Research Unit 'Democratic Innovations'


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

A democratic system is an ever-shifting constellation of actors, practices and institutions. In the present moment the elite-driven model of representative democracy is challenged by declining attachment to political parties and citizens’ demands for more involvement.

The Democratic Innovations Research Unit addresses these phenomena in three ways: First, we conceptualize democracy as a system in which participation and representation fulfill democratic tasks such as collective decision-making. Second, we analyse participatory innovations comparatively to comprehend their prospects for addressing the current challenges to democracy. Third, by combining these two approaches we develop scenarios for constellations of representative and participatory procedures fostering a citizen-led future of democracy.  

A New Conceptualization of Democracy
The Research Unit tackles the fundamental questions for arriving at a comprehensive conceptualization of democratic systems, for instance: what are the core conceptual building blocks of a democracy? These conceptual frameworks provide the basis for understanding how different actors, practices and institutions aim at fulfilling democratic tasks. This enables us to comprehend how well existing democratic systems are functioning, as well as how and where it is possible to intervene to reinvent democracy.

Participatory Innovations: Background, Processes & Effects
The Unit researches background, processes, and effects of a wide range of novel forms of citizen participation in will-formation and decision-making. Recent years have seen a boom of these new institutions and procedures fostering the involvement of citizens and civil society. Our research encompasses the breadth of this burgeoning phenomenon, examining various innovations, such as direct democratic and dialogue-oriented procedures. We investigate the background conditions for these innovations, as well as the preferences of citizens and elites towards participation. In addition, we research the effects of participatory innovations: can it mobilize the people who do not usually participate in politics, does it change the extent and quality of citizens’ influence, and can it tackle social and economic inequalities?

Developing Scenarios for the Future of Democracy We combine evidence-based knowledge on participatory innovations with a new conceptualization of democracy. This enables us to develop scenarios for the future of democracy which aim at realizing democratic tasks. 


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