The B-word, and its place in a democratic community.

By Marian Cramers

The best conversations take place at round tables, with a few diverse people, and an bold, ambitious topic. The BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt has understood this, and has established a tradition of European Tables, culminating in a Forum held last week, to give the ideas generated a big lift. Kelly McBride and I were there from Demsoc.

Over the past year, the European Tables have dealt with Identity, migration and the impact of technology on the European jobs market. At the Forum, where participants from those tables met each other, we also faced up to how much the world has changed again in just the space of a year. The 11 recommendations from the table still held, and the resilience of citizens, their livelihoods and the sustainability of their environments stood front and centre. However, the tone of the Forum debates was also full of concern about the populist zeitgeist in Europe, and how to maintain a hold on our democratic values, leading up to the European elections. In the heart of the BMW Welt, and among the steel and prosperity of Bavaria, the key instruments to shape a convincing outreach campaign seemed particularly elusive.

One outcome from the Forum was the establishment of Alliance4Europe, a platform for pro-European NGOs and businesses to ‘augment the impact of civic society groups’, and first of all drive the kind of turnout and voting that is constructive for the European project. [Demsoc did not sign up to be part of the Alliance, but will follow the development of the platform with interest, particularly in its work on turnout and voting.]

I found the discussions on the involvement of business in democracy particularly intriguing, because that topic is bound to be received with awkwardness and hesitation on both sides.

I strongly believe there is a role and a mandate for business communities to be involved in politics, beyond lobbying, representing their employee and consumer communities. I have also experienced the slight bitterness in their leaders, when the only thing they are asked for is money, while they have more to put in the balance. And evidently, R&D + Marketing can equal a product, but not a lasting democracy. But it is worth considering that some European enterprises may, for their own interests, have a better finger on the pulse of our citizens concerns than certain governments do.

However, as we see the first signs of a surge in interest by the business community to get involved, there are lessons to be mindful of. Too often, efforts to engage the public are duplicated across the field, and don’t have the runway or focus to develop. Also, if this recent political turns are at least partly explained by a schism between political elites and their core constituents, then the one-sided profiles of many business leaders will likely result in the same outcome. And lastly, for any organisation, but corporates in particular, without a clear statement of principles and an open conversation they will not be able to build trust. For citizens, these are the brands that employ and sustain them. It takes caution and courage, but it is worth providing both with the agency to be part of the conversation.

The BMW Foundation showed passion and humility at the their Munich European Forum, and their approach merits some consideration. Given shape to a round table with every pillar of European society, citizen voices included, would be a wonderful base, and offer us more stability than we currently feel.

Cities and Civic Resilience. There is always one step forward.

By Anthony Zacharzewski

Where better to think about the future of cities than in a city that feels frozen in time?
Last week I was at the Venice Forum on the Future of Cities, part of the Shaping the City strand of the Venice Architecture Biennale, talking about new ways of governing in cities.

With me were our hosts, from UNDP, and a range of city leaders and civic innovators from places as different as Mogadishu and Birmingham. We spent two intense days thinking about the future of city governance.

What did I learn? The first thing was that, though the conditions are very different, some of the questions and methods were surprisingly similar. In Mogadishu, they are trialling the same participatory budgeting tool that my Scottish colleagues are using in West Dumbartonshire. The conversations we had with Batumi and Rustavi, in Georgia, were about building up civic realm improvements around public spaces, very like our project in Messina.

In the bigger sense, though, I was reminded of the principle underlying the Open Government Partnership – that wherever you start from, forward motion is always possible if you can build the right coalition.

The conditions that some of the participating cities were operating in were – put mildly – not the most fertile ground for democratic innovation. But everywhere, civic society space can be grown, and new initiatives can create small-scale democracy opportunities.

These can work below the level at which an oppressive state imposes itself, but still create, in a small way, some of the civic resilience that will be needed to drive and respond to broader system change.

Even where democracy is flourishing, we will need that civic resilience. In an environment where trust in institutions is low and people want to see impact from their personal actions, democracies based on four-yearly renewal of public acquiescence are no longer enough. Nor is winning the news media or social media day. We need active social participation, if we are to manage the shifts that the networked digital society will bring to our cities.

The cities that do not have extensive infrastructure to unpick might be able to move faster into the new generation of governance. We saw it with participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre, though that experiment is now on hold. Perhaps we’ll see it next in Mogadishu, Yerevan or Rustavi.

The conversation we started in Venice will continue at the forthcoming Istanbul Innovation Days in November.
Thanks to Millie, Lejla and Rae from the UNDP team for an excellent and thought-provoking event.

A Better Debate About What’s Built Where: What We’ve Learnt So Far

Deciding what gets built where is often an intensely fraught subject of debate, as Greater Manchester’s Spatial Framework consultation showed. Space in Common is a project exploring whether a better quality of debate is possible on this subject in Greater Manchester. To start the discussion off, we brought together a small group with a stake in this issue from a range of different standpoints to talk about their experiences of this topic and to start thinking about what a better conversation might look like. What did we learn?

  • It’s currently really hard to understand how decisions get made, and when its most relevant for people to feed into these plans. Including how large-scale spatial plans connect with local plans and individual decisions. This uncertainty adds to people’s fears and breeds suspicion. It makes it more daunting to speak up and much harder to do so amidst other demands on peoples’ time.
  • People aren’t always aware of the range of concerns out there. For instance, bringing together a greenbelt campaigner with someone working on inner city issues initially threw up quite a few misassumptions about where the other was coming from. Even through a short discussion people working on different aspects of this topic were able to learn quite a bit more about some of the different concerns at play.
  • People with different concerns aren’t getting much chance to talk to each other. People understandably approach debates about this topic with the priority of arguing for their objectives rather than listening to what others are saying. This means there isn’t much chance for people to learn about other takes on the issues.
  • Financial pressures are impacting strongly on local authorities’ ability to reach out, and on how charities and other bodies can respond. This includes preventing charities from doing more to engage their constituents in policy debates and from working at a more localised scale.
  • Local authorities could do more to talk about the pressures they are trying to balance, and how they are making these decisions. Including how they have to balance the positives of development alongside the downsides.
  • More could be done to notify local groups about plans in their area and give them support to respond. This would give them more capacity and help build trust.

This was just the first of four workshops we are running on this theme. In our remaining workshops, as well as learning more about our group’s experiences, we are also going to help our participants get a better understanding of how decisions currently get made, and what has been tried elsewhere to build a better quality of debate. Our next workshop is on Monday 29th October 17.00 – 19.15 in central Manchester. If you are interested in this topic there are still spaces available in our group. You don’t need to be an expert to take part, we want to link up people interested in this topic for a range of reasons.

Space in Common is being run as part of Jam and Justice, a project exploring potential for more collaborative urban governance in Greater Manchester. You can find out more about Space in Common here.

If you want to take part in future Space in Common workshops you can get in touch through this short expression of interest form, or by emailing . We look forward to hearing from you.

Space and Heritage, to build Democracy.

By Ivan Tornesi

The conceptual meaning of the Greek words that compose Democracy are δῆμος and κράτος, people and power. They have come to mean that all citizens, no one excluded, have the right to exercise participation to influence, control, take part to decisions, elect and be elected, with the aim of obtaining the best form of government.

Yet is that the life we live today?
The current state of Italian and European democracy’s health is strongly affected by the crisis of large mass parties and in general intermediate bodies. Those channels, which once allowed the various social groups to express their interests and their discontent, are reduced. The parties no longer exercise a pedagogical function for the people, and the political system shows the malfunctions of their instruments of internal democracy. In many cases, non-profit associations have been left to create spaces for discussion and for the elaboration of proposals.

In our physical worlds, in the so-called ”non lieu” of modern cities, in shopping centres, fast food restaurants, hypermarkets, etc, people cross each other without knowing each other and entering into a relationship. It severely impacts as the knowledge of our environment, of the landscape, of the squares, of the historic buildings and of the monuments, and it influences our ability to participate and stay together.

There can be no active and democratic citizenship if a relationship with the public space is not recovered. Citizens must regain possession of these spaces, taking care of them and denouncing any degradation. In addition to the possibility of meeting and discussing politics, this fulfils the function of identifying oneself. A space understood as such, becomes everyone’s heritage, reactivates its civil function and makes us feel part of a community.

A small Italian town, Mottalciata, has chosen to redevelop the old town hall, through the creation of a library and a museum entitled ”The roots of democracy”. Their cultural commitment to democracy was made tangible. Other significant examples are those actions to claim public spaces, carried out by local associations that redevelop the forgotten places of the city. Or mobilised and involved communities that fight for their environment and cultural heritage.

Promoting the values of democracy and the involvement of citizens becomes a central issue for our democracies.
And it is needed now, because face three main challenges of change; the return of a climate of trust in national and European institutions, the fight for equality, peace and collaboration between peoples, the inclusion and integration of migrants.

These are cultural battles across the board, and they all start with small communities. Active citizenship, then, requires an education in beauty, in architecture, in the heritage of our cities, and an ingrained cultural commitment to our local, democratic institutions.

Ivan Tornesi is Demsoc’s Community and Engagement Officer in Messina, Italy.

The Agorà di Messina is a hyperlocal pilot project to develop public spaces and participation. At the heart of our proposal is the idea that participation is best designed with the people who are going to use it, and can advocate for participation in their communities.

The three main objectives are to support and enhance existing ground-up networks and actions in a systematic way; increase opportunities for citizens to be involved in dialogue, deliberation and decision making; create something that is long-term so that the networks and structures will be around for longer than the period of the project.

Bruegel Annual Meeting – The Missing Link

by Anthony Zacharzewski

I spent this morning at the Bruegel Annual Meeting, kicking off the autumn with economics and geopolitics. Several high level speakers talked about the EU’s future economic policy and geostrategy (armies, hard power, soft power and so on), but for me there was a critical missed connection.

It was clearest in the economy panel. The speakers talked about the impact of the Trump presidency on trade, how Brexit was going to damage the EU and the UK, and the importance of acting at regional and local level on skills and development.

Marketers and economists understand people as consumers, as measures of confidence in purchasing or in products, but the last few years have shown us that people are just as powerful as citizens. In the way that 2008 reshaped the European financial system, 2016 should have reshaped the European political system.

Yet issues of open politics and good governance didn’t come up. With every generation, a later speaker said, democracy has to be born again. Yes, and economics too.

The risks and opportunities in the economy depend on people and communities – and therefore on the ability of the policy makers in Brussels to address those people and bring them into the decisions that are being made.

Our Networked Democracy project and work with the Open Government Network for Europe are about building a resilient democratic society that works at local level and at European scale. It’s no easy task, but neither is banking union. Success in that would be good economics: it would reduce the risks of disruptive events and system collapse, while increasing the opportunities for effective collective action around skills.

Why predict when you can read the newspaper? Politics is a huge risk factor for economics and finance. So where are the banks and financial institutions talking about open government and participation? I don’t see them, but perhaps I’m looking in the wrong places.

GM Democracy Hub

Last Wednesday, Demsoc Manchester hosted the first Greater Manchester Democracy Hub, with The Politics Project. Aiming to identify, map and connect everyone working in the Greater Manchester region to improve democracy in innovative ways, we organised an event for those people to meet, share their work and network. Whilst there is a lot of wonderful work happening in this area, it seems that no one is aware of all of it, and even those with similar plans and ambitions haven’t crossed paths. We wanted to rectify this, as we think that collaboration and communication is a great thing, and can prevent missed opportunities and unnecessary duplication of work.

At this first event, there was a really great atmosphere amongst those who took part, with lots of conversations happening before we even kicked off. After introducing the aims of the Democracy Hub, we invited everyone in attendance to take the floor, for up to three minutes, so they could give a brief insight into their work, talk about upcoming plans, introduce a subject they wanted to talk about more or just introduce themselves. We had contributions from almost everyone in attendance, which was fantastic and very interesting. These pitches enabled attendees to get a better idea of who they wanted to connect with and so afterward we allowed people to break away and delve deeper into ideas that had been raised. Simultaneously we had printed an enormous map of Greater Manchester to physically pinpoint where good work was taking place – we asked attendees to write on a post-it note and stick it to where they or another organisation or individual they knew of was based, giving us a better idea of the spread of this work around the area. We also asked people to write on flipchart paper their feedback about the event and how they would like to take the Hub forward and stay in touch. The idea is that this is a collaborative effort from the very beginning so we want to continue the project in a way that works for all those involved. If you have an opinion on shaping the GM Democracy Hub, you can share it by filling out this survey:

The next Greater Manchester Democracy Hub event will be in January 2019, as we aim to meet every 6 months. We will release details closer to the time, but are looking for input and ideas to help us shape it. If you want to stay in touch, drop a quick email to and we’ll keep you in the loop about plans for this event. Feel free to also get in touch with any questions or comments about what we’re doing.

We look forward to seeing you at the next event.


European Citizens’ Consultations: call for civil society links

If your organisation would like to be a link, please complete this short form: 

The ECC Civil Society Network are seeking expressions of interest from civil society organisations (CSOs) that can function as national links between the core network and the member states.

The network aims to make the ongoing conversation around the future of Europe as joint as possible, to support positive and broader engagement in the different consultation approaches available, and to use the consultations to start to build a network of organisations interested in connecting up the European conversation (read more about the network here).

National links will play a crucial role in establishing a good flow of information about what is happening on the ground in each country and in drawing out the lessons for the future.

This is an opportunity to meet CSOs from across Europe with a shared interest in improving citizen participation and engagement; to share your work; to find opportunities for collaboration; and to shape future recommendations. The network will facilitate regular conversations and support you with materials and examples from elsewhere in Europe.

The network is looking for national links that can:

  • REPORT: Report on European citizens consultation events or digital consultations happening in their country.
  • RELAY: Share information about activities with the network and opportunities for CSOs to engage in the ECC process and support participation.
  • ENGAGE: Attend an initial meeting in July 2018; follow-up meetings until March 2019 (remotely or in-person); and a final meeting on the next steps in April 2019.
  • LIAISE: Liaise with the relevant government representatives in their country to understand what is going on and develop a strong civil society and government relationship where this is possible. The European Policy Centre are leading the research working group and will be coordinating the wider research plans.

You should be:

  • A civil society organisation, actor, or umbrella organisation for civil society
  • Located in one of the following 27 member states of the European Union: Austria; Belgium; Bulgaria; Croatia; Cyprus; Czech Republic; Denmark; Estonia; Finland; France; Germany; Greece; Hungary; Ireland; Italy; Latvia; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Malta; Netherlands; Poland; Portugal; Romania; Slovakia; Slovenia; Spain; Sweden
  • Able to carrying out the responsibilities listed above.

We have funding available for travel and subsistence to ensure that you can participate in meetings for evaluation or research purposes.

Please contact with any questions.

Help create a more constructive debate about the shape of Greater Manchester


Deciding what we should build where always seems to stoke intense emotions and conflict. Greater Manchester’s Spatial Framework set out plans for how land could be best used across the city region. The resulting consultation gave voice to a kaleidoscope of different concerns and interests but generated very little in the way of constructive discussion. With a consultation on a new draft currently planned for October, we thought now was a great time to ask how we create better conversations about the future shape of Greater Manchester.

You can help us explore this question. ‘Space in Common’ is a project based on a series four workshops happening around the build-up to Greater Manchester’s Spatial Framework consultation, and we are looking for people to take part.

Who are we looking for?

Our aim is to bring together a small group of 12-15 people with experience of Greater Manchester’s consultation from a wide range of different perspectives, and with access to wider networks or groups that you could use to push for change. We hope to mix housing developers with local campaigns groups, transport charities with business people, and economists with activists. We are looking for people who:

  • Have some knowledge and experience of the first consultation process
  • Have different kinds of ‘stake’ in the spatial planning process, for instance, through those engaged in housing, social inclusion, environmental protection, heritage, property development, land ownership, recreation, local government, transport, business, planning etc
  • Are attached to an organisation, institution, network or group and can mobilise wider networks (even if small) to drive change
  • Have a link to Greater Manchester

What’s involved?

Working in four, two and half hour, workshops we’ll explore peoples’ prior experience of the Spatial Framework consultation, and unearth the challenges encountered in trying to influence change. From this we’ll investigate how a better quality of debate could be created, with a focus on making an inclusive, informed, and constructive discussion.

As the workshops progress we’ll also be encouraging our participants to take action themselves to start building better conversations around the issues you care about. We’ll be exploring how our group can help each other; and we’ll be making practical support available to our participants.

What’s the point?

You will be at the forefront of discussion on how to create better policy and community conversations, working in a carefully assembled team. What we learn together from the project will be published and promoted via our existing networks to key policy-makers and influencers, both in Greater Manchester and beyond. We have good working relationships with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority Housing, Planning and Homelessness Commission and Greater Manchester Low Carbon Hub.

Participants will also be able to access practical support from us to take actions themselves. The workshops will also give participants a chance to connect with a wide range of local groups and explore opportunities to support each other.

Space in Common is part of a wider Jam & Justice project (see below). As part of this, participants will be invited to join a coalition for developing a city region based on a more participative, ‘co-productive’ way of working.

How to take part

To express interest in taking part, please fill in this short online form to let us know who you are.

We will select our final group of participants to try and cover a range of different interests and prior experiences, and will get back in touch with those who express interest nearer the time. The form also asks you to tell us what time slots would work best for you. We’ll use this to plan when our workshops will be. Our first workshop has now happened (you can see what we talked about here) but its not too late to get involved.

If you have any questions or want to know more about this project, please get in touch with Mat Basford at:

Who we are

Space in Common is a project led and delivered in partnership between The Democratic Society and a group of academics and practitioner researchers in Greater Manchester, who organise as the Action Research Collective. The Democratic Society are an international organisation that works to get people more involved in decisions that affect their lives. The Action Research Collective is part of the Jam & Justice project, a research collaboration led by the Universities of Sheffield, Birmingham and Manchester and the Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisations. Space in Common has funding from the Economic and Social Research Council and Mistra Urban Futures. Space in Common is just one of the projects initiated by the Action Research Collective. You can find out more about the other projects here.


[Image: Peter Griffin,]

Networked European Democracy ready to start in Italy!

In attesa della versione italiana del sito, la descrizione del progetto in italiano segue quella inglese.

In a delicate moment for Italy and its political situation, next week we will launch the first event of Networked European Democracy, an ambitious but practical programme that aims to deliver a better connection between citizens and European policy.

We’ll bring discussion of relevant and current policy issues to the local level and our theme this year is the future of work and skills. This is also related to a key theme of the Festival dell’Economia 2018 in Trento, where international experts and practitioners were discussing “Technology and Jobs” from 31st May to the 3rd June with many interesting outcomes.

During the project we’ll be engaging with three Italian municipalities: Courmayeur (AO), Martina Franca (TA) and Settimo Torinese (TO). These three municipalities have different social and cultural background, as they are spread from the very south of the peninsula to the French boundary, and will allow us to reflect and feed back various outcomes and suggestions.

The first meeting will take place on 7th June in Settimo Torinese. We’ll discuss the future of work and skills with 60 students of “Istituto d’Istruzione Superiore Statale 8 Marzo” using a participative methodology.

This will happen thanks to the collaboration and support of a brilliant association of young people “Tavolo Giovani”, the vice headmaster of the Institute, Professoressa Givone, and the municipality.

The perception of the distance from the European institutions is real for many citizens and one idea to start reconstructing trust and legitimacy is by working to increase participatory and deliberative opportunities for citizens to be better involved in influencing, shaping and making decisions. Through testing new approaches and formats, we hope this project will demonstrate a new and different way to have conversations about European policy issues at the local level.

A networked approach is needed if the European action is to be linked into citizens’ opinions and experiences at local level, cutting away the geographical and theoretical distance between the two.

EU democracy needs to re-start where people live.


Interested in finding out more? Please contact or

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Democrazia Europea Interconessa al via in Italia!

In un momento delicato per l’Italia e la sua situazione politica, la prossima settimana lanceremo il primo evento del progetto Democrazia Europea Interconnessa, un programma ambizioso e allo stesso tempo pratico, che mira a fornire una migliore connessione tra cittadini e decisori europei su un importante problema politico.

Discuteremo questioni politiche pertinenti e attuali a livello locale e il nostro tema quest’anno è il futuro del lavoro e delle competenze. Questo è anche legato al tema chiave del Festival dell’Economia 2018 a Trento, dove esperti e professionisti internazionali hanno di “Tecnologia e lavoro” dal 31 maggio al 3 giugno, offrendo numerosi spunti di riflessione.

Durante il progetto lavoreremo con tre comuni italiani: Courmayeur (AO), Martina Franca (TA) e Settimo Torinese (TO). Questi tre comuni hanno un diverso background sociale e culturale, poiché si estendono dall’estremo sud della penisola al confine francese, e ci permetteranno di riflettere e restituire molteplici risultati e proposte.

Il primo incontro si terrà il 7 giugno a Settimo Torinese. Discuteremo di questo tema con 60 studenti dell'”Istituto d’Istruzione Superiore Statale 8 Marzo” utilizzando una metodologia partecipativa. Ciò avverrà grazie alla collaborazione e al sostegno di una brillante associazione il “Tavolo Giovani”, della vice preside dell’Istituto, Professoressa Givone, e del comune.

La percezione della distanza dalle istituzioni europee è reale per molti cittadini e un’idea per iniziare a ricostruire la fiducia e la legittimità è lavorare per aumentare le opportunità partecipative e deliberative affinché i cittadini possano essere maggiormente coinvolti nell’influenzare, dare forma e prendere decisioni.

Sperimentando nuovi approcci e formati, speriamo che questo progetto possa affermare un nuovo e diverso modo di avere conversazioni su questioni politiche europee a livello locale.

Un approccio interconnesso è necessario se vogliamo che l’azione europea sia collegata alle opinioni e alle esperienze dei cittadini a livello locale, eliminando la distanza geografica e teorica tra i due.

La democrazia europea deve ripartire dove vivono le persone.

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Reflections on the European Citizens’ Panel

Over the weekend, The Democratic Society was involved in the European Citizens’ Panel, run by the European Commission, with the support of Kantar Public (a market research agency) and Missions Publiques (a specialist citizen deliberation organisation). Bertelsmann Stiftung acted as academic experts.

We helped with the design and facilitation of the event, which ran from Friday night to Sunday lunchtime, and a group of facilitators from the civil society network that we are creating on the European Citizens’ Consultation supported Missions Publiques with independent facilitation.

These are my first reflections – I’m sure there will more thorough research and reporting put out in due course.

What was the purpose?

The European Citizens Consultations (ECCs) are happening across 27 EU member states over the next few months. With original impulse from President Macron, they are designed to give a sense of what European citizens want for Europe’s future, in advance of the European elections next year, and the mandate of the new Commission.

The ECCs are not a single thing. Each member state has said they will undertake them in their own way, and certainly some will do more and some will do less.

The central common element is a digital consultation being run by the European Commission. The Citizens’ Panel that met over the weekend was intended to choose the themes and questions for that digital consultation. The French government had already said that they would use the themes that emerged as the core elements of their consultation approach, and others may do the same.

Who came?

Kantar Public, the market research agency who have the contract for undertaking the regular Eurobarometer survey, recruited a group of 96 participants from all 27 countries.

To ensure that each country could send a man and a woman, there wasn’t an even distribution between countries. Many countries had two participants, none had fewer than two, and none had more than six. This meant that France, say, was comparatively underrepresented compared to Malta.

The participant selection was also designed to create an audience representative on gender, age, employment status and economic status. The recruitment plan was designed to ensure that representation was spread across the countries, so that, for instance, in country X Kantar Public’s team would have to find a man under 30 who was employed and a woman over 65 who described herself as being under financial stress.

Participants did not have to speak English, or even understand it. In the final group, just over half said that they had some knowledge of English, but this varied widely between countries.

What was the setup?

We were hosted by the European Economic and Social Committee, who were unbelievably flexible, welcoming and supportive. Because the event was finalised at short notice, there were a lot of last-minute arrangements to sort out.

Because people had to express themselves in their native language, we used interpretation (the usual setup with interpreters in cabins and people wearing headsets that you’ve probably experienced, or seen on news reports if not).

The interpreters, who were giving up a bank holiday weekend, arranged the participants in groups so that everyone could speak in their native language and hear in a language that they understood (though not always their native language). With 22 languages spoken (the official languages minus Maltese and Irish) this was a multi-dimensional jigsaw puzzle but it worked – there were only a couple of people for a couple of sessions who needed someone with them to translate by whispering in their ear (chuchotage) rather than through the interpretation service.

The one inflexibility this introduced is that, because interpreters can’t work in all languages at once, the distribution of the participants had to be fixed for the whole two days, there was no option of mixing and combining groups. Still, there was a good mix in each group – I don’t think we had fewer than four nationalities in any of the rooms.

What happened?

We started with a blank sheet of paper. There was some talk beforehand of having a long list of topics that the EU worked on, or key themes that had come out of other engagement exercises like Eurobarometer, but it was thought best to start from zero.

After an introduction to the process and some icebreaking on Friday night, and a validation of the rules and confirmation that people understood the process the following morning, discussion started in groups.

Participants were asked to nominate topics that they would consider to be the main issues that should be asked to their fellow European citizens, in the context of a conversation on Europe’s future. Each group was facilitated by an independent person, with a note-taker recording the issues and argumentation for each.

After 1h45 minutes of discussion, the topic lists were brought together by the facilitators and the six most frequently raised issues were marked as the “top six”. These were:

  • Education and Youth
  • Equality, Fairness and Solidarity
  • Environment
  • Making rules and making decisions
  • Migration and Refugees
  • Security and Defence

These “top six” were then pinned – people could reopen them and continue the discussion on them, but they were noted as being significant topics that would be part of the twelve selected.

After lunch, participants were asked to continue their discussions with a prompt question, about what they think Europe will be like in 2040. The aim in this session was to enrich and deepen the list of topics from the morning.

Finally, before the plenary session at the end of the day, participants were asked to choose the two most important topics that they had discussed, excluding the “top six”, and present those back in the plenary.

Each group presented back in the plenary session, and there was then a vote to select the “second six” to go with the “top six” to form the twelve topics for the citizen consultation. From the fourteen topics presented, similar ones were merged so in the end ten were voted on.

The vote was positive only (you could vote for but not against), and each participant was asked to cast no more than six votes. The electronic voting system in the Committee was not ideally suited to this voting setup, but we made it work after a couple of initial hitches and the topics and voting results can be seen below:

  • Health/Quality of Life/Ageing Society (merged) – 86 votes
  • Social Protection – 74
  • Economic security – 67
  • Maintaining the Union in a future crisis situation – 61
  • Work/Technology/Employment and Technological Development (merged) – 55
  • Agriculture/Fisheries/Food Security – 54
  • Climate change – 47
  • Local vs EU decision making – 46
  • Size of the EU (states joining or leaving) – 45
  • More or less integration of the states of the Union – 39

I was a little surprised that Climate Change and institutional arrangements didn’t make the cut, but “Environment” and “How decisions are made” were already in the top six so presumably participants thought that the issues were sufficiently covered under that heading.

At that point the first day ended but each group had been asked to nominate one or two participants to take part in an evening session in which the group presented back to Kantar Public’s question design experts. Had we had longer with the participants, this would have been a focus of a daytime session, but with just a weekend to work with, this had to be an evening one. The disadvantage was that the session had to be conducted in English, because there was no interpretation available, but this was a report-back session rather than one where anything was going to be decided.

The participant volunteers joined their group facilitators and Kantar Public, and fed back the key points of the discussion in their groups relevant to each of the twelve selected topics. They were supported by the facilitators’ and note-takers’ notes. Kantar Public’s team (who had also been sitting in on the sessions) then asked questions for clarification, and explained how questions could be written to be open or closed, and how to avoid leading or biased questions.

The plan had been for Kantar Public’s team to spend an hour drafting a first set of questions on the twelve topics, before presenting them back to the group for initial feedback, but the group presentations took longer than expected and Kantar Public had a lot of material to work on. Rather than presenting the questions back to the volunteers at 2300, we brought them to the venue early and gave them first sight of them at 0830 before the 0900 start.

Kantar Public produced a long list of 39 questions, arranged under the twelve topics selected by participants. They merged “equality” and “social protection” to allow space for a set of cross-cutting or “transversal” questions that picked up on common issues arising.

In the original event plan, we had thought about giving each group one or two topics and asking them to choose one question from each to send to the plenary for approval, but on looking at the question list and thinking about the breadth of discussion the day before, we changed the plan on the Sunday morning and gave all the groups all the questions to consider.

This was the area where there was the most discussion in the facilitation team. Giving all the groups all the questions meant that every participant could express an opinion on everything and no-one would feel that they had been prevented from talking about, say, the environment. However, it was also a big workload for the Sunday morning, particularly since interpretation meant that the whole questionnaire draft had to be read to participants to ensure that they were able to hear it in their own language.

However, after considerable discussion, this approach was thought preferable to giving each group a subset of themes or issues, which would have increased their opportunity to go deeply into the questions, but (given that we couldn’t rearrange the groups because of interpretation) prevented some participants from having a say on issues that they cared about.

In each group, participants were given ten votes to distribute among the 39 questions (one vote per question maximum). They were told that the target was for there to be at least three open questions in the survey as a whole, and one question on each topic.

The participants expressed some concern that the workload of 39 questions was too heavy, but the discussions did get under way and with a half hour extension on the planned time in groups, each group voted successfully.

The vote in each group was added together and the top question in each section selected. In the end, only two of the open questions were selected and ten of the closed ones. On the basis that we needed one more open question, participants in plenary were given a vote between the two open cross-cutting questions, and chose the second of the two options as a thirteenth question.

Finally, participants voted to approve the list as a whole, and we had our twelve topics and our thirteen questions.

Thanks and reflections

It’s worth recording here what a great piece of teamwork this panel was. Arranged at short notice, reworked as we ran it, it demanded and received a huge level of commitment from the Commission, from Kantar and its partners. I’ve never run a fully multi-lingual citizen panel before and although we had the immense benefit of the EESC and the interpretation service, there was a lot more discussion between participants than I had thought there might be. On some tricky issues dividing Europe, you could see those from countries with different political attitudes listening to and reflecting on each other’s views.

Not everything worked. We needed more time than we had, for a start. Certainly another day would have allowed for deeper deliberation, or even running the event across two weekends – but the logistical upheaval of bringing people to Brussels for that would have been impossible.

The discussions were good but the slope of the decision making process (from blank sheet to final questions in a day and a half) was very steep. Participants were positive about the experience in the discussions at the end of the event, but I will not be surprised if the evaluation forms tell me that they found themselves rushed at certain points.

The questions, too, will need a little polishing, coming as they do from late night work by Kantar Public and being drawn from a very broad and diverse discussion. I don’t know – I’m writing this before the questionnaire is released – how faithful the final version will be to what emerged on Sunday afternoon, but I hope it will be a very close correlation. Perhaps not every multiple choice will be the same but I hope to see the same fundamental questions, and the twelve topics that emerged.

The final contribution, from Commission DG of Communications Timo Pesonen, reflected that this was a very new experience for the Commission, who had run citizen dialogues before but never an event like this, designing a participation approach participatively. The door was very clearly open to more, and although there are lots of lessons on what to do and what not to do that we can draw from it, for a first time event, pulled together over the course of no more than a month, it feels like a success.

What’s next

The real mark of success, of course, will be the impact of the European Citizens’ Consultations and the themes that the participants came up with. We’re talking about them, and this event, at the launch of the Open Government Network for Europe on 22 May, and you can sign up to join us there right now.

We’re also, with our colleagues at the European Policy Centre, running a European civil society network on the Citizens Consultations, and if you would like to find out more, or share what’s happening on the ECCs where you are, please let us know.

Thanks to Hannah Starman, Lena Morozova-Friha, Stephen Boucher and Marcin Gerwin for acting as facilitators, to Paul Butcher and Satguine Maison for taking notes, and to Corina Stratulat for her work in the core facilitation team.

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