Across Europe, there is a rise of political movements that claim to challenge liberal elites and speak for the “ordinary person” – movements that can be loosely categorised as “populist”. Many of these movements have undesirable tendencies including intolerance of others, a tendency to polarise issues, reductionist decision making and the weakening of democratic accountability. However, not all anti-elitist movements are like this; for example, in Iceland, the response to corruption and their banking crisis of 2007/8 was towards more liberalism and constitutional reform.

The Populism and Civic Engagement project (PaCE) is responding to a key political and institutional question of the contemporary moment – what is the meaning of the rise of different types of populist movements for democracy and for EU political and liberal institutions, and how should these institutions respond?


PaCE aims to respond to the negative tendencies of populist movements, to build upon the lessons of positive examples (such as Iceland’s response to corruption), and hence play a part in constructing a firmer democratic and institutional foundation for the citizens of Europe.

The project will use an innovative mix of research methods, including machine learning, model-based simulations, narrative analysis and foresight methodologies.

PaCE will:

  •  Trace the historical growth and political consequences for the EU project and democracy in the Member states of illiberal, nativist and anti-democratic populist parties
  • Study the general and specific causes of the three modes of populism in European democracies
  •  Study, propose and test policy-oriented responses to each of the three forms of populism
  •  Engage with stakeholders, especially groups under-represented in public affairs, in particular, younger citizens, schools and local communities in new forms of democratic engagement appropriate in our digital age.

Our Role

Trilateral will be:

  • Leading the work to develop foresight scenarios, to understand how populist movements might develop and the different ways society can respond to these movements.
  • Responsible for the ethics work package, ensuring that the project follows appropriate research ethics, but also that ethical, legal and societal issues are taken into account in the design and development of the project’s various interventions.
  • Contributing to case studies of populist movements and the study of populist narratives.


PaCE will:

  • develop new tools, based on machine-learning algorithms for identifying and tracking populist narratives and to aid online consultation;
  • produce “risk assessments” on the possible responses to populist movements
  • develop and field-test a “package” to facilitate the running of EU and local democracy labs
  • produce a multidimensional “map” of historical and comparative cases, distinguishing kinds of populist movements, key transitions, their socio-political context and history, their causes and the resulting “trajectories” that these could result in;


PaCE cannot solve the deep problems of negative populist tendencies on its own, but it does aim to develop the analysis, tools and outcomes to underpin the development of new structures and responses that will mitigate these aspects in a context-sensitive manner.

The project will look further into the future, developing new visions concerning the directions our democracies could take (positive and negative) and it will warn about emerging threats to democracy itself.

The analysis and machine learning tools developed within the project to identify and tag narratives will allow these to be identified and tracked in near real-time, facilitating a deeper understanding of how these relate to underlying concerns. They will thus help inform better directed democratic responses, showing where and how citizen voices need to be listened to and responded to.

Furthermore, PaCE will be integrative in its impact by building in engagement and citizen input from the start so that analytic insights are shaped and guided by democratic engagement.

The ultimate ambition of PaCE is to contribute to the groundwork for a more permanent network that can continue this work after the project has finished.


For more information and updates visit the PaCE website and follow us on Twitter @popandce and LinkedIn


Please contact our team for more information:

David Barnard-Wills, Senior Research Manager at Trilateral Research


The PaCE project – Populism and Civic engagement – has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 822337.

‘Risk Assessment Report and Methodology’

You can view the Executive Summary and Table of contents of the Project Solebay Risk Assessment Methodology Report.

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