Words you need to know

Democratic Innovations

A variety of institutions and processes intended to increase, diversify and deepen citizen participation in political decision-making.

Democracies around the world have been facing a growing public disillusionment with traditional institutions and an increasing disconnection between citizens and decision-makers.

Democratic Innovations (DIs) represent a strategy for re-engaging disenchanted citizenry.

DIs are innovative forms of participatory and deliberative practices intended to increase and deepen citizen participation in the political decision-making process.

They encompass official institutions specifically designed for this purpose but also bottom-up experiences and spontaneous processes able to create connections between citizens and institutions within policy and decision-making practices.

European Green Deal

The EU’s growth strategy aimed at transforming Europe into the first climate-neutral continent, leaving no one and no place behind.

To tackle climate change and environmental degradation, in December 2019 the EU Commission presented the European Green Deal (EGD), a set of strategies that will make Europe the first climate-neutral continent. The European Green Deal is the strategy aimed at transforming the EU into a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy, ensuring:

  • no net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050
  • economic growth decoupled from resource use
  • no person and no place left behind.

As the EGD will bring substantial changes, citizens, depending on their social and geographic circumstances, will be affected in different ways. This is why active public participation and confidence in the transition are paramount if policies are to work and be accepted.

In January 2020, the EU Commission presented the Just Transition Mechanism, a key tool to ensure that the transition towards a climate-neutral economy happens in a fair way, leaving no one and no place behind.


Someone who has a legal right to be a member of a country or, more broadly, someone who lives in a certain place or community, being part of it.

Does the word ‘citizen’ always (and only) carry a legal value?

In a juridical sense, citizens are people who, by place of birth or naturalization, enjoy citizenship in a given country, within which they have specific rights and responsibilities.

Still, this word holds a broader and even deeper meaning.

To be a citizen entails also feeling and demonstrating a personal sense of belonging to a community, that one can shape, influence and improve directly.

This last meaning is the one PHOENIX adopts.

When we say that we want to involve citizens we are referring to all people who, regardless of their legal status, are part of a community, participating in its development and contributing to its well-being.


A system of methodologies and tools that, when combined and aggregated based on specific context-related aspects, results in new, customized participatory and deliberative practices.

PHOENIX uses the Tangram as an iconic reference to elaborate a portfolio of methodologies and tools that can be combined and aggregated in order to adapt to different contexts and support the green and just transition.

The set of methodologies resulting from the Tangram is what PHOENIX refers to as ‘Enriched Democratic Innovations’ (EDIs).

In the first stage, the 11 EDIs produced will serve as suggestions for the participatory methodology that may be applied in a specific territory.

Once ready, each Tangram will be provided to the Territorial Commission for Co-Design which will discuss the suggestion and eventually decide on the particular methodology that will be applied in the pilot.


The intentional process of developing autonomy to foster people’s ability to represent their interests in a responsible and self-determined way.

Empowerment entails creating conditions for people and communities to understand that they have the power to make choices and transform societies, and this power should not be given away.

If we become aware and choose intentionally how to live our lives respecting and maximising the benefits for our planet, we become the change we want to see in the world.

This kind of autonomy and care for the collective, which the word ’empowerment’ implies, is particularly needed in times of crisis.

Participatory Budgeting

A democratic process that allows citizens to identify, discuss and allocate public finances, focusing mostly on investments.

Participatory Budgeting (PB) is one of the 4 cornerstone typologies of Democratic Innovations that PHOENIX has analysed in detail in its research.

Ever since it was invented in Porto Alegre (Brazil), at the beginning of the 1990s, it spread first in Latin America, and then globally. In Europe, a first wave of participatory budgeting emerged simultaneously at the beginning of the 2000s. As they were mainly consultative and not ambitious enough, most of them did not last long, and the experiences often ended with a political change in local governments.

A second wave developed starting in the 2010s, with methodologies that most often implied consecutive steps: project proposals coming from lay citizens, NGOs and other civil society organisations; discussion with the administration in order to study the feasibility of the projects; discussion between citizens in order to explain their scope; vote opened to all citizens in order to prioritise the projects; implementation of the projects, sometimes including an active involvement of citizens.

Participatory Budgeting is defined by specific criteria:

  • the financial or budgetary dimensions must be discussed;
  • Participatory budgeting is dealing with the problem of limited resources;
  • an institutional body with some power over administration must be involved;
  • it has to be a repeated process;
  • the process must include some form of public deliberation within the framework of specific meetings/forums, and
  • some accountability for the output is required.


Citizens’ Assembly

A gathering of randomly selected citizens who come together to deliberate and make decisions on specific issues.

Citizens’ Assemblies serve as valuable tools for discovering the “best possible answer” to complex and divisive political issues.

Belonging to the category of “deliberative mini-publics”, they enable a representative and diverse cross-section of the population to engage in thoughtful discussions on behalf of the entire community.

This inclusivity is achieved through random selection, which ensures that the assembly accurately mirrors the societal composition, far better than elected bodies.

The convening of Citizens’ Assemblies can take various forms, ranging from civil society initiatives and academic research projects to government-established endeavours. What sets Citizens’ Assemblies apart from other democratic innovations is their strong emphasis on the deliberative process.

This prioritization fosters constructive and thorough debates, making their outcomes more comprehensive and collectively informed.