FSD Bulletin

Issue 31 (3/2010)

ISSN 1457-7682

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FSD Bulletin is the electronic newsletter of the Finnish Social Science Data Archive. The Bulletin provides information and news related to the data archive and social science research.


Finnish Social Science Data Archive
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Democracy Research at Åbo Akademi University

Hannele Keckman-Koivuniemi

Democracy: A Citizen Perspective (D:CE) is an interdisciplinary centre of excellence at the Åbo Akademi University, studying the development of modern democracy from the citizen point of view. The centre uses both traditional and innovative research methods to examine the extent of transition from a class and party-based democracy to an audience democracy. Another main objective is to study the meaning and significance of this transition to citizens. D:CE is lead by professor Lauri Karvonen, with Kimmo Grönlund acting as the Director of Research.

Research on changing forms of democracy

According to political scientists, conventional political participation has declined over the past few decades, with a transition towards "audience democracy". This is displayed in the changing political attitudes, political behaviour and forms of participation. The findings of D:CE research, conducted through traditional research methods such as interviews, register data and case studies, seem to support this theory. Still, there is no clear evidence that the personalization of politics is becoming a common international trend.

Kimmo Grönlund Kimmo Grönlund says that the centre has used both national and cross-national comparative data. Survey data are often combined with register data, particularly for research on voter turnout and election results.
– We have used Finnish parliamentary elections surveys from the years 2003 and 2007. Cross-national surveys such as Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) and European Social Survey (ESS) have also very useful, Grönlund sums up.

Citizen deliberation experiment

The centre has used experimental methods to explore whether participatory democracy is possible and how citizens experience it. Two citizen deliberation experiments have been conducted, a face-to-face deliberation between citizens in 2006 and a virtual replication of the face-to-face deliberation in 2008. The experiments tested whether it would be possible to utilise participatory democracy in decision-making.

The subject matter of the deliberations conducted was whether a sixth nuclear power plant should be constructed in Finland. In 2006, a random sample of adult persons living in the Turku area was drawn. The participants first responded to a survey and were then invited to take part in the face-to-face deliberation event. They received written information prior to the event. The deliberation was a one-day event where the participants were given impartial information on nuclear power, opportunity to question an expert panel and then discuss the issue in randomly allocated groups of 10-13 persons. Some groups reached decisions through secret vote, some by writing a statement accepted by all group members.

Online deliberation was tested in 2008. Invitations to participate were sent to randomly selected persons. Of those who volunteered, 200 were chosen to participate. The participants held small group videoconferences with microphones and web cameras. Otherwise the process of the virtual deliberation replicated that of the face-to-face event.
– Face-to-face and virtual experiments provided similar results regarding the change in knowledge and opinions as a result of deliberation. As in other similar experiments conducted elsewhere, knowledge on the issue at hand increased. Opinions formed during such a process are more considered and deliberate than opinions formed without additional information and discussion on the issue, Grönlund explains.

Challenges of virtual environments

The centre found that organisers of virtual experiments should take into account the importance of technical support.
– We had great difficulties with our host server capacity even though we had carried out pilot tests. In addition, some participants had problems with their web cameras and microphones. We will invest more in ICT backup in future experiments, Grönlund analyses.
– We also collected survey data during different stages of the experiment. The surveys contained questions on nuclear power, energy policy, political participation and behaviour. Survey data also contain responses from a control group which did not participate in the experiment itself.

Decline in conventional political participation

One goal for the centre is to provide recommendations on how to develop democratic processes.
– One can conclude from the deliberation experiments conducted in Finland and elsewhere that representative democracy would benefit of being complemented by participatory democratic processes. Finland is eminently suited to be a country where a new democracy channel between citizens and representative participation is developed, on account of increasing political interest and the high level of education and political knowledge in the country, Grönlund says.

Finnish innovations important for research

The centre engages in international cooperation with, for instance, other Nordic, Swiss, British and Australian researchers. Kimmo Grönlund and professor Brigitte Geissel (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main) act as convenors for a standing group "Democratic Innovations" of the European Consortium for Political Research. The group promotes collaborative research and organizes summer schools as well as meetings during international conferences.
– We discuss experimental designs and exchange ideas. Experiments made in Finland are an important addition to research conducted elsewhere, Grönlund conludes.

» Grönlund, Kimmo & Setälä, Maija & Herne, Kaisa (2010). Deliberation and Civic Virtue – Lessons from a Citizen Deliberation Experiment, European Political Science Review 2, 95–117.
» Grönlund, Kimmo & Strandberg, Kim & Himmelroos, Staffan (2009). The Challenge of Deliberative Democracy Online – A Comparison of Face-to-Face and Virtual Experiments in Citizen Deliberation. Information Polity 14, 187–201.
» Karvonen, Lauri (2010). The Personalization of Politics. A Study of Parliamentary Democracies. Colchester: ECPR Press.
» Setälä, Maija, Grönlund, Kimmo & Herne, Kaisa (2010). Citizen Deliberation on Nuclear Power: A Comparison of Two Decision-Making Methods. Political Studies 58, 688–714.
» Söderlund, Peter (2008). Retrospective Voting and Electoral Volatility: A Nordic Perspective. Scandinavian Political Studies 31 (2), 217–240.

Surveys and survey series:
» FSD1260 Finnish National Election Study 2003
» FSD2069 Parliamentary Elections 2003: Swedish-speaking Finns
» FSD2355 Deliberative Discussion on Nuclear Power 2006
» FSD2269 Finnish National Election Study 2007
» FSD2431 Parliamentary Elections 2007: Swedish-speaking Finns
» FSD2432 Parliamentary Elections 2007: the Åland Islands
» Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES)
» European Social Survey (ESS)