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EUARENAS at #EURegionsWeek 2022

Between October 10th and 13th, the 20th European Week of Regions and Cities - the biggest annual event on cohesion policy - was held in hybrid fashion in Brussels and online. In a session on Experimenting with Deliberative and Participatory Democracy, Prof James W. Scott from the EUARENAS project shared results and activities together with our sister projects Demotec and EuComMeet.

The session posed several questions that brilliantly sense-check EUARENAS approaches and progresses. Here are our further reflections on these topics:

Deliberative processes are complex ones, and embedding them into the actual policy making faces several challenges. How can EUARENAS increase inclusiveness and encourage citizens’ participation?

From case studies, pilots and foresight research, EUARENAS aims to understand the systemic issues at work in urban participation.

It is first of all important to understand the barriers and obstacles that prevent citizens, specifically marginalized and underrepresented groups in society, from taking part in participatory and deliberative practices. This understanding might then result in proactive strategies to improve inclusiveness and accessibility, such as better recruitment techniques, more varied and mixed participatory methods, specific digital tools or better leadership.

Inclusion also needs encouragement from the top, not only to invite people to deliberative fora, but also to make them realize the relevancy of their actions, i.e. trust building and showing how their opinions and input matter in practice.

People must feel that there voice is heard and of relevance, the Community Reporting method adopted in at least two empirical work packages represents a tool for this.

How can these practices be embedded into policy making?

Earlier this year, the EUARENAS Community of Practice was created as a project innovation, providing a horizontal learning platform between academia, policy-making and third sector. The topic of inclusiveness and accessibility is an important one, and was explored together with other themes such as systemic issues, power, and horizontal deliberation in the 1st Knowledge Exchange workshop. During this workshop, more than 50 people jointly worked on identifying the entry barriers, methods and tools, as well as the actors and the training needed for them to ensure inclusive participation. 

The positive attitude of decision- and policy-makers is crucial. If there is no support from 'the top', participatory and deliberative practices will not become embedded as natural parts of policy-making processes. The relevancy and usefulness of such an approach must therefore be equally made clear to both decision-makers and citizens.

Community Reporting in Helsinki, Finland

1st Knowledge Exchange workshop

Social hackathon "Vunki Mano" in Voru

(credit: Ula Malińska-Mark)

How can EUARENAS translate academic projects into effective practices that have a concrete policy impact?

In our closest circle, we have the city administration in Reggio Emilia (Italy), Gdansk (Poland) and Voru (Estonia) as partners of the project and pilot cities. In a wider circle, some of our deliverables, such as the Media Discourse Foresight Guide, have been presented to the Commission. The empirical works in our project have also allow for exchange between regions; through case study, the Helsinki participatory budgeting model was introduced to the project, and presented to a wider audience in Voru.

One of the final outputs of the EUARENAS project is the Toolbox of Experimental Participatory Methods. The processes set out in the pilots hope to make the toolbox a flexible set of instruments that can be tailored to the specific circumstances and needs of any local authority. 

Sometimes, these processes have to face the concerns of policy makers, regarding the legitimacy and acceptability of deliberative processes. How can EUARENAS effectively address these concerns?

In essence, this is why we have the pilots. So social innovations can be tested in smaller groups, before committing too much resources and mainstreaming them. Having citizens involved in these innovations, such as the social hackathon in Voru, means that the solutions provided are citizen-led, indicating a real, bottom-up need for these solutions. 

You can watch the webinar here.


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