Grassroots innovation and innovation democracy

Working Paper

STEPS Working Paper 89

In this working paper we introduce an area of activity that has flourished for decades in all corners of the globe, namely grassroots innovation for sustainable development. We also argue why innovation in general is a matter for democracy. Combining these two points, we explore how grassroots innovation can contribute to what we call innovation democracy, and help guide innovation so that it supports rather than hinders social justice and environmental resilience.

We suggest it does so in four related ways:

  1. Processes of grassroots innovation can help in their own right to cultivate the more democratic practice of innovation.
  2. Grassroots innovations can support citizens and their activities in more general ways that contribute to wider democracy.
  3. Grassroots innovations create empowering ‘sociotechnical configurations’ that would otherwise be suppressed by existing innovation systems.
  4. Grassroots innovations can help nurture general levels of social diversity that are important for democracy in its widest sense.

The working paper finishes with a few suggestions for how societies committed to innovation democracy can better support and benefit from grassroots innovation activity. Action for deeper grassroots participation in innovation democracy has to work on culture, infrastructure, training, investment, and openness.

An earlier version of this working paper, with lighter referencing, appeared originally in the Big Ideas series of ‘thinkpieces’ organised by Friends of the Earth. A subsequent peer-reviewed article has also been published in the Journal of Self-Governance and Management Economics.