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PAIR3038 Reinventing Democracy: Innovation, Participation and Power

Module Overview

All over the world the ideal of democratic government has higher support than at almost any time in human history. Yet many citizens of democracies are very frustrated with the way the democracy they live in works. It is one thing to recognise the contemporary problems of democracy but another to know what to do about them. The aim of the module is to familiarise students with the best known tools for improving democratic governance, and to consider if and how democracy can be reinvented.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

This module is about practical solutions to the crises afflicting representative democracy. The module introduces students to the world of political reform and invention. We look at some ideas for improving democracy but focus in particular on the practical lessons we can learn by comparing the outcomes of reforms that have actually been tried in various democracies throughout the world. In the last 30 years many governments have experimented with and adopted reforms aimed at better informing and empowering citizens, and better holding rulers to account. Some examples include participatory budgeting, randomly selected mini-publics, civic technologies, different forms of referenda, citizen science, and nudging. Teaching is split between lectures and seminars including simulations and group discussions, as well as offering individual feedback consultations. Students are assessed by two separate submissions. 40% of the grade requires the publication of a case-study for the project. 60% of marks for the course are assessed in an academic essay on topics covered in the the course.

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Develop skills in communicating using information technology and contributing to online crowdsourcing of data
  • Demonstrate an appreciation of different approaches and frameworks to understanding democratic practices and the relationship between citizens and the state (and other public authorities).
  • Distinguish between different democratic traditions and offer theoretically-informed analysis of developments in democratic practice
  • Develop skills in different types of written communication including writing case studies for general audiences.
  • Analyse data on participation and effective government.
  • Learn how to (re)design institutions to improve democratic governance


• Democratic citizenship: Who governs in Modern Democracies? • Barriers to Deep Democracy: The Voice of the Sceptics • The Limits of Elections • Reform and Innovation in Democratic Governance • Participatory Budgeting and the Mass Assemblies • Randomly Selected Mini-publics • Direct Legislation and Plebiscitary Democracy • Civic Technology, E-democracy and Algorithmic Governance • Nudging, Paternalism and Mass Behaviour Change • Citizens, Populists, Elites and Experts: Who are we sick of? • What do Democrats do? From Volunteering to Representing • Size, Democracy and Multi-level Governance • Improving Deliberation, Political Knowledge and Communication • Analysing Participatory Practices and Redesigning Institutions

Special Features

The students will author and contribute case-studies to the ongoing database of participatory governance innovations. This allows students to contribute to a prestigious worldwide project in democratic renewal and provide evidence of their own work online to employers using automatically generated citations. In the past two years we have been able to run field trips to Westminster as part of the course. We will endeavour to do this again but the feature depends on demand and availability of hosts.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

2 weekly facilitated learning sessions taking the form of lectures, discussion groups, simulations and/or practice-based tasks. 5 1-hour fortnightly small-group sessions 2 half-day feedback drop-ins 2 weekly office hours. Timely return of correspondence (2 working days) and marking (11 working days).

Independent Study122
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Enthusiasm and Intellectual Curiosity. If you provide the above the university should be able to provide everything else you need.



MethodPercentage contribution
Case study 40%
Essay  (2000 words) 60%


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework portfolio %

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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