Just new democratic bells and whistles? Assessing the formal capacity of institutions for future generations to influence policy-making

Activity: Talk or presentationConference PresentationsResearch

Michael Rose - Speaker

Since the early 1990s, an increasing number of national and subnational democracies establish institution for future generations, such as the Parliamentary Committee for the Future in Finland, the Ombudsperson for Future Generations in Hungary, and the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales. These bodies or offices are supposed to help to consider the needs of future generations alongside the needs of current constituencies. In doing so, they can be considered to make democracies more inclusive and amenable to more sustainable decision-making, strengthening the long-term orientation of politics and policy. As such, they can be regarded as democratic innovations in their own right.
By considering the needs of future generations and integrating them into the political decision-making process, these institutions are often described as a potential remedy for what is known as democratic myopia – the tendency of democracies to focus on short-term gains and discount long-term developments. Whether these expectations are justified, is an open question, though. Since strong institutions for future generations might further limit the scope of politicians to meet the immediate needs of their electorate, real influence may not even be intended. The credibility of institutions for future generations – and of those who decide on their design – therefore hinges on the capacities and competencies with which they are formally endowed when they are established.
For the first time, this study compares 25 former and current institutions for future generations along several dimensions in order to assess their capacities to influence policy-making. These dimensions include the roles of institutions for future generations at different stages of the public policy process (from agenda-setting to evaluation), the types of political instruments at their disposal (from advice to suspensive vetoes or rights of investigation), their legal entrenchment (from bylaws to constitutions), the branches of government they are affiliated with, as well as their organizational structure and resources. The results show a considerable variety of institutions for future generations along these dimensions, while institutions with comprehensive roles and instruments and strong legal bases are rather rare. Overall, these democratic innovations should not be overburdened with expectations - sometimes they seem to represent more cosmetic than far-reaching reforms of policy-making. However, institutions for future generations do not always act on their own. In some cases, a democracy hosts more than one institution for future generations, allowing them to combine their strengths and compensate for each other’s weaknesses to a certain extent. In addition, the institutions’ formal capacities and competencies can only tell parts of their stories.


ECPR General Conference 2022


Insbruck, Austria

Event: Conference