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DRPS : Course Catalogue : Edinburgh Futures Institute : Edinburgh Futures Institute

Postgraduate Course: Digital Democratic Innovations (fusion online) (EFIE11071)

Course Outline
SchoolEdinburgh Futures Institute CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate)
Course typeOnline Distance Learning AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits10 ECTS Credits5
SummaryDigital democratic innovations are reshaping the relationship between publics and their institutions. This course helps to understand and develop innovations that can improve the governance of the future.
Course description Digital democratic innovations are processes or institutions developed to re-imagine and deepen the role of citizens in democratic governance by increasing opportunities for participation, deliberation and influence. These innovations are proliferating across the world; e.g. data-driven policy forums; crowd sourcing of laws and constitutions; local, national and global citizens' assemblies; platforms for public service design and co-production; participatory budgeting processes; collaborative governance networks, etc.

Data-driven digital participation has the potential to develop the next form of democracy: a system of distributed intelligence, substantial public deliberation, collective problem-solving, and effective co-production. Digital democratic innovations can now be found in governments, parliaments and local authorities, but also in civil society networks, community-led initiatives and social movements. These innovations have a great deal to teach us about how to build the institutions of the future.

This course will provide participants with the foundations to understand, scrutinise and engage in the practice of democratic innovation. The sessions will be interactive and hands-on, focused on developing:

a) Analytical skills i.e. critically assessing and learning from digital democratic innovations developed around the world;
b) Practical skills i.e. strategic thinking, process design, facilitation techniques and collaborative leadership.

The course entails:

Pre-Intensive Study Period (1 week):

Students will receive an introductory package via Learn Ultra, including a selection of mandatory and optional readings, as well as audio-visual resources, and reference libraries.

Students will read a selection of publications and prepare a comparative matrix (a template will be provided) to compare 4 digital democratic innovations from the Participedia crowd sourcing platform Students can choose any type of process, context, topic, and level of governance, so that this preparation activity contributes to link the contents of the course to their areas of interest and work.

This comparative analysis (i.e., summarised in a 2-page matrix) will provide a foundation for discussions during the intensive period, while introducing students to a range of digital democratic innovations as they search for cases in the Participedia database.

2-Day Intensive

4 Sections:

1) Foundations: This section covers the contextual factors (social, political, economic, and institutional) that shape digital democratic innovation, as well as the principles and evidence base that inform the field. Learning activities: short presentations; small and plenary group work; interactive exercises.

2) Design: This section examines and compares cases of digital democratic innovation and applies learning from exemplars to inform the practical design of new processes. Learning activities: short presentations; design briefing; design practice in small groups and feedback in plenary.

3) Facilitation: This section focuses on developing the facilitation skills required to enable and support digital crowd sourcing and online deliberation. Learning activities: short presentations; practice briefing; practice sessions using facilitation and mediation techniques.

4) Impact: This section covers work on culture change and leadership, including approaches to pioneering, developing, and embedding digital democratic innovations. Learning activities: short presentations; future visioning exercise; farewell dialogue on becoming reflective practitioners.


There will be 1 online session (3 hours) where students can present draft outlines of their Digital Engagement Plan and receive advice and formative feedback from peers and teachers.

This session will take place shortly after the intensive period and at least one week before the submission deadline for the assessment. Ongoing advice and feedback can also be provided by email or appointment.

Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI) - On-Site Fusion Course Delivery Information:

The Edinburgh Futures Institute will teach this course in a way that enables online and on-campus students to study together. This approach (our 'fusion' teaching model) offers students flexible and inclusive ways to study, and the ability to choose whether to be on-campus or online at the level of the individual course. It also opens up ways for diverse groups of students to study together regardless of geographical location. To enable this, the course will use technologies to record and live-stream student and staff participation during their teaching and learning activities.

Students should be aware that:
- Classrooms used in this course will have additional technology in place: students might not be able to sit in areas away from microphones or outside the field of view of all cameras.
- Unless the lecturer or tutor indicates otherwise you should assume the session is being recorded.

As part of your course, you will need access to a personal computing device. Unless otherwise stated activities will be web browser based and as a minimum we recommend a device with a physical keyboard and screen that can access the internet.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2023/24, Not available to visiting students (SS1) Quota:  None
Course Start Semester 1
Course Start Date 18/09/2023
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 100 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 7, Supervised Practical/Workshop/Studio Hours 7, External Visit Hours 1, Formative Assessment Hours 3, Other Study Hours 1, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 2, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 79 )
Additional Information (Learning and Teaching) Other Study: Scheduled Group-work Hours (hybrid online/on-campus) - 1
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Summative Assessment:

The course will be assessed by means of the following component:

1) Digital Engagement Plan (2000 Words) (100%)

Each student will prepare an individual Digital Engagement Plan for an organisation of their choice (e.g. government; NGO, institution, agency, governance body, etc). The Plan must include key dimensions, and make use of some of the platforms and tools, explored during the course (i.e. purpose and outcomes, publics/stakeholders mapping, digital process design, communication channels, timelines/sequencing, online forum formats, ICT-enabled facilitation approaches).

The Plan must clearly and creatively link the students' analysis of their chosen governance context with the practical engagement strategies and design deployed to involve relevant publics and/or stakeholders in their digital democratic innovation. Samples and a full spec will be provided for guidance, as well as the opportunity to present drafts for formative and peer feedback. The point of this assignment is to design a plan for practical application. It should be written as if it were to be presented for implementation at the chosen organisation.
Feedback Feedback on the formative assessment may be provided in various formats, for example, to include written, oral, video, face-to-face, whole class, or individual. The course organiser will decide which format is most appropriate in relation to the nature of the assessment.

Feedback on both formative and summative in-course assessed work will be provided in time to be of use in subsequent assessments within the course.

Feedback on the summative assessment will be provided in written form via Learn, the University of Edinburgh's Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).

There will be 2 scheduled group-work sessions for formative assessment (1.5 hours each) where students will present outlines of their Plan and receive advice and formative feedback from their peers and the course organizer. Both sessions will take place in the 3 weeks following the intensive period and at least one week before the submission deadline.

Ongoing personalised advice and feedback will also be provided by appointment.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Draw on research insights from political science, public policy and participation studies to develop a critical understanding of digital democratic innovation in local, national and global governance.
  2. Demonstrate applied knowledge for the design of digital democratic innovations in a variety of policy arenas and governance processes.
  3. Develop analytical skills to understand behaviours and interactions in digital platforms and forums, as a basis for process design and online facilitation.
  4. Facilitate processes and forums by using facilitation tools, participatory techniques and deliberative formats that enable participants to identify common ground and deal with difference and conflict in productive and creative ways.
  5. Develop the mindset and skills needed for reflective practice, with special attention to understanding and addressing emerging ethical dilemmas in democratic innovation.
Reading List
Indicative Reading List:


Essential Reading:

Elstub, S. & Escobar, O. (eds.) 2019. Handbook of Democratic Innovation and Governance, Cheltenham, UK; Northampton, MA, USA: Edward Elgar.

Faulkner, W. and Bynner, C. (2020) How to design and plan public engagement processes, What Works Scotland. Available:

Noveck, B. S. (2015), Smart citizens, smarter state: The technologies of expertise and the future of governing, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Russon Gilman, H. & Carneiro Peixoto, T. 2019. Digital participation. In: Elstub, S. & Escobar, O. (eds.) Handbook of Democratic Innovation and Governance. Cheltenham, UK; Northampton, MA, USA: Edward Elgar.

Simon, J., Bass, T., Boelman, V. & Mulgan, G. 2017. Digital Democracy: The tools transforming political engagement. London: Nesta.

Recommended Reading:

Castells, M. (2012) Networks of outrage and hope, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Chambers, S. & Gastil, J. 2020. Deliberation, Democracy, and the Digital Landscape. Political Studies, Online first.

Escobar, O. (2019) Facilitators: The micropolitics of public participation and deliberation. In: Elstub, S. & Escobar, O. (eds.) The Handbook of Democratic Innovation and Governance. Cheltenham, UK; Northampton, MA, USA: Edward Elgar.

Friess, D. & Eilders, C. 2015. A Systematic Review of Online Deliberation Research. Policy and internet, 7, 319-339.

Lightbody, R. (2017) 'Hard to reach' or 'easy to ignore'' Promoting equality in community engagement. Edinburgh: What Works Scotland.

Nabben, K. (2020) Hacking the pandemic: how Taiwan's digital democracy holds COVID-19 at bay, The Conversation.

Peixoto, T., & Sifry, M. L. (eds.) (2017), Civic Tech in the Global South: Assessing technology for the public good, Washington DC and New York: The World Bank and Personal Democracy Press

Parsons, A. 2019. Digital tools for citizens' assemblies, my Society.

Smith, G. (2009) Democratic innovations: Designing institutions for citizen participation, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Strandberg, K. & Grönlund, K. (2018) Online Deliberation. In: Bächtiger, A., Dryzek, J. S., Mansbridge, J. & Warren, M. (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Deliberative Democracy, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Stromer-Galley, J., Webb, N., & Muhlberger, P. (2012). Deliberative E-Rulemaking Project: Challenges to Enacting Real World Deliberation, Journal of Information Technology & Politics, 9(1), 82-96.

Further Reading:

Black, L. (2011) The promise and problems of online deliberation, The Kettering Foundation.

Bruno, E. (2015) Co-deciding with citizens: towards digital democracy at EU level, European Citizen Action Service.

Castells, M. (2011) A Network Theory of Power, Journal of Communication, 5, 773-787.

Charalabidis Y, Koussouris S. (2012) Empowering open and collaborative governance: Technologies and methods for online citizen engagement in public policy making. Berlin; New York: Springer.

Coleman, S. and Blumler, J. (2009) The internet and democratic citizenship: theory, practice and policy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Coleman, S., & Shane, P. M. (Eds.) (2011) Connecting democracy, The MIT Press.

Epstein, D., Newhart, M., & Vernon, R. (2014) Not by technology alone: The "analog" aspects of online public engagement in policymaking, Government Information Quarterly, 31(2), 337-344.

Kennedy, R., Sokhey, A. E., Abernathy, C., Esterling, K. M., Lazer, D. M., Lee, A., Minozzi, W. & Neblo, M. A. (2020). Demographics and (Equal?) Voice: Assessing Participation in Online Deliberative Sessions. Political Studies.

Hindman, M. (2009) The myth of digital democracy, Princeton, N.J.; Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Moss, G. and S. Coleman (2014) Deliberative manoeuvres in the digital darkness: e-democracy policy in the UK. British journal of politics and international relations, 16(3), 410-427.

Sampaio, R.C. and Peixoto, T. (2014) Electronic Participatory Budgeting: false dilemmas and true complexities, in Dias, N. (ed.) Hope for Democracy - 25 years of participatory budgeting worldwide, São Brás De Alportel, Portugal: IL Association, pp.413-426.

Speaker's Commission on Digital Democracy (2015) Open Up! Report of the Speaker's Commission on Digital Democracy, London: DDC, (Chapters 5-9)

Wright, S. (2012) Politics as usual? Revolution, normalization and a new agenda for online deliberation. New Media & Society, 14, 244-261.


Acland, A. (2012). Dialogue by design. A handbook of public and stakeholder engagement. Surrey: Dialogue by Design. Available online:

Butteriss, C., Connors, N. & Hussey, S. (2020) Making deliberative dialogue work online. Bangthetable.

Escobar, O. (2011) Public dialogue and deliberation: A communication perspective for public engagement practitioners, Edinburgh: Edinburgh Beltane -UK Beacons for Public Engagement. Available:

Faulkner, W. (2011) Dialogue in public engagement: A handbook, Edinburgh: Edinburgh Beltane (UK Beacons for Public Engagement). Available:

Faulkner, W. and Bynner, C. (2020) How to design and plan public engagement processes, What Works Scotland. Available:

Hunjan, Raji & Pettit, Jethro (2011) Power: A practical guide for facilitating social change, Carnegie UK Trust. Available:

Involve (2020) How do I plan a participatory process?

Newdemocracy (2019) Enabling national initiatives to take democracy beyond elections, UN Democracy Fund and newDemocracy Foundation.

NCDD (2010) Resource guide on public engagement. National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation. Available online:

AUDIOVISUAL RESOURCES LIBRARY (TBU) including podcasts, Tedtalks and videographics.


- Videos and podcasts by the newDemocracy Foundation in Australia:
- RSA's Citizens' Economic Council
- Podcast series: Real Democracy Now!
- Podcast: Reasons to be cheerful - Citizens' Assemblies and the Climate Crisis
- Podcast - Talking Politics: History of Ideas - episode 'Tocqueville on Democracy'
- Podcast - Talking Politics guide to Deliberative Democracy
- Podcast series: How to Fix Democracy?
- Podcast series: Facilitating Public Deliberations
- Podcast: How might we organise ourselves online?
- The Economist - Video: How to restore trust in politics?
- BBC Analysis podcast: Deliberative democracy
- Short film: Irish Citizens Assembly on abortion; 'When Citizens Assemble'
- Films about radical democracy from All Hands On
- Short video by the Sortition Foundation: 'A real democracy would use sortition'
- Video-graphic: Power Inequality
- Video, re:publica talk by Birgitta Jónsdóttir (activist, Icelandic parliamentarian, Pirate Party): Iceland could have been innovative - Participatory democracy:

Ted Talks:

- Pia Mancini: How to upgrade democracy for the Internet era
- Beth Noveck: Demand a more open source government:
- Robert Singleton: Crowdsourcing Democracy:
- How Collective Intelligence Can Change the World, Geoff Mulgan, RSA Replay:
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills 1) Students will develop knowledge and understanding of the field of digital democratic innovation (SCQF characteristic 1)
2) Students will practice designing, planning and facilitating digital democratic innovations that can be adapted to a range of contexts (SCQF characteristic 2).
3) Students will gain cognitive skills by examining and comparing exemplars of digital democratic innovations from different countries and levels of governance (SCQF characteristic 3).
4) Students will develop communication and ICT skills by interacting with academic staff and their peers and by learning facilitation skills for the use digital participatory and deliberative platforms (SCQF characteristic 4).
5) Students will engage in autonomous learning during the preparation stage while strengthening their collaboration skills by working with others during the interactive workshops (SCQF characteristic 5).
Course organiserDr Oliver Escobar
Course secretaryMr Lawrence East
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