Zentrum für interdisziplinäre Risiko- und Innovationsforschung der Universität Stuttgart

Participation and Deliberation Lab

The ZIRIUS Participation and Deliberation Lab provides a platform for innovative experimental and observational research on deliberation and citizen participation.


The ZIRIUS Participation and Deliberation Lab provides a platform for innovative experimental and observational research on deliberation and citizen participation. Deliberation and citizen participation have moved to the forefront of current research in political science and sociology, but despite myriads of practical applications world-wide we lack robust and systematic knowledge under which conditions these democratic innovations work to which effect. By conducting novel types of lab and survey experiments, by applying advanced research designs to understand deliberation and participation, by employing and developing novel tools to stimulate deliberative activities and by measuring the quality of deliberation in automated ways, the ZIRIUS Deliberation and Participation Lab tries to close this research gap. Moreover, the Lab also consults researchers and practitioners how to run deliberative and participatory events effectively and how to evaluate their performance and their outcomes.

Communication Experiments

Optimal Communication: The goal of this project – funded by the Terra Incognita Fund of the University of Stuttgart - is to test how different communication formats - debate-style formats (“contestatory inquiry”) vs cooperative dialogue formats (“appreciative inquiry”) - affect internal communicative dynamics and outcomes in the context of the famous Trolley-dilemma. The research hypothesis is that epistemic advancement is promoted by debate-style formats whereas common ground is promoted by cooperative dialogue formats. The project brings together experimental research, multi-agent simulation, computer linguistics and artificial intelligence research for the first time.

Echo- vs Deliberative Chambers – Do Biased Online Discussions Threaten Direct Democracy?

This project - sponsored by the Swiss National Science Foundation - will explores how citizens make decision in Swiss direct democracy when exposed to one-sided vs multi-sided and balanced argumentation.

Research team: André Bächtiger, Marc Bühlmann, Marlène Gerber, Anja Heidelberger (University of Bern) and Dominik Wyss

Survey experiments on democratic preferences

What (German) citizens want from deliberative innovations (DFG-project)

Citizen involvement in deliberative forums is frequently discussed with an eye on boosting the legitimacy of democratic decision-making. However, this idea has been radically challenged by Cristina Lafont (2015), arguing that such forums may eventually decrease rather than increase democratic legitimacy. Yet Lafont´s legitimacy challenge has been primarily discussed at a theoretical level, without taking the perceptions of non-participating citizens (´onlookers´) into account. In the project “Was sich Bürger von deliberativen Beteiligungsverfahren wünschen: Eine Online-Umfrage mit einem Präferenzexperiment zur Erfassung perzipierter Legitimitätsvorstellungen”, just funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation - 432370948) puts the “Lafont conjecture” to an empirical test by implementing a conjoint experiment to examine legitimacy perceptions of a representative sample of German citizens. It focuses on a set of institutional design features of deliberative forums such as authorization mechanisms (e.g., binding decisions vs recommendations) or recruitment techniques (random vs self-selection), combining these design features with substantive aspects (issue salience and outcome favorability), attitudinal dispositions of participants (e.g., political disenchantment and general process preferences), participants´experiences with such forums as well as information on the pros and cons of the various design elements of deliberative forums.

Research team: Saskia Goldberg and André Bächtiger

What (German) citizens want from democracy:

In a survey experiment (funded by the NCCR Democracy) with German citizens conducted in 2016, we tested the counterfactual which democratic model - representative, direct-democratic, deliberative or integrated – citizens would prefer if they had the possibility to deliberate about it (in an asynchronous chat; SmartOpinion). Our findings (Goldberg et al. 2019, Political Studies https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0032321719843967) show that preferences on democratic governance models are mainly driven by (situation-specific) issue salience and disenchantment with the actual shape of representative democracy. However, deliberation in itself did not lead to different preferences for governance models than just ‘thinking twice’ about them. We find surprisingly high levels of consistency between basic democratic values and governance choices already before the experiment.

The deliberative survey experiment was also featured in the LSE Blog:

More Infos

Research team: Saskia Goldberg, Domink Wyss and André Bächtiger

Automated measurement tools for discourse quality

For a long time, studying communication processes empirically and assessing the quality of discourse was a highly demanding and time-consuming endeavour, requiring in-depth content analysis and extensive reliability testing. Computer-assisted textual analysis can help to speed up data collection and supersedes reliability testing. This research area will focus on a newly developed machine-learning tool for measuring deliberative quality on the basis of the Discourse Quality Index (DQI), dubbed DelibAnalysis (Fournier-Tombs and Di Marzo Seguendo 2019 https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0165551519871828)

André Bächtiger, Marlène Gerber and Eléonore Fournier-Tombs (2019): Discourse Quality Index (DQI): A Critical Appraisal

Leiter des Participation and Deliberation Lab

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