March 14 – 19 , 2021, Dagstuhl Seminar 21111

CANCELLED Challenges and Opportunities of Democracy in the Digital Society

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this seminar was cancelled. A related Dagstuhl Seminar was scheduled to September 4 – 9 , 2022 – Seminar 22361.


Abraham Bernstein (Universität Zürich, CH)
Anita Gohdes (Hertie School of Governance – Berlin, DE)
Beth Simone Noveck (New York University, US)
Steffen Staab (Universität Stuttgart, DE)

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Digital technologies amplify and change societal processes. So far, society and intellectuals have painted two extremes of viewing the effects of the digital transformation on democratic life. While the early 2000s to mid-2010s declared the “liberating” aspects of digital technology, the post-Brexit events and the 2016 US elections have emphasized the “dark side” of the digital revolution. Now, explicit effort is needed to go beyond tech saviorism or doom scenarios. A good example is ACM’s Global Technology Policy Council, which links the computing community with policymakers.

In this Dagstuhl Seminar, we diversify participants to include computer science, social sciences (political science, sociology), communication, law, governance, politics, and policy. This selection involves disciplines and practitioners who are driven by rethinking and improving democracy in the digital society, but ensures that their perspectives are dissimilar. What we want to retain is the diversity of approaches; what we want to change is the degree of collaboration across the disciplines. Transdisciplinary collaboration will increase if we formulate problem definitions on which we can work together naturally. Thus, this seminar starts by agreeing to answer to the challenges of digital society with realistic optimism, and ends by establishing joint practices in academia, public education, and policymaking. In contrast to more traditional, computer science focused seminars, this one is highly transdisciplinary. Key areas of interest that will be covered in this seminar will touch on the challenges and opportunities of online platforms, online participation, and online deliberation. As output, we yield integrated research agendas, common problem definitions, next-step strategies, and targeted dissemination channels.

In order to achieve a thorough integration of perspectives, we will start the seminar with six key talks on the first day that allows all participants to receive input from scholars (4 from the disciplines) and practitioners (2 from politics and policy). This starting point intends to create shared awareness and priorities among empirical problems from the citizen and policy perspective, who are the main subjects of digital society and our concerted efforts towards improving digital society. This is followed by breakout sessions in clusters that are structured according to five pillars of E-Democracy: 1) Safeguards, 2) Involvement, 3) Co-Design, 4) Stability, and 5) Experimental testing. Participants will freely move between these breakout groups over the course of the remaining three days (day 2-4), which will be concluded with breakout group-wise outlooks on the 4th day, and finally an overall outlook on the last day. In between the breakout group sessions, the seminar will additionally interject “overview sessions” that are given by the different disciplines with requirement-giving “impulses” from practitioners (politicians, NGOs, activists) in order to retain the overall focus on real-life problems and to not lose the intended approach of pragmatism and problem-solving.

Breakout groups will respectively carry the following five themes of E-Democracy and will include, but not be limited to, the following foci.

  1. Guaranteeing safeguards: Ethical blind spots of digitalization
  2. From affected to involved: Digital entry barriers
  3. Redesign for and by citizens, not just simplify: Accounting for regional and national differences during and despite digitalization
  4. Agility vs. stability: Participation hindered or abused by upscaling through digital technology
  5. Resources and the willingness to test on a small scale: Experiments and validation checks

The concrete final outcome will be to define goals for enabling and regulating democracy in digital society and to formulate strategic project ideas to be submitted to national and international policy makers.

Motivation text license
  Creative Commons BY 3.0 DE
  Abraham Bernstein, Anita Gohdes, Beth Simone Noveck, and Steffen Staab

Related Dagstuhl Seminar


  • Society / Human-computer Interaction


  • Computer Science
  • Political Science
  • Democracy
  • Society
  • Regulation
  • Large-scale Deliberation
  • Large-scale decision making
  • Co-Design


In the series Dagstuhl Reports each Dagstuhl Seminar and Dagstuhl Perspectives Workshop is documented. The seminar organizers, in cooperation with the collector, prepare a report that includes contributions from the participants' talks together with a summary of the seminar.


Download overview leaflet (PDF).

Dagstuhl's Impact

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Furthermore, a comprehensive peer-reviewed collection of research papers can be published in the series Dagstuhl Follow-Ups.