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As an abstract quality in personal behaviour, initiative comprises the ability to initiate: to start an action, including coming up with a proposal and giving or helping without first being requested to do so.

In political science, the initiative (also known as popular or citizen's initiative) provides a means by which a petition signed by a certain minimum number of registered voters can force a public vote on a proposed statute, constitutional amendment, charter amendment, or ordinance. It is a form of direct democracy.

The initiative may take the form or either the direct or indirect initiative. Under the direct initiative, a measure is put directly to a vote after being submitted by a petition. Under the indirect initiative, a measure is first referred to the legislature, and then only put to a popular vote if not enacted by the legislature. In US usage, a popular vote on a specific measure is referred to as a referendum only when orginating with the legislature. Such a vote is known, when originating in the initiative process, as an 'initiative', 'ballot measure' or 'proposition'.

The initiative is only available in a certain minority of jurisdictions. For example:

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The term initiative also appears in games such as chess and in military operations. "Taking the initiative" in this context can serve as a euphemism for attacking.

In role playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons;, initiative is the order in which characters take actions.