The Democracy Files

The Democracy Files is a resource of collected articles connected to Design for Democracy, an education-based research program that formally started in the fall of 2016. The aim of the project is to develop the next generation of Design for Democracy. We think developing democracy is about practice and culturing rather than about theory. In short, it is about design. Design can play a crucial role in the development of the next generation of democracy.

Victor Margolin has been important in maintaining the agenda and provides an excellent overview in this lecture from 2012.

Design for Democracy is not new, and we need to build on the existing work. The Democracy Files is a collection of articles about democracy seen from our perspectives as designers. It does not claim to be a collection of fulfilling texts judged from the view of, let’s say, political science. The files are under construction, and we hope to be able to sort the sources in a way that makes them especially useful for people engaged in design for democracy. The collection is put together by Harold Nelson and Birger Sevaldson with input from others. Please help with collecting relevant and important texts by sending them to birger.sevaldson@aho.no. If you have contributions and comments, we are more than happy to receive them.


According to Ezio Manzini based on Victor Margolin

1) Design of democracy

It addresses the structural elements that function as frames and regulators of human action in a democratic system. It focuses on institutions (such as branches of government, agencies, bureaus, courts, and offices) and procedures (such as laws, regulations, rules, and protocols).

2) Design for democracy:

it increases the opportunities for citizens to participate in deliberative processes. It focuses on transparency (which enables citizens to be aware of the ongoing process of governance) and deliberative methods (which means the opportunity to be better involved in decision-making processes).

3) Design as democracy

Added by Manzini

it sets a stage on which diverse actors can come together and democratically collaborate in shaping their present and future world. It engages diverse people and publics in co-design and co-production processes concerning different aspects of their everyday life.

4) Design in democracy

It refers to all the design initiatives that are particularly responsive to the goals of democracy. It may deal with the provision of human rights and fundamental freedoms (such as access to food, shelter, health care, and education) and, more in general, with the transition towards a more resilient, fair and sustainable society.


The EIU Democracy Index 

The Democracy Index is an index compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit, that measures the state of democracy in 167 countries, of which 166 are sovereign states and 165 are UN member states. The index is based on 60 indicators grouped in five different categories measuring pluralism, civil liberties, and political culture. In addition to a numeric score and a ranking, the index categorizes countries as one of four regime types; full democracies, flawed democracies, hybrid regimes and authoritarian regimes.

Five categories:

  • Electoral process and pluralism
  • Civil liberties
  • Functioning of government
  • Political participation
  • Political culture

There are 60 indicators at the end of this document. It is from 2007, so this might have changed, but it gives a picture of what defines democracy in their mind.


These indexes seem to ignore local democracy, participation and workplace democracy. The measurement of democracies in practice seems inadequate.

Norway is number 1 on several of these rankings. However, this does not mean that there is no room for a lot of improvement. Some suggestions for fields to work with are:

  • Information. How to help the population to understand society?
  • How to understand the political system? Many people are unaware of their rights and the possibility of influencing local democracy.
  • How to understand the economic system in an age of globalization? Etc.
  • Long-term decision-making. How can design help with making long-term decisions tangible and long-term consequences of short-term decisions transparent?
  • Local democracy and participation. Typically, the indexes mostly concern high-level government and voting. Democracy also exists between voting and in addition to voting. This is probably where democracy can be developed the most and where it is the most needed.

Varieties of Democracy

Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) is a new approach to conceptualizing and measuring democracy. We provide a multidimensional and disaggregated dataset that reflects the complexity of the concept of democracy as a system of rule that goes beyond the simple presence of elections. The V-Dem project distinguishes between seven high-level principles of democracy:

  1. electoral
  2. liberal
  3. participatory
  4. deliberative
  5. egalitarian
  6. majoritarian
  7. consensual

V-DEM collects data to measure these principles from the majority of countries in the world and analyses them according to over 400 indicators.

Reporters without borders

Another relevant rating is the one by Reporters without Borders. This reflects the same tendencies as the democracy rankings. In a similar way as V-DEM, it collects data through a wide network.

Designing Freedom by Stafford Beer


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About Systems Oriented Design

About Systems Oriented Design

The main mission of SOD is to help designers to become better at dealing with very complex problems. Complex problems are described as problem fields, networks of problems, wicked problems and problematiques.

SOD is open source

SOD is open source

If your project corresponds to all or most of the core parameters, you are welcome to reference it as a SOD project.

The Mind Shifts of SOD

The Mind Shifts of SOD

We need to make several small shifts in our understanding to truly grasp systems thinking in general and to start to become systemic designers.