Auditorium, credits: Michal Matlon

How should we measure democracy in the 21st century? Reflections from the latest CIVICA Research hackathon


Organised by institutional partners and hosted by CEU, the recent CIVICA Research Collaborative Hackathon under the CIVICA theme ‘Democracy in the 21st Century’ explored the measurement of ‘democracy with adjectives’.

Is it possible to describe illiberal, populist, semi-authoritarian regimes and consolidated liberal democracies with the same indicators and terminology? Should we develop new indicators for specific regions, regime-types and historical eras? Must we re-label past categories or construct new composite indices?

These questions and more were the focus of the recent CIVICA Research Hackathon organised by the LSE Data Science Institute as part of the CIVICA Research consortium. The online event was hosted by the Central European University (CEU) under the CIVICA theme ‘Democracy in the 21st Century’.

It was pleasing to see that the event brought together researchers, students and interested individuals, based at CIVICA partner institutions and beyond, to tackle the challenge that is the current wave of ‘democracy with adjectives’. This poses a severe challenge to quantitative tools of measurement, which was reflected in the presentations given by experts in the field of democracy measurement.

Professor Michael Coppedge (University of Notre Dame) delivered the keynote speech at the hackathon, providing an important summary of why we measure democracy. Michael also covered the different measurement choices that are available to us and how these choices have evolved.

The hackathon, the second of four research collaboration hackathon events planned in the coming months, gave participants the opportunity to share their proposals for how the existing indicators of democracy should be improved, combined or replaced. These thoughts were then considered in a panel event featuring Prof. Michael Coppedge, Dr. Andreas Schedler (CEU), Prof. Wolfgang Merkel (WZB/CEU), Dr. Hauke Hartmann (Bertelsmann Stiftung), and myself.

The panel event was chaired by Prof. Zsolt Enyedi (CEU), who also leads the Democracy in the 21st Century group. Speaking about the hackathon, Zsolt said, “The event fitted perfectly into the agenda of the Democracy in the 21st Century group of CIVICA. It brought together methodologists and students and scholars interested in normative issues, academics and practitioners, critics of the scores produced by the various rating agencies and the leaders of some of the rating projects. We were able to reflect both on substantive processes, like the decline of democratic quality in many segments of the world, and on measurement related issues, such as the comparability of democratic systems across time and space.”

In line with the broader mission of CIVICA to connect the pillars of education, research, and society with the aim of offering creative social science-based solutions to universal challenges, we welcome further comments and engagement from those that were unable to attend. Please find below the recordings of the presentations and panel discussion.

Watch the video recordings>>

CIVICA Research brings together researchers from eight leading European universities in the social sciences to contribute knowledge and solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. The project aims to strengthen the research & innovation pillar of the European University alliance CIVICA. CIVICA Research is co-funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. To stay up to date with CIVICA Research developments and opportunities, subscribe to the newsletter.

Written by Ken Benoit (Professor and Director of the LSE Data Science Institute), and edited by Dave Poole (LSE) and Kristof Vajda (CEU)