The Future of Democracy

Which governance structures and forms of decision making enable legitimate and effective systemic change for a sustainable future?

The Future of Democracy

Which governance structures and forms of decision making enable legitimate and effective systemic change for a sustainable future?


In many countries, distrust in public institutions and elites are on the rise; among other things, this has resulted in the increasing support and electoral success of populist, nationalist, and authoritarian leaders, which demonstrates the level of alienation from basic democratic values, procedures, and institutions evident amongst the public. Against this backdrop, the legitimation and effectiveness of traditional parliamentary democracies and their institutions have come into question. But is democracy really too slow to respond to a state of crisis, too much built on consensus mechanisms, and too dependent on dominant media or pressure groups?

Within this program, THE NEW INSTITUTE attends to both the current state of affairs and the future of democracy. We want to explore further how democracy can be reconfigured for the long term. Over the last centuries, democracy has been reinvented many times and taken different forms; it may now once again be time for a fundamental transformation to make democratic decision-making processes and the respective institutions fit for the future – more responsive to contexts, more equitable, and more sustainable. How can we strengthen democratic communities, encourage participation, and modernize democratic institutions? How can we redefine existing political structures and configurations so that they are compatible with a commitment to equity and environmental protection?


  • Conditions for democratization

    • What should we expect from the future when thinking about the form that democracy could take?
    • Is the call for the revitalization of the democratic nation-state nostalgic?
    • Is strengthening centralized, transnational democratic configurations already an ideal of the past?
    • How certain can we be about a digital democratic future, with some ecological tipping points possibly already reached?
    • What primary and secondary social and political effects of climate change, such as environmental migration, just as the transition to renewable energies, will be formative for the political domain?
    • Which democratic configuration is best suited to offset their potential for conflict and also turn them into an emancipatory force?
  • Future of political representation

    • How can established parties be reformed and build new connections to voters at a time when traditional avenues of mobilization are in decline?
    • What institutional reforms are necessary to make the respective parties and parliaments more representative of voters?
    • How could representation be innovatively combined with radical democratic mechanisms of enhanced participation beyond consultation?
  • Enhancing Deliberation and Decision-Making

    • How can we develop new forms of institutionalized debating and advisory structures that are future-oriented?
    • What is the role that AI and Big Data can play in this context?
    • Could social media also give rise to digitally mediated opportunities for institutionalizing participatory civil society solutions and creating new collectives, information technologies, and relevant data?
    • Where could collective and artificial intelligence meet?
    • What are the best ways to implement IT-based solutions to facilitate interactive deliberations and negotiations?

Raisa Galofre, El fuego vivo de la cumbia vive en nosotros (The vivid fire of Cumbia lives within us), from the series Daughters of the Muntu: A Pluriverse, 2015 – ongoing. Courtesy of the artist.

A candle melts in the hand of a woman during a procession, somewhere in the Colombian Caribbean region: The photographic series by Raisa Galofre Daughters of the Muntu offers a glimpse into the presence and stories of Muntu Americanas. This series presents a visual translation of these stories as constellations of interrelated beings. It is inspired by the storytelling by Manuel Zapata Olivella in his novel Changó, el Gran Putas and its foundations in the Muntu concept and Ubuntu worldview. Ubuntu, a Nguni Bantu term meaning "humanity“, is sometimes translated as "I am because we are" (also "I am because you are"), or "humanity towards others" (in Zulu, umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu). In Xhosa, the latter term is used, but is often meant in a more philosophical sense to mean "the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity".

Curatorial Note

Together with the Program Director for The Future of Democracy, Christoph Möllers, a group of fellows took up their fellowships in Hamburg in October 2021. Discussions are currently focusing on representation in the light of the pandemic and climate change. We are currently looking for fellows to join us in the academic years of 2022/23 and 2023/24.



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    The program “The Foundations of Value and Values” is motivated by a recognition that there are differing versions of how society and the economy function – and encourages a thorough thinking through of these various approaches to their logical conclusions.

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  • Socio-Economic Transformation

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  • Changing Mindsets – Changing Behaviour

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    The program “Changing Mindsets – Changing Behaviour” aims to forge novel interdisciplinary and trans-sectoral alliances, drawing together research from neuroscience, psychology, data science, sociology, philosophy and economics, among others.

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    The program “The New Hanse” investigates the relationship between urban digital infrastructures, data justice, and sustainability, supporting the city of Hamburg’s transformation towards climate neutrality with tangible data-driven pilot projects.

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  • Voices from the Past – Lessons for the Future

    How do social movements lead to systemic change, when and why? What can we learn from past protest movements to help us build a better future from the present?

    The program “Voices from the Past – Lessons for the Future” is analyzing key-moments in Europe and beyond, treating change as a generational practice as well as an exercise in memory.

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