Years before the collapse of the former Soviet Union, the Institute for Social Inventions was running seminars on the theme of the break-up of the former Soviet Union. It was also concerning itself with the inevitability of civil war in the Balkans. It persuaded the Swiss government to host a seminar in Lausanne in 1990 for key politicians and academics from throughout Central and Eastern Europe on the theme of innovative designs for constitutions and electoral systems that could help avert ethnic turmoil. Later the same year, the Institute persuaded the government of Malta and the Council of Europe to co-host a follow-up conference. This was the first occasion at which delegations from emerging nations such as Estonia and Slovenia had received recognition at an official international gathering, and the discussions, particularly concerning Swiss-style decentralist safeguards as a form of protection for ethnic minorities, certainly influenced the delegates, many of whom were in the throes of redesigning their constitutions and electoral systems. The conference launched the East Europe Constitution Design Forum, whereby Western and Eastern experts gathered together in a network to give each other advice and help. This has also launched the Democracy Design Forum, based in Suffolk, UK, which offers the same sort of advice for countries elsewhere, with electoral systems tailored to the needs of Northern Ireland, South Africa and other potential trouble spots. It has also resulted in three key books by the Democracy Design Forum director, David Chapman, published by the Institute.
Democracy is an ongoing project. It calls for dialogue, debate and choice. The risk inherent in ignoring the political impact of tomorrow's techniques is that anti-democratic forces will divert them to their own ends or that the general public will end up regarding democracy as an obsolete, ossified concept dating from an earlier epoch.