All this month, we are looking back at Demsoc projects from our last ten years. Today, Anthony looks at our 2018 report on how to involve citizens in decision making on research spending.
Most of the work that we do at Demsoc is practical, in that we are asked to work and test things with real people, in real situations. That doesn’t prevent us (me) from being massive politics geeks, of course. I’m always happy to talk for an hour about representative and participative democratic theory, or Spanish election results, but that’s just for pleasure. Work is making democracy work, in the real world.
Sometimes, though, we are asked to do a piece of pure research, informed by our practice and what we know of our field. In 2017, we undertook some work for the European Commission’s research directorate, on how citizens could be involved in setting the mission goals for Horizon Europe – the EU’s research fund, at that time known by the less buzzy title “Framework Programme 9”.
The full report can be found on the European Commission’s website, and the core diagram is the featured image for this post. Our suggestion, in summary, was to have an online idea generation phase, where citizens could make suggestions. These ideas would then go through a prioritization process in mixed public-expert groups, before a citizen assembly, run in a distributed way across the different countries of the EU, would produce a final ranking of the different topics in each mission area.
The project was, for all our bias towards practical action, a great opportunity to think through some ideas that we’ve since taken further in some of our thinking on the Future of Europe Conference, and have shared with those working on the proposed UK Citizen Convention.
What has been most interesting, though, is how the ideas in that report, which seemed utopian in 2018, now seem like an ambitious but plausible future. The European Parliament is proposing citizen agoras on the future of Europe – it doesn’t seem unrealistic to use a similar process in policy making on other big European issues. Something is definitely moving at European level – however, for it to work properly it will also need to work at local level. Tomorrow, Marian will tell the story of how our local project in Messina tried to connect up civil society.