Working Groups

Civic Participation

For better or worse, government policy impacts most large-scale social problems. Because of this, the decision-making processes inside our democratic institutions are crucial: good processes offer paths for effecting positive social change, whereas bad processes may encourage changes that harm parts of the population. Many recent examples show that existing institutions fail to be responsive to needed change or fail to protect minority rights. Because of this, there is an urgent need to investigate modifications and additions to democratic processes that could improve their performance. Additionally, there is recent concern about the stability of democratic institutions worldwide, and preserving these institutions might require democratic reform. The MD4SG working group on Civic Participation brings together researchers who are passionate about exploring ways to deepen democracies. Crucially, our group connects mathematical views on these questions with perspectives from social science and practical experience.

2023/2024 Syllabus

The advent of large language models (LLMs) such as ChatGPT enables democratic technologies to interface with human language in unprecedented ways, and opens up new analysis techniques for key democratic processes such as deliberation that have previously been hard to analyze. Simultaneously, current LLMs are not transparent, error-prone, and exhibit biases against groups and viewpoints.
This Fall, we will explore the intersection of democracy and LLMs with a line-up of great external speakers, a panel discussion, and hackathons, in which our group members can experiment and collaborate with these cutting-edge technologies. If you’d like to join the group, please sign up here!

2022/2023 Syllabus

In the past year, we invited additional fantastic speakers at the interface of democracy research and practice, connected group members for collaboration, and heard about the research projects of our group members.

Portrait photo of Alberto Alemanno Alberto Alemanno (HEC Paris)Oct 3 and Oct 10Alberto is a professor of EU law at HEC Paris, and much of his academic writing studies policy ideas for overcoming social, health, economic, and political disparities of access in society. Outside of academia, Alberto has been an activist for a wide range of causes, promoting citizen interests in front of EU institutions. Alberto is also the founder and director of The Good Lobby, a nonprofit that supports grass-root movements in pursuing effective advocacy.
Democracy HackathonOct 24Suggest a project pitch (a question that might lead to research, a topic to write about, ….). We’ll group around these pitches and race to make some tangible progress on the pitch. Maybe this can start a new project!
Portrait photo of Moon Duchin Moon Duchin (Tufts University)Nov 14 and Nov 21Moon is a professor of Mathematics at Tufts University. In addition to her work in geometric group theory and geometric topology, she has been a forefront of research on redistricting. Not only has she studied gerrymandering from theoretical and empirical lenses, but she has also been deeply involved in the practice of redistricting: as an expert witness, by advising politicians and the public, and by drawing districts herself.
Hackathon ExperimentationDec 5The subgroups formed in the Hackathon will each perform a short experiment with the group, which will allow us to get hands-on experience with a question the groups have been thinking and reading about.
Portrait photo of Olivia Muza Olivia Muza (University of Rwanda)Feb 20Our group member Olivia will speak about her work on side-selling of contracted sorghum in Zimbabwe, and about the tensions between theory and practice she encountered.
Portrait photo of Manuel Wüthrich Manuel Wüthrich (Harvard)Mar 20Our group member Manuel will present about how to structure and summarize online, text-based discussions.
Portrait photo of Manon Revel Manon Revel (MIT)Apr 3Our group organizer Manon will present her recent thoughts on different extensions and improvements to representative democracy.

2021/2022 Syllabus

Over the past academic year, our main interest was practice: We've been hearing about problems encountered on the ground that computer science and economics have perhaps abstracted away, and about ways in which ideas from these disciplines can contribute to discussions among practitioners and lead to eventual real-world impact. For this purpose, we have invited six outside speakers with experience in driving democratic reform and innovation. Each speaker joined the group for two sessions: In the first session, the speaker presented their work and discussed it with the group. Over the following two weeks, a subset of the group reflected on the speaker's presentation, read up on connected topics, and drew connections to existing work/possible opportunities for work in the mathematical fields. Then, in the second session, this subgroup presented their thoughts to the rest of the seminar and to the invited speaker, sparking a second round of discussions.

Portrait photo of Yves Dejaeghere Yves Dejaeghere (FIDE)Oct 7 and Oct 21Yves is a long-time activist for sortition: He is the executive director of the Federation for Innovation in Democracy Europe (FIDE), a nonprofit think tank advising government authorities on creating citizens' assemblies. He has previously coordinated the Belgian think tank G1000. Recently, Yves and his organizations have helped create the first permanent sortition bodies in different regions of Belgium. In the past, Yves has worked on related questions as a political scientist.
Portrait photo of Diane Silver Diane Silver (FairVote)Nov 4 and Nov 18Diane is the Partnerships Program Coordinator at FairVote, a nonprofit advocating for voting reform and voting rights across the US. Diane has been active in the push for ranked-choice voting, now adopted for all state and federal elections in Alaska and Maine, for party primaries in multiple states, and for many local elections. Diane's broad background spans environmental education, science education, policy making, and advocacy.
Portrait photo of Andreas Nitsche Andreas Nitsche (Interaktive Demokratie)Nov 4 and Nov 18Over a decade ago, Andreas co-founded LiquidFeedback, which is probably the most prominent platform for liquid democracy and uses liquid democracy not only for voting on decisions but also for deliberation. Ever since, Andreas has been thinking, writing, and advocating for integrating liquid democracy into society. Andreas and his nonprofit, the Association for Interactive Democracy, take a broad view on these questions, including, for example, questions of transparency, usability, the protection of minority opinions, and how these tools interact with social polarization.
Portrait photo of Thea Crum Thea Crum (Great Cities Institute)Feb 21 and Mar 7Thea is the Associate Director of the Neighborhoods Initiative at the Great Cities Institute and the Project Director for the Participatory Budgeting Chicago Initiative. Thea has extensive experience running participatory budgeting in Chicago, both in city programs and inside of schools.
Portrait photo of Laurent Ladouari Laurent Ladouari (Starship)Mar 21 and Apr 7After leaving the French public service, Laurent founded a consulting company focused on group decision-making in private companies and government agencies. Laurent developed a method of deliberation, the ephemeral collective, which allows a group of anonymous individuals to collectively write a document in very little time. Laurent led a demonstration of this methodology with our group as participants, in which we collectively deliberated on the question What should be the role of mathematical theory in redesigning democracy?
Portrait photo of Alice Siu Alice Siu (Stanford Center for Deliberative Democracy)Apr 21 and May 2Alice is the Associate Director at Stanford's Center for Deliberative Democracy, a pioneer in the space of deliberative minipublics, which are forums for deliberation among a random sample of constituents. With a background in economics, public policy, political science, and communication, Alice has long studied deliberation as a scientist. In addition, she has advised global policymakers on deliberative minipublics.

Working Group Organizers

Manon Revel PhD student MIT
Paul Gölz Postdoc Simons Laufer Mathematical Sciences Institute, Cornell University

Working Group Members

Anand ShahPredocUniversity of Chicago
Andreas NitschePractitioner and Computer ScientistInteraktive Demokratie
Anson KahngAssistant ProfessorUniversity of Rochester
Darshan ChakrabartiPhD studentColumbia University
Evi MichaPhD StudentUniversity of Toronto
Foulques RenardParticipation practitionerCity of Saint-Denis
Gili RusakPhD studentHarvard University
Gustavo DiasUndergraduate studentUniversity of Chicago
James FoxPhD studentUniversity of Oxford
Jonas IsraelPhD studentTU Berlin
Kanav MehraMasters studentUniversity of Waterloo
Kwame Porter RobinsonPhD CandidateUniversity of Michigan
Lodewijk GelauffPhD studentStanford University
Maaike LosPhD studentUniversity of Groningen
Mark WhitingPostdocUniversity of Pennsylvania
Markus BrillAssistant professorTU Berlin
Nicholas TehPhD studentUniversity of Oxford
Rishi AdvaniPhD studentUniversity of Illinois at Chicago
Sonja KraiczyPhD studentUniversity of Oxford
Stefan ForsterMasters studentVienna University of Technology
Tye LidmanAssociate ProfessorNorth Carolina State University