Press release

The Governance Report 2017 spotlights solutions to democratic malaise

Launch on 8 May features keynotes by Katarina Barley, Jan-Werner Müller and Claus Offe.

Berlin, 5 May 2017 - While emerging threats to democracy are in the spotlight these days, The Governance Report 2017, published by Oxford University Press, offers a rich repertoire of measures against democratic malaise. Rather than lamenting the many challenges, the Report underscores the need for government and citizens to care for democracy, and to consider the many options for greater democratic resilience available to them.

The Report’s findings will be discussed by Katarina Barley, Secretary-General of the SPD, Jan-Werner Müller, Professor of Politics at Princeton University and the Report’s co-author Claus Offe, Professor Emeritus of Political Sociology on 8 May at the Hertie School in Berlin. Watch the highlights from the event.

Democracies are not to be taken for granted, and they are neither passive nor constant; rather they are dynamic systems requiring calibration and innovation for adjusting to changing circumstances.  As co-author Claus Offe argues, such needs arise when the two defining features of democracy ­– collective self-determination through popular sovereignty and the rule of law as its institutional framework – are out of balance.

Such is the case today in many democracies, and the innovations highlighted in the Report can help re-balance.  These measures fall into four main categories: direct democracy measures initiated by governments “from above” to respond to claims by political movements and civil society; citizen engagement initiatives “from below” to bring greater voice to those otherwise excluded; electoral reforms to improve access opportunities for voting; and institutional provisions to strengthen the capacity for open and fair democratic processes.

Specifically, these could be referendums, deliberative assemblies, or co-governance like participatory budgeting, and similar measures that bind citizens into decision-making processes. Or they could take the form of voting quotas for minorities, automatic voter registration or lowering the voting age, online advocacy or ways of channelling protest and dissent into a democratic process, among others.

These innovations can help broaden the consensus for policies and thwart special interests, make it easier for disadvantaged groups to vote, or for grassroots groups to garner support. They can increase legitimacy and trust in government policies, spark new perspectives and create ownership for citizens.

Not all innovations can be considered best practices, however. Referendums can backfire, assemblies can be too complex for decision-making, and quotas can restrict the free choice of voters. Thus, innovations that are successful in one context may not be in another.

“The Report shows that finding remedies to the contemporary malaise of democracy is a process of trial and error that requires experimentation and adaptation,” says Helmut Anheier, President of the Hertie School and co-author.  “But such efforts are the way to great resilience. Democracies fail when no-one cares, when they enable populists to take advantage of weaknesses. As long as democracies work to perfect an often imperfect system, they can inoculate themselves against many ills.”


<link en governancereport govreport-2017>The Governance Report 2017, ed. Hertie School, OUP 2017, is authored by a group of experts assembled by the Hertie School. It is the fifth in a series of annual reports, each highlighting specific governance challenges and solutions. The authors of the Report include Helmut K. Anheier, Claus Offe, Daniel Smilov, Didi Kuo, Thamy Pogrebinschi, Matthias Haber, Ewa Atanassow, Ira Katznelson, Wolfgang Merkel, Donatella Della Porta, Andrea Felicetti, Nina Hall, Sonja Kaufmann and Regina A. List.

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The presentation of The Governance Report 2017 takes place on 8 May, 12:30 to 2:00 pm at the Hertie School in Berlin with Helmut Anheier, Katarina Barley, Jan-Werner Müller and Claus Offe, moderated by Henrik Enderlein.

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The Hertie School is a private university based in Berlin, Germany, accredited by the state and the German Science Council. It prepares exceptional students for leadership positions in government, business, and civil society. Interdisciplinary and practice-oriented teaching, first-class research and an extensive international network set the Hertie School apart and position it as an ambassador of good governance, characterised by public debate and engagement. The school was founded at the end of 2003 as a project of the Hertie Foundation, which remains its major partner.

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