Another Democratic Future is Possible

We are an international, non-profit and non-partisan research and action institute.

We believe in a more just, joyful, and collaborative future, where everyone has meaningful power to shape their societies. We work to shift who has power and how we take decisions in government and in institutions of daily life like workplaces, schools, and museums.

We are an international knowledge hub on deliberative democracy. We create tools and resources to build the field and experiment with innovative governance approaches. We advise on the design and establishment of new democratic institutions, processes, and spaces, including Citizens’ Assemblies.

We want more people to see the democratic potential of sortition (selecting decision makers by lottery), deliberation, and participation for strengthening trust, reducing polarisation, and improving decision making. We believe that these principles enable us to be with complexity, channel our collective wisdom, and find common ground.


Where we want to get to, and the role we play

Scaling the field

  • Exponentially increase the number of high-quality Citizens’ Assemblies and other deliberative forums with decision-making power that are embedded in a systematic way.
  • Increase the number of organisations - from workplaces, unions, schools, universities - embedding portion, deliberation and participation into their governance and ways of working.
  • Our role as a field-builder is to equip more people and organisations to have the knowledge, skills, and infrastructure to be able to design, implement, and evaluate Citizens’ Assemblies and other democratic innovations. This work is in service of bigger aims: we want more people to have agency, to trust one another and their institutions, and to overcome polarisation. 

Standards & innovation

  • Uphold high standards.
  • Push the field of democratic innovation to continue evolving, experimenting, and learning.
  • We are one of only a small number of organisations in the field working internationally, and so a key element of our work is to cross-pollinate, share learning and set high standards. 
  • We draw on best practices, adapt to and learn from local contexts, tap into our extensive networks of experts and practitioners, and continually test and evaluate new approaches, technology, spaces, and institutions. 

Creative storytelling

  • Give people hope that another democratic future is possible.
  • Strengthen demand for democratic systems change.
  • We show this by doing - through our projects on the ground; through storytelling - about the impacts of Citizens’ Assemblies on Assembly Members and on legislation; and through our creative collaborations with curators, artists, architects, museums, and other cultural institutions on exhibitions, installations, and public programming. 

What is the problem we are trying to solve?

4 billion …the number of people who will go to the polls this year.

2024 is being framed as a “mega-election” year, with all eyes on the four billion people eligible to go to the polls across the globe. The main political fault line is between democracy and autocracy. How did we get to such a point, where we’ve exited the realm of substantive policy debates to focus on defending the foundations of democratic life? 

Rising authoritarianism is the unintended outcome of the current democratic political system. Large parts of society are legitimately withdrawing their consent from a representative system that has failed to represent them and left them feeling left behind in the globalised world, not in control of their lives, living under the pressures of changing climate and insecurity, and experiencing war fatigue. Autocratic actors exploit the flaws of the current democratic system and people’s feelings of disillusionment. 

Zooming out of 2024 to the bigger picture, we see the deep roots of the democratic crisis as people feeling a lack of agency to shape their lives, their communities, and the organisations which they are part of - from workplaces to schools and school boards, cultural institutions, banks, and local associations amongst others.

What’s the solution we’re proposing?

At a time when the debate is between defending democracy and choosing autocracy, we believe that we cannot merely defend the status quo. Reforms to voting methods or to party financing might be important for the short term health of our systems, but they do not tackle the deeper root problems. 

Democracy needs to be renewed with governance innovations that genuinely shift who has power and how decisions are taken. 

It’s why we believe in the power and value of the principles of sortition (representation by lottery), deliberation, and participation, which are manifest in deliberative processes and institutions, such as Citizens’ Assemblies, and can be applied to the governance and workings of political systems and a wide spectrum of organisations - from schools and universities, to banks, corporations, and cooperatives, as well as cultural institutions including museums, and others. 

Deliberative Assemblies bring together diverse and broadly representative groups of people for extended periods of time, creating the epistemic conditions for them to be able to consider complex policy and political issues, and to find common ground. This does not mean that everybody is in 100% agreement on everything. That is not possible, nor arguably even desirable. But the threshold of agreement necessary for a proposition to be adopted by the group is often around 70%. 

To date, the OECD has counted around 700 examples of representative deliberative processes like Citizens’ Assemblies for policy making around the world. 

They typically last at least 40 hours, often more. They are skilfully and impartially facilitated. People define their shared values, and they spend many hours learning and interacting with experts, stakeholders, and people with lived experience of an issue, which entails a large breadth and diversity of information. 

We have a wealth of evidence today that Citizens’ Assemblies are effective and democratic – leading to better decisions by leveraging our collective intelligence (the principle that more diverse groups come up with better ideas than more homogeneous groups) – and that they are fair and legitimate. They also have a significant impact both on Assembly Members, who are increasingly likely to become more civic-minded and politically engaged, and policy and legislative changes (see the seminal OECD “deliberative wave” study co-authored by DemocracyNext’s Claudia Chwalisz and Ieva Cesnulaityte, with references to literature, data, and examples). 

The development of democracy has always evolved, and we need to keep innovating. To address the challenges of today, placing greater power in the hands of institutionalised Citizens’ Assemblies—in citizens themselves—can help to address the shortcomings of the current paradigm.

Beyond the increasing numbers of policy makers and elected officials interested in Citizens’ Assemblies, there is also high public demand for them. Pew Research Center data released in September 2023 on US citizens’ take on politics reports that ‘A little more than a year before the presidential election, nearly two-thirds of Americans (65%) say they always or often feel exhausted when thinking about politics’, furthermore ‘when asked to sum up their feelings about politics in a word or a phrase…79% use negative or critical words, with “divisive” and “corrupt” coming up most frequently’.   

However, there is also a hunger for a less polarising, more hopeful story about democracy. On average, 79% of respondents in the US think that it is important for governments to create Citizens’ Assemblies where citizens debate issues and make recommendations about national laws (Pew). 73% of respondents want those Assemblies to have decision-making authority on laws. 

We recognise that Citizens’ Assemblies are not a silver bullet solution. 

Yet we believe that they need to be a central pillar to the democratic transformation needed, connected to other deliberative and participatory initiatives and other democratic reform efforts. There is no simple shortcut to solving the deep and difficult problems of agency, dignity, belonging, complexity, curiosity, and trust. It requires time and intentional processes, structures, and spaces that can enable a systemic shift.

Citizens’ Assemblies are not a replacement to elected politicians, but they do need serious political commitment and investment and should be integrated into decision-making cycles to have a genuine impact on policies and public decisions. There is a real question of power involved, and of the changing relationship that needs to occur between people, politicians, and public administrations in a renewed democracy that gives people more agency in shaping the decisions that affect their lives.

Beyond politics, we are also interested in the transformative potential of deliberative democracy and systemic changes that shift power and transform relationships for the long run within our major institutions and corporations. It’s why we are working with cultural and economic institutions, and seek to expand to working with educational, financial, and other organisations of public life as well.

Currently the field of practitioners working in deliberative democracy and Citizens’ Assemblies is relatively small. As interest grows, our role as an international field-builder is to enable as many people and organisations as possible to share a vision, hold the relevant skills and knowledge, have the capacity to experiment and innovate, and evaluate the impacts on people, policy, and society.  

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