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Digital democracy is dead, long live digital democracy

A large part of our daily life takes place in the digital realm. Social media and the 'Internet of Things' influence our private lives and the public sphere. More and more government policy is based on daily data measurements of our behaviour. Citizens, however, can ‘only’ let their voices be heard once every four years in the national and municipal elections. To what extent can digital participation increase public engagement? On Wednesday 7 March, the Rathenau Instituut from The Hague will be organising a (free) workshop on this subject in collaboration with DesignLab University Twente. We asked Pieter van Boheemen - Researcher at the Rathenau Instituut - about digital democracy.

With Digital Democracy DesignLab and the Rathenau Instituut want to explore the extent to which online public participation can strengthen government policy. So far, the results produced by digital democracy have been mixed, the Rathenau Instituut writes on its website.


“Citizens want to play a part in the decision making process on important political issues,” says Van Boheemen. “But in practice, you run into a range of problems.” For example, digital democracy often isn’t properly embedded in current decision-making processes yet, he explains. "That will require more experience and new ideas."

So when does digital participation work? At the request of the European Parliament, the Rathenau Instituut studied 22 initiatives in various countries, learning lessons from the successes and failures.

Pieter van Boheemen, Researcher Rathenau Instituut

Repetition demonstrably improves digital democracy.

Pieter van Boheemen, Researcher Rathenau Instituut

They found that digital participation had to lead to a concrete agenda or decision, for instance, and a clear process leading up to that was needed. “It is important that participants continue to receive feedback about how an issue progresses after they make their contribution.” Digital participation has to be tailored to each individual situation, Van Boheemen believes. “Repetition demonstrably improves it.”

The study carried out by the Rathenau Instituut provides a new overview and will help in taking the next step. “We expect that keeping the lessons we learned during this study in mind will help us develop better solutions. You’ll find out a lot more about this during Digital Democracy.” 

Pieter van Boheemen, Researcher Rathenau Instituut

What makes Design Thinking so exciting is that you’re thinking about solutions rather than problems.

Pieter van Boheemen, Researcher Rathenau Instituut


With this Digital Democracy workshop, the Rathenau Instituut wants to contribute to more successful tools for online public participation.

"What makes Design Thinking so exciting is that you’re thinking about the details of solutions rather than problems. By thinking about and working on the future, you can shape it, as it were," Van Boheemen suggests. "The outcomes of this workshop can be used for new types of policy and research. I am very curious as to what our democracy will look like in the future."


The Digital Democracy workshop will take place on 7 March 2018 at DesignLab University of Twente from 16:00 - 19:00. Ira van Keulen (Senior Researcher at the Rathenau Instituut) and Peter-Paul Verbeek (Professor of Philosophy of Man and Technology, Scientific Co-director of DesignLab) will kick off the event. Afterwards, the participants will be asked to develop prototypes for digital tools for digital democracy. Coffee, tea, fruit and snacks will be provided.

free registration

You can sign up for the workshop Digital Democracy below.

Digital Democracy. 
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