Research Unit 'Democratic Innovations'

Political Participation and Representation in the 21st Century

”The democracy of our successors will not and
cannot be the democracy of our predecessors.
Nor should it be.”

Rationale of the Research Unit

The Research Unit on Democratic Innovations (Forschungsstelle Demokratische Innovationen) focuses on fundamental transformations of contemporary democracy. Purely representative and elite-driven democracy is changing towards increasing citizens’ involvement in politics. We reassess, conceptualize, and examine current challenges as well as existing democratic innovations in comparative perspective and develop prospects for the future of democracy. In our interdisciplinary work, we do not adhere to a specific theoretical or methodological school. Most of our research combines theories of representative democracy with deliberative and participatory concepts, and we preferably apply a mixture of qualitative and quantitative methods.

Established and new democracies lay at the core of our research. Our findings on how democratic tasks can be achieved with various combinations of democratic instruments and procedures are, however, topical for both democracies and political systems transitioning towards democracy.


Main Research Areas

  • Challenges of Democracy

  • Democratic Innovations: Processes & Effects

  • Future of Democracy


Challenges of Democracy

The Research Unit analyses the diverse challenges of current democracies (e.g. Gherghina/Geissel 2015; Geissel/Newton 2012; Geißel/Joas 2013). The “crisis of democracy”, “the end of representative politics” (Tormey 2015), and even the “death of democracy” (Keane 2009) have been declared recently. Democratic institutions, developed in the 19th and 20th century, seem to fit no longer to current societies. The concept of political representation via selection of candidates from competing parties referred to societies with relatively homogenous groups and class cleavages, e.g. workers, farmers, employers. However, in the 21st century these groups and class cleavages have blurred boundaries, and accordingly voting preferences are no longer based on or connected to respective parties. These ‘old’ electoral mechanisms are today challenged through denunciations of misrepresentation and decreasing voter turnout as well as political trust – to mention just a few challenges. The Research Unit scrutinizes these challenges.

DFG/ANR-Project: (New) Political Representative Claims: A Global View (France, Germany, Brazil, India, China)
Link to project website


Democratic Innovations: Processes & Effects

The Research Unit examines processes and effects of (novel) forms of participation. Political will-formation and decision-making are no longer limited to elected bodies of representatives, but can be described as multi-faceted procedures (e.g. Geißel/Neunecker/Kolleck 2015; Hess/Brehme/Geissel 2015, Gherghina 2015). We experience a boom of new institutions and procedures fostering the involvement of citizens and civil society in order to complement representative democracy - e.g. referenda or dialogue-oriented citizen assemblies (e.g. Geissel/Newton 2012; Geißel/Joas 2013). However, systematical analysis is just starting.  Our agenda is to broaden evidence-based knowledge on the various participatory processes and increase our understanding of their effects.

META-DE: Ergebnisse dialogorientiert-partizipativer Verfahren - Metaanalytische Pilotstudie
Link to project website


Future of Democracy

The Research Unit of Democratic Innovations develops innovative scenarios for the future of democracy (e.g. Rinne 2013). We are convinced that democracy is in a “process of transition from one type to another“ and that it will “survive, but only by changing” (Schmitter 2015: 35, 32). Debates about the future of democracy are currently in vogue (e.g. Alonso et al 2011). However, integrated, normatively as well as empirically convincing scenarios for the future of democracy are missing. The Research Unit aims at filling this gap. It innovates how the future of democracy might look like, combing deliberative and participatory procedures with institutions of representative democracy.
Dissertation project of Jonathan Rinne


Organigram of Research Unit


Visiting Scholars

Democratic Innovations Research Unit is activily engaged to support the academic exchange in the research field. Among other activities the Research Unit regularily hosts visiting scholars in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. More information