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.

Making democratic innovations stick

Investigating the barriers to implementing and sustaining the use of democratic innovations, and how these can be addressed by policy makers and funders.

A significant part of the COLDIGIT project has been dedicated to exploring how to address barriers to mainstreaming the use of democratic innovations. We’ve done this through learning from projects on Participatory Budgeting and Citizens assemblies delivered by our partners in Gothenburg, Helsinki, and Trondheim, interviewing leading experts on democratic innovations and studying successful as well as failed attempts at mainstreaming in other cities and public institutions around the world.

In Democratic innovation and digital participation (2022) we brought together lessons from this work and analysis into our framework of the main barriers to mainstreaming and the different interventions and activities that can address these. In this report, we build on this analysis and look in more detail at what policy makers and funders can do to create the right conditions for mainstreaming and scaling the use of democratic innovations, and what to prioritise when doing this. We build the recommendations on three new pieces of research – a review of evidence and best practice, a survey of local government and public perspectives on citizen engagement and barriers to doing this well.

What's in the report?

A survey of 52 people working on participation in local government in the UK and the Nordic countries found that:

  • a lack of funding and bureaucracy are the biggest barriers to using and scaling democratic innovations
  • enabling citizens to influence decision making, building trust and being more inclusive are the most important reasons for using democratic innovations
  • tackling climate change and reducing poverty and inequality are seen as the most important challenges to involve the public in.

When we focused on attitudes towards participation in the UK more broadly, and on attitudes to participation in climate change more specifically we found that:

  • the public think it is important that they are being involved in how we make decisions on climate change. 71% of the public think it is important they are given a say in how to reduce the UK's carbon emissions and transition to net zero
  • the public doesn’t think the government is doing a good job of involving them – only 12% thought that the government is doing a good job of involving them in making decisions on how we tackle climate change
  • not having the ability to influence decision makers and not having the right skills to participate are seen as the biggest barriers by the public.


Our recommendations will be relevant to anyone working on democratic innovation, and will be of particular interest for cities, local governments and other public sector institutions interested in ensuring their work is sustained and continues to have impact.

We recommend the following:

  • Aims and objectives for participation need to be clearly formulated before deciding on which approach to take
  • Make sure participation leads to impact and citizens have a real mandate
  • Set up dedicated teams and institutions responsible for digital participation
  • Develop participation skills and capacity building programmes
  • Make diversity and representation in participatory exercises a key objective
  • Experiment with democratic innovations and evaluate what works best
  • Invest in both the use and maintenance of digital tools for participation
  • Use AI to improve and create innovative approaches to how citizen assemblies and participatory budgeting is implemented.


Peter Baeck

Peter Baeck

Peter Baeck

Director of the Centre for Collective Intelligence Design

Peter leads work that explores how combining human and machine intelligence can develop innovative solutions to social challenges.

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Christopher Edgar

Christopher Edgar

Christopher Edgar

Senior Researcher, Centre for Collective Intelligence Design


Chris works as a senior researcher, helping to deliver Nesta's mission by supporting work in democratic innovation, climate-sustainable policy and artificial intelligence for good.

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