Citizens´ initiatives in Finland and Estonia

The journey so far


Maarja-Leena Saar, Onni Pekonen, Maarja Olesk, Henna Hiilamo


Finland and Estonia have both established citizens’ initiatives (CIs) as public participation instruments whereby citizens can submit proposals to the national parliament and influence the agenda of political decision-making and public debate. In the space of a decade, citizens’ initiatives have become institutionalised public participation mechanisms in both countries, which citizens regularly use and value.

This working paper examines the evolution, organisation, process and digital infrastructures of CIs in Finland and Estonia. It gives an overview of the legal framework and core characteristics of the participation instrument in both countries, with a particular focus on the similarities and differences in the process of submission, parliamentary discussion and follow-up of the initiatives. Despite similar goals, there are significant differences in the legislation, organisation, process, technical infrastructure and governance of CIs between Finland and Estonia.

The paper also asks what kinds of effects the initiatives and the digital platforms supporting them have had in different arenas, from the parliament’s decision-making process to the public discourse. It highlights that one should go beyond tracking changes in legislation to understand the significance, impacts and success of citizens’ initiatives. The paper illustrates how CIs have not only led to legislative changes but also built awareness, lowered the threshold for public participation and shaped the political agenda and public debate. We present cases from Estonia and Finland to highlight CIs’ various paths to impact, which are sometimes winding and difficult to grasp at first glance.

The CI instruments in Estonia and Finland are undergoing changes to respond to the current challenges of democracy and keep up with technological developments. The paper discusses the ideas for redesigning the instruments that have been put forward in public discussions and presents further proposals to develop them. Based on insights from data, studies and expert opinions of insiders and observers, we seek to distil the lessons learned from the experience in both countries to foster mutual learning, inspire future development and provide food for thought for other countries and actors considering setting up or developing similar participation mechanisms.

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Citizens’ initiatives in Finland and Estonia


The journey so far


Maarja-Leena Saar, Onni Pekonen, Maarja Olesk, Henna Hiilamo

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