The Future of Democracy

IOS Community Day


Across the world, democratic institutions are under pressure. Autocratic leaders are on the rise, civic liberties are eroded and the judiciary and the media are curtailed. According to Freedom House the struggle for democracy may be approaching a turning point. The gap between the number of countries that registered overall improvements in political rights and civil liberties and those that registered overall declines for 2022 was the narrowest it has ever been through 17 years of global deterioration.

On our Community Day, we aim to face these challenges. What is the future of democracy? How can we reinvigorate formal and informal rules, organisations and networks to safeguard and strengthen democratisation? We cordially invite you to ponder and engage in discussions on these pivotal questions, which lie at the heart of the strategic theme Institutions for Open Societies (IOS).

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09.00-09.30       Walk-in with coffee and tea
09.30-11.00       Plenary opening and keynote

Opening by Henk Kummeling: 'Democracy and the Rule of Law: the Citizen in the Squeeze

The day will be opened by Prof. Henk Kummeling, who, in addition to his role as the Rector of Utrecht University, also functions as the chair of the Dutch State Commission on the Rule of Law. This commission is currently investigating how the constitutional state can be strengthened, with a particular focus on safeguarding citizen rights. Prof. Kummeling addresses this topic in his talk on 'Democracy and the Rule of Law: the Citizen in the Squeeze'. 

Keynote by Matthew Flinders: ‘The Future of Democracy: Populism, Pandemics and Positivity’

After the opening, we are honoured to host Matthew Flinders, Professor of Politics and Founding Director of the Sir Bernard Crick Centre at the University of Sheffield, as our keynote speaker. In a provocative lecture titled ‘The Future of Democracy: Populism, Pandemics and Positivity'. Professor Flinders will explore the current debate about the future of democracy. Long-running debates about the 'crisis', 'end' or 'suicide' of democracy have in recent years been overlaid by more specific concerns including the growth of populism, the emergence of 'diploma democracy', and how different countries managed the Covid-19 crisis. The central aim of this lecture, however, is not to add to the doom and gloom surrounding democratic debate but to corral the evidence and utilise a range of insights in order to promote a more positive, inclusive and solution-oriented discussion about the future of democracy.

11.00-11.30       Break
11.30-12.30       Break-out sessions #1

Behaviour and Institutions - From voting only to truly feeling heard

In its simplest form, democracy means that people have a big say when it comes to governance. For many people, however, democracy seems to mean little more than going to the polls for general elections. They may even experience democracy as attempts to control their behaviour without too much regard for what they themselves consider important. Within the Behaviour and Institutions platform, we think about ways in which citizens can feel heard by giving them the opportunity to participate in the realisation of policy plans. During our session, we will report on this with pitches and a short documentary, and actively explore coordinated action with our participants.

This session is hosted by Platform: Behaviour and Institutions

Fair Transitions - Deepening democracy: Representing more-than-human voices for fair transitions?

How can more-than-human voices be represented and heard in the governance of fair transitions? This workshop will take an artistic approach to experiment with different forms of democratic engagement beyond voting and deliberation. We will first share inspiring examples from around the world where more-than-human voices are already being incorporated and recognized, before engaging in a form of improvisational theatre that invites participants to take on roles of more-than-human actors, such as rivers, trees, or animals.

This session is hosted by Platform: Fair Transitions.

Futures of Democracy - Democracy for Future Generations | Democratie voor toekomstige generaties [Language: Dutch]

How can future generations be better represented in our democratic institutions and mechanisms? In this session, we facilitate a multifaceted conversation with representatives from both academia and politics, and especially let the young have their say on current problems and (future) solutions . If you have good ideas and/or are curious about the opinions and possibilities of solutions for future generations, follow our conversation.

Note: This session will be held in Dutch.

This session is hosted by Platform: Futures of Democracy. 

In/Equality - Participate now! The future of voting and participation in/equalities in democracies 

In this panel, we will talk about various challenges to democratic continuity focused on inequalities and voting. First, we will talk about democratic values among new generations of voters in The Netherlands. How much support is there for democratic values, and what are voting intentions among younger generations? What are the inequalities that emerge within this group? And, finally, how could the possible concerns be mitigated? Secondly, we will go into who gets to participate and vote: which people and groups have been excluded or included over time in having the right to vote? And which blind spots of participation still exist that prolong inequality from a human rights perspective? Lastly, to what extent are these democratic values transferred to the voting systems within institutions? In particular, how do the voting systems in Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs) contribute to or hinder democratic principles? How can power disparities among members affect the ability of these organisations to represent their interests and needs? Additionally, how does the inclusion of civil society in decision-making processes influence the overall democratic environment of IGOs?

This session is hosted by Platform: In/Equality

Openness Challenged: the university at risk? - Protecting Academic Freedom in Teaching and Research

Academic freedom constitutes one of the fundamental premises on the basis of which universities operate. It serves to safeguard the opportunity to teach and research a variety of topics. Nevertheless, external – and occasionally even internal – pressures may jeopardise the teaching or research of certain topics deemed controversial in light of public debate. This session examines instances where academic freedom is placed under pressure, and it addresses historical and conceptual issues related to this specific form of freedom. 

This session is hosted by Platform: Openness Challenged: the university at risk?

Open Cities - Openness and Social Justice in Cities

We invite you to our reflexive workshop, where we will delve into the crucial intersections of transparency, inclusivity, and social justice in urban environments. This workshop aims to explore how open practices and policies can pave the way for more just and equitable cities. We encourage you to debate and reflect with us on the theoretical and empirical challenges of ‘Openness, Justice, and Inclusion’ in global and local contexts, unpacking how power relations and epistemic inclusions/erasures are contested in everyday lives of urban residents.

This session is hosted by Platform: Open Cities

12.30-13.30       Lunch
13.30-14.30       Break-out sessions #2

Bottom-up Initiatives for Sustainable Transitions

In this session, our aim is to build bridges between IOS and different research communities within the strategic theme Pathways to Sustainability (PtS). We do so by exploring common ground and shared interests, specifically focusing on the topic of bottom-up initiatives in sustainability transitions. Bottom-up initiatives geared toward achieving sustainability objectives, such as energy cooperatives, sustainable entrepreneurship or food forests, play increasingly important roles in sustainability transitions. Nonetheless, these bottom-up initiatives often face challenges - be they legal, organizational, social, or technological - that hinder their full participation in energy transitions, while substantial potential from other (perhaps less formally structured). We invite IOS and PtS scholars to explore and concretise different potential collaborations to collectively reflect on and address these challenges.

This session is hosted by platform Bottom-up Initiatives for Societal Change.

Contesting Governance - Interdisciplinary Playground (two-hour session)

The Interdisciplinary Playground series is designed to foster interdisciplinary collaboration and dialogue, we see the challenges that you come across working with different disciplines to be a major challenge for successful inter-faculty collaboration under the platform umbrellas. The Playground series consists of play/games-based activities that are intended to capture members’ experiences of interdisciplinary collaboration, help members reflect on the assumptions at the heart of their disciplines, learn more about the structures and priorities of other disciplines and get to know each other all around the theme of Future of Democracy.

Note that this is a two-hour session and will overlap break-out sessions #2 and #3. 

This session is hosted by Platform: Contesting Governance

EU Platform - Developing Scenarios for the Future of Democracy in the EU (two-hour session)

The EU platform will reflect on the future of democracy in the EU. Which scenarios can be envisaged regarding democracy of the EU and in its Member States? The session will comprise short discussion openers, poetry, and small-group interactive discussion to build the scenarios.

Note that this is a two-hour session and will overlap break-out sessions #2 and #3. 

This session is hosted by Platform: EU Platform

Longtermism and Institutional Change - Representation of Future Generations in Democratic Institutions

In this panel discussion, the Longtermism and Institutional Change platform will examine how best to represent the interests of future generations in democratic decision-making, tying in with concerns for ensuring a sustainable and liveable environment for the future. Speakers on the panel will address this question from different disciplinary perspectives, in which they highlight the roles of current generations, communities, and courts as institutions with public power.

This session is hosted by Platform: Longtermism and Institutional Change

Gender, Diversity and Global Justice - Enhancing gender-balanced political representation; fixing institutions, not women!

This session will focus on how women’s representation in politics can be promoted as well as maintained, starting from the premise that it is the institutions that need fixing and not women. It will zoom in on how – political – leadership is understood and visualised; what specific obstacles there are for women in political leadership positions and best practices to overcome these; how a more socially secure climate can be created in which female leadership can flourish; and how political leadership can be transformed in such a way that it values more qualities that are more associated with women. Using the platform’s developed research method of the institutional – symbolical – empirical, the session will involve short pitches, outcome visualisations and a panel discussion that will involve political representatives, civil society and other organisations.

This session is hosted by Platform: Gender, Diversity and Global Justice

Markets and Corporations - Corporate Democracy (two-hour session)

This interactive session on corporate democracy will entail a simulation (or role-play) of the corporate decision-making process in which a range of (conflicting) stakeholder interests are involved. This session is aimed at demonstrating the tension between the interests of shareholders and broader societal values in corporate decision-making, as well as the differences between 'public' and 'corporate democracy'. The case will be based on actual business-cases in which these tensions played a significant role in decision-making (f.i. conflict between Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever, ongoing conflict with certificate owners of Triodos Bank etc.). Participants of this simulation will act as representatives of various corporate stakeholder-groups.

Note that this is a two-hour session and will overlap break-out sessions #2 and #3. 

This session is hosted by Platform: Markets and Corporations. 

14.40-15.40       Break-out sessions #3

Future of Work - Democracy and the labour market: working for the common good

Under the influence of demographic developments such as de-greening and ageing, the labour market is no longer a market where there is always enough supply to fill all positions in society. Shortages will prevail in the coming decades, and the question is how we as a society are going to manage to fill the jobs we consider most important. If we leave it to the market, there may soon be enough people to load and unload your suitcases at Schiphol Airport, but not enough people to take care of your 90-year-old (in-law) parents or keep the daycare centre open. The question is: should/may/can we intervene in this process and who should do so? How far are we willing to go in this? Some advocate more migration, more working hours and the use of more technology to address the problem of labour market tightness, but again, do we leave this to the individual choices of employers and employees or do we need a "visible hand" to pull the strings to ensure that the public interest (also) remains sufficiently in focus in the labour market?

There will be short introductory statements by Prof. Barbara Vis, professor of Politics and Governance from USBO/USG en from Prof. Esther-Mirjam Sent, professor of Economic Theory and Policy at Radboud University and chair of the Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA)/Dutch Labour Party. The session will be moderated by prof. Joop Schippers, one of the coordinators of the Future of Work platform.

This session is hosted by Platform: Future of Work

Security in Open Societies - Civil Disobedience: Right, Resource, or Risk?

More and more people participate in disruptive protests to address their climate concerns. Why do people participate in civil disobedience? When do disruptive actions go too far? And what does the future of (climate) protest look like? Through timely societal examples, recent scientific insights, and interactive exercises, these questions will be addressed. 

This session is hosted by Platform: Security in Open Societies

Open Economy vs. Protecting Democracy in a Public Procurement Context [Language: Dutch]

How open should our economy be to states with different values and interests? And how do we protect our society from hybrid threats arising from trade relations?

Public procurement is one of the arenas in which such hybrid threats may arise. Awarding public contracts to unreliable actors (from unreliable states) can lead to knowledge theft, loss of strategic autonomy, damage to critical infrastructure or worse. In recent years, awareness about these security risks is increasing in the public procurement context.

Not only national security is at stake, also the pursuit of sustainability goals and human rights can be compromised by reliance on certain states. Sustainable growth, in which we not only look at 'purely' economic matters, but also at people and the environment, requires fundamental changes in how we (citizens, companies and contracting authorities) purchase. The government should take the lead and play an exemplary role in this. But how do we deal with tensions between sustainability in terms of environment and human rights? Many of the raw materials and equipment we need for the energy transition come from states which are organised based on different values and where human rights are often unprotected.

After two short pitches, an interdisciplinary panel will engage in a discussion. Our guests include Koen van Lieshout (Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate), Hans Dussel (Rijkswaterstaat), Siem Eikelenboom (Follow the Money), Richard Lennartz (Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations), Giancarlo Carboni (Social Return Bureau, Municipality of Amsterdam) and Ron Nulkes (Directorate General for Digitalization and Government Organization at the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations).

Note: This session will be held in Dutch.

This session is hosted by platform: The Transactional State as an Institution for Good

15.40-16.00       Break
16.00-17.00       Panel discussion: Challenges to modern democracies

Independent media as watchdog against fake news and disinformation. What is the role of academia in protecting democracies worldwide?

Without press freedom, there is no academic freedom. Media freedom has been deteriorating in the larger European region and our open societies. This is an alarming development as freedom of expression and media freedom are a precondition for a well-functioning democracy and an open society. Press freedom and access to independent information are particularly vital in (open) societies in which notions of human rights, democracy and the rule of law are under pressure; they can never be taken for granted and requires constant attention and commitment in every country. What is the role of academia in this all? Is academic freedom in danger as press freedom is under pressure?

In this panel discussions, moderated by Els Aarts, scholars and experts will reflect on these themes. Speakers include UU’s Dr. Catalina Goanta and Dr. Dennis Nguyen, Nada Josimovic (Free Press Unlimited) and Klaas van Dijken (Director of Lighthouse Reports).

17.00    Drinks

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Due to overwhelming demand, we have reached full capacity. If you are still interested, please reach out to us at to be placed on our waiting list. Our apologies for the inconvenience.