Democracy today is subject to widespread disaffection and cynicism, illustrated for example by historically low voter turnout and high levels of measured distrust of politicians. To a considerable degree, students of democracy lack the tools needed to address the malaise. There is no – and there can be no - magic bullet to address democracy’s many contemporary challenges; no obvious or simple blueprints, and no ready response. The overarching goal of democratic design as an approach is to forge these tools and to provide a guide to their positive use: how for example can democracy in this place, at this time, be more engaging, effective and inclusive? Building on and away from existing models of democracy, the project explores democracy as a critical design challenge rather than a received set of institutions and practices. By generating a coherent set of concepts – above all the flexible sequencing of familiar and innovative institutions to realise core democratic principles such as equality, individual liberty, and transparency – it promises a systematic account of democracy’s constraints and opportunities. The strategy is to create a new framework for modelling a range of innovative forms of democracy. The framework aims to foster new modes of constructive experimentation with innovative democratic designs.
A democratic design is a conception of a procedure for collective decision-making. It comprises a set of ordered practices (institutionalised or non-institutionalised) enacting selected democratic principles, intended to meet or exceed the democratic minimum, be driven by a democratic sensibility, and tailored reflexively according to context and purpose. These key concepts, and their linkages, will be discussed in the seminar. The democratic design approach offers theory-for-practice: a new framework for modelling alternative ways to design democratic procedures. It is at once both pragmatic and principled, aligning the strengths of a number existing insights to build a new and ecumenical tool for rethinking democracy’s potential futures. The project embraces the fact that future democratic systems may be radical departures from present configurations.
A realignment around a design paradigm promises to bridge the theory-empirical divide in the study of democracy, revive a genuinely systemic perspective, draw flexibly on different models (by actively modelling), and create new analytic tools for rethinking democracy in a pluralistic and fast-changing political world.