Expertise, open format, challenges and lack of coffee. Combine it with the high ambition the participants bring to develop solutions for our society and you have the WDF Incubator. With the topic of participatory democracy, we answer the big questions like: ‘Isn’t democracy supposed to be participatory?’ and ‘How much power do we give to the people?’
About 40 experts were brought together to discuss and solve the issues around participatory democracy. Combining the experiences from entrepreneurs and city representatives from different European countries, to achieve solutions that are more concrete and have a more lasting impact than the three-day conference itself.
The challenges in today’s democracy
One of the speakers mentioned that “citizens are political actors and experts of their situation”. This is important, acknowledging your target group is a first step to any progress. However the question is, how to involve them. This was more or less the central question of the incubator. Whether it concerns online or offline, or the implementation of specific tools, participation can be quite an issue. Even platforms that have a lot of activity, often only attract a narrow target group.
Aside from that, one of the issues at hand noted by one of the participants is that there are actually a lot of good tools and apps to stimulate participation, but a lot of them are not really integrated in the daily routines of authorities. Quite the challenges for the participants to solve.
Views and ideas
An example of the ideas that came out of the brainstorm was that one should not only consult citizens, but give them power and resources for actual decision making. The contradiction according to the group however, is that the people that are hard to reach, are truly hard to reach. If they are easy to reach, you didn’t find the right people yet.
At the same time marketing tools and support from high profile organisations were proposed as possible solutions. Creating awareness as a means to interest people to raise their voice for political matters from their direct environment.
Practical solutions for the future?
The above mentioned ideas are valuable. But they are just not practical nor concrete yet. This leaves us with unanswered questions and challenges for the future.
- How can you practically structure collective governing? It’s a nice idea to include citizens in decision making, but how does that work?
- How do you make crowdsourcing (involving citizens in policy making) initiatives representative? As they said, hard to reach audiences, are in fact hard to reach.
- How do you make sure people are interested in decision making at all? What is in it for them?
Finally, one example of a successful project that is a bit more practical came from a speaker from San Sebastian (Spain). In the project they created a “gender map”, an innovative example of how citizen participation can help to improve problems. The map showed where in the city women feel unsafe, as a starting point for redesigning these areas to reclaim a sense of safety for these women. Thanks to their active involvement, those areas can now be improved for the needs voiced by the citizens.
For this year the incubator is over. But these challenges remain. What will be carried on until the next session? What future potential does the incubator have?
What is your view? We would love to hear your ideas!