Democratic renewal is one of New Labour's central policy initiatives yet its meaning remains ambiguous. This article introduces the other contributions in this volume by exploring three definitions of the subject. First, it defines democratic renewal as a set of practical solutions for the perceived problems of contemporary local democracy: electoral reform, enhanced public participation, improved political management structures and new community leadership. Second, it defines it in terms of broader political, cultural and constitutional change: as an attempt to modify attitudes towards Britain's democratic institutions by engendering higher levels of social capital. Finally, it defines it as a process of creating a new mode of local democracy in which various components of direct, consultative, deliberative and representative democracy are mixed to create a radically different democratic polity.