Grassroots innovation and innovation democracy (Briefing)


A briefing for the Friends of the Earth project Big Ideas Change The World

In this thinkpiece 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 in their own right cultivate wider democratic innovation practices.
  2. Grassroots innovations support citizens and activities in 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 increase the general levels of diversity that are important for innovation democracy.

The thinkpiece 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.

A fully-referenced version of this text, published as a STEPS working paper, and a subsequent peer-reviewed journal article are also available.