In the context of eroding democratic institutions, the European Union (EU) – in collaboration with national, regional, and local governments – seeks to bring its policies closer to citizens, in line with the active subsidiarity principle. Informed by this concept, the European Policies Research Center (EPRC) and partners under the lead of TU Delft set up the project Democratising jUst Sustainability Transitions or DUST, in response to the Horizon Europe call ‘The future of democracy and civic participation’. The project was selected for funding by the EU and will launch on Feb. 1st 2023.
DUST will develop and operationalise novel participatory instruments for proactive and strategic citizen engagement in sustainability transitions. It will combine design-led territorial tools with digital tools for citizen deliberation at scale. The project addresses a defining societal and democratic challenge for Europe, which is to hear the voices of least engaged communities, especially in structurally weak regions dependent on energy-intensive industries, which will be most affected by transitions towards a more sustainable future. Building on the concept of ‘active subsidiarity’, the project will employ an innovative mix of research methods, and experimental citizen participation, to understand the determinants of participation in decision-making on sustainability transitions at different levels of government, and to develop effective policy recommendations for inclusive engagement of civil society.
In its assessment of the proposal, the EU has highlighted “the innovation potential that arises from a scalable model, focusing on a wide variety of scenarios and involving civil society in deliberation and co-creation policies”, and DUST’s interdisciplinary approach, which “convincingly integrates knowledge from political sciences, policy sciences, planning, and design”. The DUST experiments, which will – under the header Regional Futures Literacy Labs – test a hybrid format of design-led and digital tools for citizen deliberation at scale, are described as essential work.
The main contribution of EPRC to DUST project is in identifying community-based, contextual, and policy-related factors that promote or hinder participation of social groups in the deliberative governance of the sustainability transition. Key interest is in communities that have been disengaged and vulnerable in this transition – who are these communities and how their sentiments towards political participation can be understood? As part of this goal, the EPRC explores how sustainability transitions are translated on the ground via place-based policies and planning measures and the participatory practices that have aimed to enhance the democratic governance of these measures. In pursuing these goals, the team works directly with relevant partners from regions experiencing substantial structural transformations due to coal phaseout and energy transitions and supports them in applying the developed conceptual framework to their own contexts. Via methods of qualitative research, including interviews with policy practitioners and focus groups with local least-engaged communities, EPRC’s hope is to provide directions as to how DUST project experimental stage could design solutions that could overcome currently experienced participatory barriers.
To view the DUST website, click here.