Towards Polycentric Governance: Building Room for Democratic Experimentalism in the Political, Urban and Corporate World



  • Charles Sabel, Professor of Columbia Law School
  • LaTosha Brown, Co-founder of Black Voters Matter Fund
  • Gabor Kerpel Fronius, Deputy Mayor of Budapest
  • Peter Kurz, Mayor of Mannheim
  • Cristina Corduneanu-Huci, Associate Professor at CEU
  • Tim Dixon, Co-founder of More in Common
  • Larry Diamond, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution

Moderator: Nick Thorpe, BBC.


This discussion explored how democratic experiments and innovation can devolve power away from the center. The panelists talked about local best practices and how these interact with or clash with central power. They examined the question of how we can present those visions in a polarized society and make them more inclusive.

Main takeaways

  • Democratic experiments are part of human experiences about how we organize ourselves and share Individuals are not good at solving problems alone, but they are substantially better in groups, and democracy is about collectively solving problems. It is part of human nature to assert our influence and agency.
  • Democracy is a constantly evolving process. The notion that consolidated democracies, once institutionalized properly, will function well on their own has been completely broken down in the last
  • Participatory governance can work if people are enthusiastic, but it is not independent of party politics. Participatory governance is just the beginning of a long process because it has a limited reach. Experimentation is a good thing, but it is insufficient to counter polarization and
  • The use of public space has brought to light the inability of authoritarianism and traditional city planning to take into account what people We speak as if governments want to include the people in decision-making, but this is an oxymoron. We forget that the reason for divisions is that in the past, parts of society were silenced and left out. So instead of talking about a breakdown of democracy, we could talk about a breakthrough instead.
  • Europeanisation and decentralization are happening thanks to the European Committee of It connects the local and supranational levels. EU bodies trust local governments with implementing policies locally.

Policy recommendations

  • Budapest needs to help local They represent enormous capacity and experience in working with locals and solving local issues.
  • Communication needs to start by reaching out to people who are left out – which is 40- 50% of the
  • Improving local identities also can transcend party lines and bring people together under a shared
  • Unless liberals can win over the rural population and the remnants of inner-city conservatives, they cannot have national
  • We constantly need to guard, reinvent our democracy, create new institutions, form new ways to engage.
  • We need to focus on the big We get caught up in the process of democracy and we do not pay attention to what democracy should be for.

(The panel was organized in partnership with the Dutch Embassy)