Research Unit "Democratic Innovations"


Research Unit 'Democratic Innovations' 


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

Welcome to the website of the Research Unit ‘Democratic Innovations’ at Goethe University Frankfurt.  The Research Unit was founded in 2012 by Prof. Brigitte Geissel, who has been chairing the Unit since then. The international and transdisciplinary Research Unit pools expertise on new forms of democracy and cooperates with many scholars worldwide. It investigates democratic innovations in the context of representative democracy using different theoretical and methodological approaches. Furthermore, it supports practitioners and policy-makers in their research for democratic renewal.  

Let us explain our approach in more detail: A democratic system is an ever-shifting constellation of actors, practices and institutions. Currently, the elite-driven model of representative democracy is challenged by a fundamental crisis and increasing demands for more and different kinds of political involvement. We address these phenomena in three ways: First, we conceptualize democracy in a novel way. Second, we analyse participatory innovations, their backgrounds and effects comparatively. Third, we develop scenarios for the future of democracy.   

A New Conceptualization of Democracy 

The Research Unit tackles the fundamental question of what democracy actually means. We define democracy as a system that provides inclusive, collective will-formation and decision-making.  Such a system can look very different, it can include elections and representatives, but also many other actors, practices and institutions.  

Participatory Innovations, Background  & Effects 

The Unit examines a variety of democratic innovations including their background and effects. Currently, we experience a boom of these new practices 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, we examine the preferences of citizens and elites towards participation, and we scrutinize their effects. 

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.

Organigram of Research Unit