Looking ahead: The future of the digital public sphere and the challenges for democracy


Foto Kai Unzicker
Dr. Kai Unzicker
Senior Project Manager
Foto Charlotte Freihse
Charlotte Freihse
Project Manager


Winston Churchill is said to have once said that predictions are difficult, especially when they concern the future. As true as this sentence is, it should not prevent us from looking ahead. All too often, politics and society are preoccupied with solving the problems of the past in the present instead of dealing with the challenges of the future today. Dynamic fields, such as digitalization, are already disruptive and associated with far-reaching changes. Future developments affect so many areas of life that forecasts quickly seem dramatic. We can already see today that the digital public sphere is changing democracy. The need for individuals and political discourse to adapt to these new conditions is enormous. One way of exploring scenarios of the future is foresight as a structured, expert-led method. We dare to do it. Because if you want to actively shape the next 10-15 years, you have to engage in thought experiments.

From reactive to active shaping of the future: foresight process on the digital public sphere in Germany
What we are observing in current policy-making around the topics of digital technology and democracy is a lack of future viability: political decision-makers are running behind digital technological developments and reacting - sometimes better, sometimes worse - to the challenges they pose for democracy. What they fail to do is look at the opportunities that arise. And this requires ideas and visions that can act as an impetus for politics and thus expand the scope for action of political decision-makers. To achieve this, we have put together an interdisciplinary group from the fields of technology, media, politics, research and civil society. Together with three experts from Upgrade Democracy (Cathleen, Charlotte and Kai), the group will take a look at how digital technologies could change the democratic public sphere in the next 10 to 15 years.

Foresight Fellows: Experts on the digital public sphere and the future of democracy
We are developing our future scenarios together with 13 designated Foresight Fellows:

Carolin von Bredow, Co-Founder, Responsible Technology Hub
Christian Mihr, Managing Director, Reporters Without Borders
Gerret von Nordheim, Documentary Journalist Network World, DER SPIEGEL / Communication Scientist, University of Hamburg
Hannah Bergmann, Senior Program Manager Work4Germany, DigitalService
Henriette Litta, Managing Director, Open Knowledge Foundation
Iwan Ittermann, Founder, opinio
Katharina Bonnenfant, Digitalization Coordinator, Federal Foreign Office
Lisa Hollenbach, Head of Division, Policy Group, Dealing with Disinformation, Press and Information Office of the Federal Government
Philip Husemann, Co-Managing Director, JoinPolitics
Philipp Lorenz-Spreen, Scientist, Max Planck Institute for Human Development
Dr. Thorsten Thiel, Scientist, University of Erfurt
Olaya Argüeso Pérez, Editor-in-Chief, CORRECTIV
Viable scenarios for sustainable policymaking

From September to November 2023, we will be looking at possible future developments and analyzing them. The aim is to stimulate the strategic discourse on the future of democracy under the conditions of rapidly advancing digitalization with targeted impulses. In addition to long-term alternative developments, forward-looking options for action are also to be identified in order to contribute to future-oriented and sustainable policy-making.

The focus is on the question of how digital technologies could change the democratic public sphere in the next 10 to 15 years. How will the formation of public opinion change? Which democratic processes will be changed by digitalization and how? Where will new opportunities for participation arise? And where is the balance of power shifting? We will discuss these and other questions in a total of six workshops, led by Dr. Johannes Gabriel and Marcel Hadeed from Foresight Intelligence.

What happens next?
Updates on the foresight process, the future scenarios as well as impulses and highlights on technology trends will be available here regularly from now on in the "Visions" category - check back!