The Conference on the Future of Europe—an Experiment in Citizens’ Participation

Stefan Lehne at Carnegie Europe: “If the future of Europe is to be decided at the Conference on the Future of Europe, we should be extremely worried.

Clearly, this has been one of the least fortunate EU projects of recent years. Conceived by French President Emmanuel Macron in 2019 as a response to the rise of populism, the conference fell victim, first to the pandemic and then to institutional squabbling over who should lead it, resulting in a delay of an entire year.

The setup of the conference emerging from months of institutional infighting is strangely schizophrenic.

On the one hand, it offers a forum for interinstitutional negotiations, where representatives of the European Parliament demanding deeper integration will confront a number of governments staunchly opposed to transferring further powers to the EU. 

On the other, the conference provides for an innovative experiment in citizens’ participation. A multilingual interactive website——offers citizens the opportunity to share and discuss ideas and to organize events. Citizens’ panels made up of randomly selected people from across the EU will discuss various policy areas and feed their findings into the debate of the conference’s plenary….

In the first three weeks 11,000 people participated in the digital platform, sharing more than 2,500 ideas on various aspects of the EU’s work.

A closer look reveals that many of the participants are engaged citizens and activists who use the website as just another format to propagate their demands. The platform thus offers a diverse and colorful discussion forum, but is unlikely to render a representative picture of the views of the average citizen.

This is precisely the objective of the citizens’ panels: an attempt to introduce an element of deliberative democracy into EU politics.

Deliberative assemblies have in recent decades become a prominent feature of democratic life in many countries. They work best at the local level, where participants understand each other well and are already roughly familiar with the issue at stake.

But they have also been employed at the national level, such as the citizens’ assembly preparing the referendum on abortion in Ireland or the citizens’ convention on climate in France.

The European Commission has rich experience, having held more than 1,800 citizens’ consultations, but apart from a single rather symbolic experiment in 2018, a genuine citizens’ panel based on sortition has never been attempted at the European level.

Deliberative democracy is all about initiating an open discussion, carefully weighing the evidence, and thus allowing convergence toward a broadly shared agreement. Given the language barriers and the highly diverse cultural background of European citizens, this is difficult to accomplish at the EU level.

Also, many of subject areas of the conference ranging from climate to economic and social policy are technically complex. It is clear that a great deal of expert advice and time will be necessary to enable citizens to engage in meaningful deliberation on these topics.

Unfortunately, the limited timeframe and the insufficient resources of the conference—financing depends on contributions from the institutions—make it doubtful that the citizens’ panels will be conducted in a sufficiently serious manner.

There is also—as is so often the case with citizens’ assemblies—the crucial question of the follow-up. In the case of the conference, the recommendations of the panels, together with the content of the digital platform and the outcome of events in the member states, will feed into the discussions of the plenary….(More)”

Public participation in crisis policymaking. How 30,000 Dutch citizens advised their government on relaxing COVID-19 lockdown measures

Paper by Niek Mouter et al: “Following the outbreak of COVID-19, governments took unprecedented measures to curb the spread of the virus. Public participation in decisions regarding (the relaxation of) these measures has been notably absent, despite being recommended in the literature. Here, as one of the exceptions, we report the results of 30,000 citizens advising the government on eight different possibilities for relaxing lockdown measures in the Netherlands. By making use of the novel method Participatory Value Evaluation (PVE), participants were asked to recommend which out of the eight options they prefer to be relaxed. Participants received information regarding the societal impacts of each relaxation option, such as the impact of the option on the healthcare system.

The results of the PVE informed policymakers about people’s preferences regarding (the impacts of) the relaxation options. For instance, we established that participants assign an equal value to a reduction of 100 deaths among citizens younger than 70 years and a reduction of 168 deaths among citizens older than 70 years. We show how these preferences can be used to rank options in terms of desirability. Citizens advised to relax lockdown measures, but not to the point at which the healthcare system becomes heavily overloaded. We found wide support for prioritising the re-opening of contact professions. Conversely, participants disfavoured options to relax restrictions for specific groups of citizens as they found it important that decisions lead to “unity” and not to “division”. 80% of the participants state that PVE is a good method to let citizens participate in government decision-making on relaxing lockdown measures. Participants felt that they could express a nuanced opinion, communicate arguments, and appreciated the opportunity to evaluate relaxation options in comparison to each other while being informed about the consequences of each option. This increased their awareness of the dilemmas the government faces….(More)”.

Harnessing collective intelligence to find missing children

Cordis: “It is estimated that over 250 000 children go missing every year in the EU. Statistics on their recovery is scant, but based on data from the EU-wide 116 000 hotline, 14 % of runaways and 57 % of migrant minors reported missing in 2019 had not been found by the end of the year. The EU-supported ChildRescue project has developed a collective intelligence and stakeholder communication approach for missing children investigations. It consists of a collaborative platform and two mobile apps available for organisations, verified volunteers and the general public. “ChildRescue is being used by our piloting organisations and is already becoming instrumental in missing children investigations. The public response has exceeded our expectations, with over 22 000 app downloads,” says project coordinator Christos Ntanos from the Decision Support Systems Laboratory at the National Technical University of Athens. ChildRescue has also published a white paper on the need for a comprehensive legal framework on missing unaccompanied migrant minors in the EU….

To assist in missing children investigations, ChildRescue trained machine learning algorithms to find underlying patterns useful for investigations. As input, they used structured information about individual cases combined with open data from multiple sources, alongside data from similar past cases. The ChildRescue community mobile app issues real-time alerts near places of interest, such as where a child was last seen. Citizens can respond with information, including photos, exclusively accessible by the organisation involved in the case. The quality, relevance and credibility of this feedback are assessed by an algorithm. The organisation can then pass information to the police and engage its own volunteers. Team members can share real-time information through a dedicated private collaboration space….(More)”.

How to make good group decisions

Report by Nesta: “The report has five sections that cover different dimensions of group decisions: group composition, group dynamics, the decision making process, the decision rule and uncertainty….Key takeaways:

  1. Diversity is the most important factor for a group’s collective intelligence. Both identity and functional (e.g. different skills and experience levels) diversity are necessary for better problem solving and decision making.
  2. Increasing the size of the decision making group can help to increase diversity, skills and creativity. Organisations could be much better at leveraging the wisdom of the crowd for certain tasks such as idea generation, prioritisation of options (especially eliminating bad options), and accurate forecasts.
  3. A quick win for decision makers is to focus on developing cross-cutting skills within teams. Important skills to train in your teams include probabilistic reasoning to improve risk analysis, cognitive flexibility to make full use of available information and perspective taking to correct for assumptions..
  4. It’s not always efficient for groups to push themselves to find the optimal solution or group consensus, and in many cases they don’t need to. ‘Satisficing’ helps to maintain quality under pressure by agreeing in advance what is ‘good enough’.
  5. Introducing intermittent breaks where group members work independently is known to improve problem solving for complex tasks. The best performing teams tend to have periods of intense communication with little or no interaction in between.
  6. When the external world is unstable, like during a financial crisis or political elections, traditional sources of expertise often fail due to overconfidence. This is when novel data and insights gathered through crowdsourcing or collective intelligence methods that capture frontline experience are most important….(More)”.

How do we know that it works? Designing a digital democratic innovation with the help of user-centered design

Paper by  Janne Berg et al: ‘Civic technology is used to improve not only policies, but to reinforce politics and has the potential to strengthen democracy. A search for new ways of involving citizens in decision-making processes combined with a growing smartphone penetration rate has generated expectations around smartphones as democratic tools. However, if civic applications do not meet citizens’ expectations and function poorly, they might remain unused and fail to increase interest in public issues. Therefore, there is a need to apply a citizen’s perspective on civic technology.

The aim of this study is to gain knowledge about how citizens’ wishes and needs can be included in the design and evaluation process of a civic application. The study has an explorative approach and uses mixed methods. We analyze which democratic criteria citizens emphasize in a user-centered design process of a civic application by conducting focus groups and interviews. Moreover, a laboratory usability study measures how well two democratic criteria, inclusiveness and publicity, are met in an application. The results show that citizens do emphasize democratic criteria when participating in the design of a civic application. A user-centered design process will increase the likelihood of a usable application and can help fulfill the democratic criteria designers aim for….(More)”

Citizen Science Is Helping Tackle Stinky Cities

Article by Lucrezia Lozza: “Marta has lived with a bad smell lingering in her hometown in central Spain, Villanueva del Pardillo, for a long time. Fed up, in 2017 she and her neighbors decided to pursue the issue. “The smell is disgusting,” Marta says, pointing a finger at a local yeast factory.

Originally, she thought of recording the “bad smell days” on a spreadsheet. When this didn’t work out, after some research she found Odour Collect, a crowdsourced map that allows users to enter a geolocalized timestamp of bad smells in their neighborhood.

After noise, odor nuisances are the second cause of environmental complaints. Odor regulations vary among countries and there’s little legislation about how to manage smells. For instance, in Spain some municipalities regulate odors, but others do not. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate odor as a pollutant, so states and local jurisdictions are in charge of the issue.

Only after Marta started using Odour Collect to record the unpleasant smells in her town did she discover that the map was part of ‘D-NOSES’, a European project aimed at bringing citizens, industries and local authorities together to monitor and minimize odor nuisances. D-NOSES relies heavily on citizen science: Affected communities gather odor observations through two maps — Odour Collect and Community Maps — with the goal of implementing new policies in their area. D-NOSES launched several pilots in Europe — in Spain, Greece, Bulgaria, and Portugal — and two outside the continent in Uganda and in Chile.

“Citizen science promotes transparency between all the actors,” said Nora Salas Seoane, Social Sciences Researcher at Fundación Ibercivis, one of the partners of D-NOSES…(More)”.

Public policy for open innovation: Opening up to a new domain for research and practice

Introduction to Special Issue by Antonio Bob Santos et al: “Open Innovation (OI) emerged as one of the most important research topics in management and economics literature in the last decades, especially when understanding research and change phenomena (Martin 20122019). The concept, originally advanced by Chesbrough (2003), reflects and articulates changes of the global learning economy emerging from the development of digital technologies, ubiquitous innovation, intellectual labour mobility, and the growth of markets for knowledge resources and processes. More recently, Chesbrough and Bogers (2014: 17) redefined OI as “a distributed innovation process based on purposively managed knowledge flows across organizational boundaries” in which the implied notion of the business model could apply to a multitude of organisations and assume a variety of forms (cf. Caraça et al., 2009Zott et al., 2011). OI has been analysed in different dimensions, such as inside-out and outside-in knowledge flows, across levels of analysis (not only company level, but also individual and ecosystem level), and from different perspectives (such as regional/territorial and national/international) (Bogers et al., 2017Dahlander and Gann, 2010West et al., 2014).

OI is also a hot topic in actual business life, with a growing number of companies adopting a more fluid approach, namely what concerns to the knowledge valorisation and collaborative innovation practices. Research has accordingly also put a lot of attention on corporate aspects of OI with a particular focus on how to leverage external knowledge, management of OI networks, and the role of users and communities in OI (Randhawa et al., 2016Vanhaverbeke et al., 2014West and Bogers, 2014). Even though it may constitute an important boundary condition for OI practices, there has been a reasonably limited focus on the role of public policies in OI (Bogers et al., 2018de Jong et al., 2010Santos, 2016). Nevertheless, recent studies show that the adoption of OI can be stimulated through the existence of public policies favourable to a context of knowledge sharing, collaborative R&D and innovation, knowledge exploitation and valorisation, mobility and qualification of human resources or supporting innovative ideas (Beck et al., 2020Masucci et al., 2020; Mina et al. 2014; etc.).

All-in-all, a more elaborate focus on the role of public policy in OI is merited, and this is what this special issue provides. Pro-OI innovation policy can be understood as a general posture and the deployment of a specific set of instruments that seek to keep learning processes distributed and knowledge transfers unhurdled, while ensuring self-intended behaviours do not compromise the expansion of effective opportunities for the broader societal constituents. In this special issue the papers extend the portfolio of insights in a variety of ways.

The papers included in this special issue illustrate the breadth of roles that public policy can play in promoting OI practices and in the possible initiatives and instruments that can be applied to this end. The papers also hint at some of the challenges facing public policy to strengthen OI, e.g. with a view of measuring desired OI activities and effects, dealing with local and contextual factors that affect OI-related outcomes, and selecting and reaching appropriate target-actors (SMEs, business accelerators, public research institutes, universities) and contexts (science parks, clusters, regions)with the potential to engage in OI practices but with little or no current practices to build on. We learn that there is great scope for further research to help policymakers navigate the landscape of possible OI-promoting policies and actions and in supporting the design and implementation of effective public policy for OI….(More)”.

Citizen assembly takes on Germany’s climate pledges

Martin Kuebler at Deutsche Welle: “A group of 160 German citizens chosen at random from across the country will launch an experiment in participatory democracy this week, aiming to inspire public debate and get the government to follow through with its pledge to reach net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050.

The Bürgerrat Klima, or Citizen Assembly, will follow the example set in the last few years by countries like Ireland, the United Kingdom and France. The concept, intended to directly involve citizens in the climate decisions that will shape their lives in the coming decades, is seen as a way for people to push for stronger climate policies and political action — though the previous experiments abroad have met with varying degrees of success.

Inspired by a 99-person Citizens’ Assembly, the Irish government adopted a series of reforms in its 2019 climate bill aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 51% before the end of this decade. These included recommendations “to ensure climate change is at the centre of policy-making,” and covered everything from clean tech and power generation to electric vehicles and plans to retrofit older buildings.

But in France, where 150 participants submitted bold proposals that included a ban on domestic flights and making ecocide a crime, lawmakers have been less enthusiastic about taking the measures on board. A new climate and resilience bill, which aims to cut France’s CO2 emissions by 40% over the next decade and is due to be adopted later this year, has incorporated less than half of the group’s ideas. Greenpeace has said the proposed bill would have been “ambitious 15 or 20 years ago.”…(More)”.

Infrastructure Isn’t Really About Roads. It’s About the Society We Want.

Eric Klinenberg in the New York Times: “…Consider civic infrastructure. Many of the critical systems the United States needs to build and sustain a good society are degraded. Discriminatory voting laws, like Georgia’s new legislation, threaten the integrity of the political process. Social media companies like Facebook, by using algorithms that reward political extremism and promote political polarization, distort the discourse in our public sphere. Community organizations that help feed, house and educate low-income Americans are essential for preserving peace and improving living standards, but they have struggled to remain solvent during the pandemic. Mr. Biden’s plan leaves these failings in the civic infrastructure practically untouched.

The neglect of social infrastructure in Mr. Biden’s plan is even more striking, given how critical social infrastructure was to the success of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, the last “once in a generation” investment in America. The New Deal was not just about roads and bridges, after all. It also funded the construction or renovation of thousands of gathering places across the country, in suburbs and cities, rural areas and small towns.

What came from these investments? Libraries. Parks. Playgrounds. Piers. Post offices. Swimming pools. Sports fields. Theaters. Museums. Gardens. Forests. Beaches. Lodges. Walkways. Armories. Courthouses. County fairgrounds. Today too many of us take these projects for granted, even as we continue to use them on a huge scale.

Paradoxically, the success of this social infrastructure is also the source of its degradation. Our gathering places are overrun and dilapidated. Parks and playgrounds need updating. Athletic fields need new surfaces. Public libraries have an estimated $26 billion in capital needs, according to the American Library Association, and the costs of safely operating them at full capacity are likely to exceed what states and local governments can afford. None of this, sadly, is explicitly addressed in Mr. Biden’s proposal….(More)”.

Predicting social tipping and norm change in controlled experiments

Paper by James Andreoni, Nikos Nikiforakis, and Simon Siegenthaler: “Social tipping—instances of sudden change that upend social order—is rarely anticipated and usually understood only in hindsight. The ability to predict when societies will reach a tipping point has significant implications for welfare, especially when social norms are detrimental. In a large-scale laboratory experiment, we identify a model that accurately predicts social tipping and use it to address a long-standing puzzle: Why do norms sometimes persist when they are detrimental to social welfare? We show that beneficial norm change is often hindered by a desire to avoid the costs associated with transitioning to a new norm. We find that policies that help societies develop a common understanding of the benefits from change foster the abandonment of detrimental norms….(More)”.