit which supports institutions, practitioners and technologists to diagnose the barriers that they face and identify the enablers they can use to address them.

This report is based on insights from global examples of digital democratic innovation, and in particular, three pilots from the COLDIGIT project: a citizens’ assembly in Trondheim, Norway; participatory budgeting in Gothenburg, Sweden; and participatory budgeting in Helsinki, Finland.

The work is a collaboration between Nesta, Digidem Lab, University of Gothenburg, University of Helsinki and SINTEF funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Key findings

  • Democratic innovations have proved their value in supporting institutions to tackle the crises we face, however, many fail to sustain beyond pilots or have their outcomes enacted.
  • This report sets out a three-level framework for delivering, expanding and embedding democratic innovations.
  • Deliver democratic innovations to achieve best practice. This ensures that you get the basics right and that more people can experience a participatory process.
  • Expand democratic innovations to build inclusive and accessible participation. This ensures that everyone affected by the topic of participation has an equitable platform to participate and is motivated to engage.
  • Embed democratic innovations to create participatory systems of governance. This ensures a more transparent institution with more areas of government that are influenced by participation.


Oli Whittington

Oli Whittington led democratic innovation and digital participation in Nesta’s Centre for Collective Intelligence Design from April 2021 to September 2022. With a background in part…