IWORD Democracy Workshop 2023

General Information:

IWORD is a small interdisciplinary workshop on reimagining democracy. And we mean this very broadly. The idea is to start from scratch, to pretend we’re forming a new country and don’t have any precedent to deal with. And that we don’t have any unique interests to perturb our thinking. The modern representative democracy was the best form of government mid-eighteenth century politicians technology could invent. The twenty-first century is a very different place technically, scientifically, and philosophically. What could democracy look like if it were reinvented today? Would it even be democracy—what comes after democracy?

Some questions to think about:

  • Representative democracies were built under the assumption that travel and communications were difficult. Does it still make sense to organize our representative units by geography? Or to send representatives far away to create laws in our name? Is there a better way for people to choose collective representatives?
  • Indeed, the very idea of representative government is due to technological limitations. If an AI system could find the optimal solution for balancing every voter’s preferences, would it still make sense to have representatives—or should we vote for ideas and goals instead?
  • With today’s technology, we can vote anywhere and any time. How should we organize the temporal pattern of voting—and of other forms of participation?
  • Starting from scratch, what is today’s ideal government structure? Does it make sense to have a singular leader “in charge” of everything? How should we constrain power—is there something better than the legislative/judicial/executive set of checks and balances?
  • The size of contemporary political units ranges from a few people in a room to vast nation-states and alliances. Within one country, what might the smaller units be—and how do they relate to one another?
  • Who has a voice in the government? What does “citizen” mean? What about children? Animals? Future people (and animals)? Corporations? The land?
  • And much more: What about the justice system? Is the twelfth-century jury form still relevant? How do we define fairness? Limit financial and military power? Keep our system robust to psychological manipulation?

This is just a start.

The Workshop does not have a formal paper submission process. Participation in the Workshop is by invitation. Everybody who attends also participates in the discussion. Invited scholars do not need to prepare a new manuscript for the Workshop; rather, they are encouraged to present their current (or their favorite, or their most representative) research, which—given the eclectic and engaging nature of the group—usually stimulates interesting discussions, and has frequently generated new joint research projects.

Organizer: Bruce Schneier.

Sponsors: Harvard Kennedy School Ash Center, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center, Knight Foundation.


IWORD runs for for two days, Tuesday and Wednesday, December 12 and 13, 2023, at the Harvard Kennedy School. There is a welcome reception the evening of Monday, December 11. Everyone is expected to give a short talk/presentation on some aspect of the workshop topic. I’ll group everyone into panels, with ample time for questions and conversations. Four panels a day times two days means forty-eight people max. We’ll have a welcome reception the night before, and dinners both nights. The goal is to maximize cross-fertilization.

IWORD 2022

IWORD 2022 was held December 7-8, 2022. For a report on the workshop, see this blog post. The first ten comments are a summary of the discussions.