Democracy works digitally, too. "Demokratiefabrik" shows how.

Digitalisation is opening up new ways for citizens to get involved in political processes. Marc Bühlmann and his team are conducting an experiment with the online platform "Demokratiefabrik".

Citizens should be able to get more involved in political decisions, and digitalisation offers plenty of opportunities for them to do so. Marc Bühlmann and his research team from the Institute of Political Science at the University of Bern have developed and evaluated a concrete digital participation format as part of the NRP 77 research programme. In contrast to social media, the online platform, called "Demokratiefabrik" (Democracy Factory), makes use of various mechanisms that aim to promote an exchange between different standpoints and achieve as broad a participation as possible.

The following text was published for the first time in DeFacto Blog on 28 February 2024.

The authors are: Giada Gianola, Dominik Wyss, Anja Heidelberger, Marlène Gerber

More than a thousand voters from German-speaking Switzerland worked together in a unique digital participation project to develop a set of arguments for the Climate and Innovation Act, which was voted on in June 2023. The citizens, who were selected at random, were able to propose, examine, evaluate and comment on arguments for or against the Federal Act on the specially developed online platform "Demokratiefabrik". What distinguished the participants and how did they develop their arguments?

Citizens chosen at random work together to develop arguments for and against

On Demokratiefabrik, participants were able to independently develop arguments for and against the Federal proposal for the "Federal Act on Climate Protection Goals, Innovation and Strengthening Energy Security", which was approved by the public in the vote on 18 June 2023. The participants were recruited by the LINK market research institute and selected in accordance with representative criteria such as gender, urbanity and age. Over three weeks in spring 2023, they were able to log in and participate as they wished, regardless of time and place. In addition, the participants used pseudonyms rather than their real names. The names of Swiss mountains were used as pseudonyms.

Support from artificial avatars

Two artificial moderators (avatars) supported users on the online platform. They helped participants to find their way around the platform, and guided participants with less digital experience through Demokratiefabrik.

First of all, participants were presented with information about the Climate and Innovation Act on the platform (see information box 1). This information was compiled by the research team and checked by easyvote for neutrality and clarity.

The proposal submitted to the vote of the people – the Climate and Innovation Act

The referendum on the Federal Act on Climate Protection Goals, Innovation and Strengthening Energy Security (CIA) was held in June 2023. This included goals and rough measures for climate protection in Switzerland. The key elements of the Act and the associated federal decree were as follows:

  • Setting a goal to make Switzerland climate-neutral by 2050. This means either no more greenhouse gases are emitted, or the emission of greenhouse gases is offset (net zero target);
  • Expanding technologies to reduce greenhouse gases that have already been emitted (e.g. processes to remove CO2 from the atmosphere);
  • Financial support for companies so that they can reduce greenhouse gas emissions through innovative technologies;
  • Financial support for replacing non-sustainable heating systems (fossil-fuel and electric heating) and for building renovations.

High level of participant engagement

Of the 1,176 people who revealed their position on the proposal, a total of 1,023 people also took part in the creation of the set of arguments in some way (evaluated at least one argument). The engagement was very high: 880 participants logged in on more than one day over three weeks. In total, the participants submitted 98 arguments (50 for and 48 against) and 462 participants furnished an opinion in response to at least one of these arguments. Furthermore, 2,625 comments were posted (from 463 participants), which shows that participants were very willing to discuss the Climate and Innovation Act and associated questions.

Young people remain underrepresented despite the innovative digital format

Engagement on the online platform was relatively balanced. Table 1 shows that slightly more men than women took part. With regard to age, however, the innovative digital political participation format unfortunately did not capture the interest of younger citizens: young people aged 18 to 25 were underrepresented compared to other age groups.

As in the first case study with Demokratiefabrik, the participants again showed a high level of political interest this time. Participants who position themselves on the right or left of the political spectrum took part in roughly equal numbers.

Merkmale der Teilnehmenden Anteile
Geschlecht Frauen
Alter 18-25 Jährige
26-45 Jährige
46-65 Jährige
Übrige 65 Jährige
Politisches Interesse (eher) hoch
(eher) tief
Positionierung auf Links-Rechts-Achse (eher) rechts
Genau in der Mitte
(eher) links

Table 1: Field of participants in Demokratiefabrik. Alix d’Agostino, deFacto Data © Demokratiefabrik

Figure 1 shows how the participants positioned themselves on the proposal. Before the participants had the opportunity to propose arguments for or against the Climate and Innovation Act, they were asked whether they were more for or against the proposal (on a scale of 0-100) and had to justify their position in a brief statement.

Most participants were in the "for" camp. At the time of the study (March–April 2023), 77% of participants were (more) for the proposal and 21.5% were (more) against it. A few people were still undecided at this time. At the end of Demokratiefabrik, 73.4% of respondents indicated that they would probably or definitely vote "Yes" at the ballot box. These scores are comparable with the first SRG survey which was conducted at the same time (72% Yes), but are higher than the results of the Tamedia survey also conducted at the end of April (58% Yes).

Figure 1: Positioning of participants on the proposal. Source: Demokratiefabrik
Figure 1: Positioning of participants on the proposal. © Demokratiefabrik

This graphic was available to participants in Demokratiefabrik. By clicking on each dot, participants could read the statements by other participants and interact with them. This meant that participants could see that they were not alone in Demokratiefabrik.

The arguments developed were available to the general public

On the Demokratiefabrik platform, participants were not only able to propose arguments for and against the proposal, they were also able to evaluate and examine arguments proposed by other participants, as well as submit suggestions for improvements to existing arguments. They were also able to discuss the proposal using the comment function. The participants in Demokratiefabrik were also asked to rate how relevant the submitted arguments were for their personal voting decision. The arguments that were most relevant from the citizens' perspective were compiled at the end and listed as a set of arguments for and againstExternal Link Icon.

The project team made only minor grammatical changes to the arguments before publication.

The set of arguments was available to the Swiss electorate to help them form their opinion for the referendum in June 2023. The final set of arguments was published on Demokratiefabrik, distributed via various digital channels, and sent to thousands of Swiss households by post as part of a pilot project in the town of Wohlen (Canton Aargau).

The set of arguments represents an important addition to the wealth of voting information already available. One major advantage is that it reflects the viewpoint of the citizens. Specialist experts and politicians were deliberately not involved during its development. As such, Demokratiefabrik differs from other "mini-publics" that have already taken place in Switzerland and locally (Geisler and Stojanović 2020; Geisler 2023; Heimann et al. 2023). Further evaluations will show how Demokratiefabrik's set of arguments, which also differ in form from well-known arguments, have been received by the public.


The development of a set of arguments for or against the Climate and Innovation Act on the self-developed online platform Demokratiefabrik was characterised by healthy, balanced engagement by the participating citizens, even if people with (strong) political opinions were overrepresented. The discussions among the participants were remarkably in-depth, and reflected a dynamic exchange of ideas. One especially noteworthy aspect is that the creation of the arguments was a collaborative effort, borne entirely by citizens, without the involvement of experts: a set of arguments made by citizens, for citizens.

Note: The original article on was edited by Remo Parisi (DeFacto).