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| Citizens confer on the ‘City of Tomorrow’

The general public plays a key role in ensuring the success of new approaches to sustainability in urban environments. However, they are rarely consulted on the practicality or acceptability of the various solutions being proposed to revitalise and improve the quality of city living. The RAISE project is setting out to change all that – at least with regard to a certain number of selected urban sustainability projects financed under the EU’s Research Framework Programme. If successful, their ‘Citizen’s Conference’ could provide the impetus for a new type of citizen participation.
Revitalizing inner city areas is a key objective of the ‘City of Tomorrow’ action plan. © EU Project
Revitalizing inner city areas is a key objective of the ‘City of Tomorrow’ action plan.
© EU Project
One of the challenges faced by today’s society is how to fill the gap between the ever-increasing speed of scientific progress and the awareness and acceptance of new technologies and approaches by the man or woman in the street whose lives are directly affected by them.   The RAISE project, funded under sub-priority “Global Change and Ecosystems” of the EU’s Sixth Framework Programme, aims to test the concept of a ‘citizens’ conference’ in the specific area of urban and regional sustainability. “Our aim is to try to fill the gap between ongoing research in this field and the perception of the same problems by lay citizens,” says project coordinator, Carlo Sessa, 

The citizens’ voice

A citizens’ conference is one of a variety of methods used to involve civil society in the decision-making process. It may be described as a public enquiry by a group of randomly selected lay citizens who are charged with assessing a particular topic. The RAISE citizens’ conference will involve 25 members of the general public, one from each Member State. They will be asked to formulate their views on the acceptance and use of selected urban sustainability approaches, technologies and solutions coming from EU research findings. Three areas in particular have been selected: city planning and management, built environment, and urban transport.

The selected citizens will take part in three workshops in which they will discuss their views on a series of proposals to have emerged from EU-funded research projects. “It is very possible, given the cultural differences between countries, that we will have diverging views. These will be taken into account in the final report,” notes Sessa. “What we hope for is to develop a ‘vision’ of the ‘City of Tomorrow’ from the citizens’ point of view. The concept of sustainability is not a purely scientific one. It implies the involvement of all parts of society. We would like to bring out the citizens’ perspective on this and  see how some options studied in the EU funded RTD projects on urban sustainability issues are evaluated by the citizens.” The process will take place from September to November 2005 and will culminate in a final conference, to be held in Brussels, to which policy-makers and stakeholders will be invited to analyse the results of this exercise.

Guiding future research

Citizens will be looking at innovative ways of improving urban transport and mobility. © EU Project
Citizens will be looking at innovative ways of improving urban transport and mobility.
© EU Project
The RAISE project is expected to have an impact in several different ways. It should help to enhance awareness and improve understanding of the potential benefits of EU research on urban and regional sustainability. The feedback received from the citizens’ conference may also help to guide future research in this area, keeping it more in line with the immediate concerns of the end-users.  And it should enhance understanding, particularly in the research community, of the different barriers that exist regarding the implementation of new approaches – practical, cultural or arising from different levels of knowledge or conflicting values.

Perhaps the most important result of RAISE, however, will be the testing of the citizens’ conference approach itself. This is the first time that this type of exercise will be carried out at a European level and it will serve as a valuable test case for a new way of involving civil society in the research policy-making process. This is a goal which is, moreover, being actively pursued within the context of the creation of the European Research Area (ERA).  In the European Commission report on “Governance of the European Research Area – the role of civil society link 1”, the authors note that “the creation of a European Research Area is an ambitious project that can only be completed successfully if the research activities in Europe find broad acceptance within society”.

The project further points out the need to take account of citizens’ concerns and to investigate new ways of involving them in the policy-making process. This, it is hoped, should achieve several results. For instance, it should help to improve public understanding of science, raise the acceptance of research policy, and enhance the quality of scientific policy recommendations.

Sustaining the impetus

The results of RAISE will be disseminated both ‘downwards’ and ‘upwards’. A report on the process and its outcomes will be submitted to national and regional authorities responsible for urban and regional planning as an example of what can be done and as a means of raising awareness. The results of the citizens’ conference will also be communicated upwards to European policy-makers and Members of Parliament. The project organisers hope that this will be just the start of a much wider process. 

They already have in mind the creation of a ‘1 000 friends of Europe’ association, starting with the first group of 25 citizens. The aim is to include in this association all citizens who may be willing to participate in other citizens’ conferences in the years to come. Sessa suggests a possible slogan for this future project – “We have created Europe – now let’s create the Europeans.”

Any European citizen can apply to be part of the RAISE citizens’ conference. Applications can be submitted via the RAISE website. The deadline for applications is Wednesday 30 March 2005.


Carlo Sessa
Institute of Studies for the Integration of Systems (ISIS)

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