Triggered by demands for more direct and participatory forms of decision-making, governments, civil society organisations, researchers, and individual citizens are exploring new forms of local governance. This search is given extra weight due to the budget cuts that many governments face, which erode the possibilities of existing arrangements and institutions and force governments to delimit their role in public affairs and social welfare. An extensive debate and a whole range of initiatives can be found under the umbrella of terms like the Big Society, Active Citizenship or Do-Democracy. Pleas for novel governance approaches can come from many directions and can be pushed forward by various organisations, both public and private. Reflecting on recent developments in local governance in the Netherlands and drawing on particular case studies, we show that the quest for novel approaches might not always be successful. Pleas for novelty can in fact delimit and prevent innovation and reduce the potential of civil society to pick up new tasks and responsibilities. Pushing for innovation can have negative consequences if it lacks a more substantial, contextualized perspective on problems and possible alternatives, and is merely looking for something new because it is new or if it is pushed by organisations whose role in a new arrangement will be limited.

Presentation given by Albert Aalvanger at the Living Knowledge Conference that took place 9-11 April 2014 in Copenhagen.