A new standard for citizen participation in policy
We all have a view on how we want society to be. And we all live in a world that is a result of policies adopted. An EU-funded project is making it possible for European citizens to put the future they want on the research agenda.
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The CIMULACT project aims to make the European research agenda more accountable and ensure that it reflects societal needs more closely. It has engaged over 1 000 EU citizens from 30 countries in a series of consultations on their visions for sustainable and desirable futures.
Their needs were discussed with a variety of other stakeholders, such as experts and policymakers, to identify investments in future research and innovation that will benefit society.
Using this multi-actor approach, the project has identified 23 topics to be included in the European Commission’s next call for projects in its Horizon 2020 research and innovation funding programme.
“The project’s policy-setting method better targets resources to research that will benefit society and makes the policy-setting process more inclusive,” says project coordinator Lars Klüver of the Danish Board of Technology Foundation.
According to Klüver this is because it produces a deeper perspective on questions about society and science: “Experts and citizens have the same goals but different approaches to achieving them citizens tend to have a longer term vision while experts are more focused on the next step.”
CIMULACT was set up to find ways to use society to define new Horizon 2020 research areas, says Klüver. The method involves citizens and stakeholders as closely as experts. In phase one of the project, citizens in each of the 28 EU member states, plus Switzerland and Norway, brainstormed ideas on how to develop sustainable societies and what citizens need in their everyday lives.
Experts, stakeholders and other actors such as policymakers and creative thinkers then combined these ideas to get a broad picture of European citizens’ ideal future.
Workshops followed in which all citizens, experts and stakeholders together drew up research programme scenarios that would lead to this vision. In a single final workshop, they picked out eight of these scenarios and developed them further to identify policy options and research topics for Horizon 2020.
“Some surprises emerged from the consultations,” says Klüver.
For example, when discussing how to develop smart energy systems, experts suggested specific measures such as promoting fridges that only use energy when it is abundant and cheap.
In contrast, citizens were more focused on giving everyone a say in restructuring energy systems so that policies are more likely to motivate citizens. Another citizens’ idea was to investigate why people resist change and how they could cope better with evolving environments. Both citizen proposals are included in the 23 topics recommended to the European Commission.
The project’s diversity of perspectives aimed to ensure that recommendations could meet needs across Europe.
“Citizens’ priorities differ by country,” says Klüver. “You need to study all countries to have a representative overall sample of European opinion. And although only around 35 citizens gave input in their own countries, the overall citizen sample was large and diverse.”
Another outcome of this project was that citizens and experts developed deep understanding and sympathy for each other, says Klüver which he calls “a result in itself”.
He points out that citizens are also experts on their daily experience and are specialists in topics affecting them, such as their workplace. “The conflict between experts and citizens is often artificial Each needed to break their stereotypes to move forward.”
CIMULACT’s researchers are now assessing and documenting the project’s methods so that future researchers can use them for citizen consultations. As results become available, they will also be shared with research and policy stakeholders, including EU officials, national research councils and scientific networks.
According to Klüver there is great potential for further similar processes: “Citizen engagement can bring science closer to society and the demands of society,” he says.