A Report from Dagstuhl: Democracy in a Network Society

In a castle in a remote village of Dagstuhl, Germany, about a dozen colleagues from the social and computer sciences debated the role that information and communication technologies could play in shaping democratic structures and processes. We co-produced a long set of notes, and then sought to edit this down to a brief overview of the discussion. The abstract of this paper, along with a downloadable copy of the full overview, is posted on SSRN, entitled ‘Machiavelli Confronts 21st Century Digital Technology: Democracy in a Network Society’. It is at: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1521222 I’ve had an earlier post on this event, and would welcome comments on the general topic or on our overview — either would be very welcome as comments on this post.

The Castle at Dagstuhl
The Castle at Dagstuhl


Computer science and informatics have great potential to improve citizen engagement with public officials, voting, access to public information and other democratic processes. Yet progress towards achieving these aims on a wide scale remains slow. A main reason for this lack of progress is that digital technologies create the potential to alter significantly the relative influence of different groups and actors in the political process, and thereby quickly become embroiled in a political debate that crosses and complicates technical discussions. These political conflicts and uncertainties have been made more transparent in applications of the Internet and related Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to support democratic processes. The challenges created by these techno-political tensions, and how to address them, were the overall cross-cutting themes that emerged from the interdisciplinary Dagstuhl Seminar on Democracy in a Network Society, on which this paper is based. The seminar involved a multidisciplinary group of computer and social scientists, legal scholars, practitioners and policy experts who aimed to chart the latest technical approaches to e-democracy and governance. Their intention was not to tell politicians how to maintain and enhance their power with the support of new technologies, in the manner of Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli’s 16th Century adviser to the prince. Instead, participants explored how new technologies could enhance or constrain the power of politicians and the general public, depending on how the technologies and the systems based on them are designed and implemented.


Baer, Walter S., Borisov, Nikita, Danezis, George, Guerses, Seda F., Klonowski, Marek, Kutylowski, Miroslaw, Maier-Rabler, Ursula, Moran, Tal, Pfitzmann, Andreas, Preneel, Bart, Sadeghi, Ahmad-Reza, Vedel, Thierry, Westen, Tracy, Zagorski, Filip and Dutton, William H., Machiavelli Confronts 21st Century Digital Technology: Democracy in a Network Society (December 10, 2009). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1521222

One thought on “A Report from Dagstuhl: Democracy in a Network Society

  1. I learned that access is a major internet issue. Some societies block access through restraining internet access, others because of cultural or economic constrains. The question is how to approximate these societies to internet in ways that would allow doing opinion polls that could influence in broadering internet access.

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