It’s hard not to feel that the democratic process in the U.S. (and around the world) has been corroded, in numerous regards. According to a Pew Research Center poll in April 2018, a majority of Americans on both sides of the political spectrum agree that there need to be significant changes to the design and structure of our democracy. Questions have been raised about polarization and a loss of civility, misinformation and news bubbles, the influence of money in politics, gridlock, gerrymandering, voter eligibility and participation, declining information about local candidates and issues, executive power, and more.
Democracy Lab provides an opportunity for the talented, civically-engaged students at Princeton to rise to these challenges with innovative solutions. Teams of students will meet regularly throughout the year to study the issues, learn techniques used by social entrepreneurs to unleash creative problem-solving, and design a solution to a problem of their choosing, whether it be a program to foster respectful dialogue between people of opposing viewpoints, a campaign or app to improve democratic participation, an algorithm for more neutrally drawing districts or spreading news on social media, or some other creative ideas yet to be discovered until our participants set their sights on them. Democracy Lab will begin with introductions by experts on the Princeton faculty to different problems facing democratic processes today. Teams will then select a problem they would like to address and will be guided through the process of examining the issue (largely by interviewing and observing people affected by it) and then analyzing the data, brainstorming ideas, and, to the extent possible, prototyping and implementing proposed fixes.
Democracy Lab will also be accompanied by a speaker series open to all. In Fall 2018, the schedule is as follows (all talks will be held at 6:00pm over dinner):
Tuesday, October 2 - Chris Achen, "How Well Intentioned Reformers of Democracy Go Wrong"
Thursday, October 11 - Nolan McCarty, "Polarization: Facts for Reformers"
Thursday, November 15 - Paul Starr, "The Media and Democracy: What Went Wrong? What Can Be Fixed?"
Thursday, December 6 - Lauren Wright, "Star Power: Celebrity Politicians and the Future of Democracy"
If you have questions about Democracy Lab, please contact Matthew Lazen, the Director of Studies at Butler, at email@example.com.