Responding together: citizens’ engagement against exclusion

Hi everyone, this post is meant to introduce a Council of Europe project for 2013 which will be to some extent based on lessons the institution has learned through the Edgeryders project. The description below is meant to serve as basis for a discussion at LOTE2 event, DAY 1 : The Local Action Challenge. It is especially relevant for those of us trying to affect or support change in our local communities. Any thoughts, reactions, questions?



Gilda Farrell

Head of the Social Cohesion Research and Early Warning Division

Council of Europe


This project, co-financed by the Council of Europe and the European Commission is an action-oriented and action-catalyzing project. It calls for an innovative two-layer design on how citizens and resources can be mobilized to foster inclusive processes at local level, by using local and global resources, namely online-organized resources (knowledge and social inclusive models built on the basis of concrete experience). It should address the question: in times of crisis, how can we mobilize resources to fight against precariousness, poverty and increasing inequalities in accessing rights, goods, services, knowledge and opportunities?

The two-layer project design is based on the experience accumulated by the Council of Europe by running two approaches to resources mobilization:

a) SPIRAL that aims at involving citizens from different origins and situations around the concept of social cohesion and the idea that the well-being for all requires everybody’s contribution and the sharing of responsibilities. SPIRAL fosters interaction between citizens aimed at building a shared vision on well-being for all, and designing action to reinforce shared responsibilities. Citizens and institutions applying this approach interact in the network “territories of co-responsibility”.

b) EDGERYDERS that aimed at identifying online creative solutions for the transition of youth to active decent life and was conceived as a distributed think-tank helping to activate exchanges on ideas, processes and results.

Both the approaches contribute to identify the potential and the shortcomings of involving citizens in transformative action.

SPIRAL is able to gather “normal” people to share the idea of acting for the well-being of all, while Edgeryders was able to bring evidence on the success and failures of young creative individuals who engage themselves in new paths of transition towards a decent/autonomous life.

The challenge of the new project is to foster action against poverty and exclusion in local communities, by taking advantage of local and global resources, thus resources that can be identified through multiple tools. The new project requires a collaborative do-tank able to engage in supporting proposals and solutions either presented by different stakeholders and participants acting locally and involved in the SPIRAL process, or, in a more limited and experimental way, by Edgeryders’ members or other creative actors acting to foster inclusion in different European spaces. Consequently, the new project design should combine an online platform -organized by concrete topics- and deliberative approaches set by using the SPIRAL methodology.

Mobilizing “normal” citizens to act in an inclusive and innovative manner encounters several obstacles:

  • the fragmentation of living spaces and thus an absence of shared knowledge;

  • the lack of mechanisms to identify social priorities;

  • the institutional and local inertias and some path-dependency in the way action to support excluded people is conceived;

  • the lack of spaces for identifying inconsistencies and contradictory demands on both citizens and institutional actors;

  • the lack of self-belief in people’s own capacity to transform and change current realities;

  • the difficulty in identifying alternative existing resources and to activate them in a perspective of inclusion;

  • a lack of faith in the capacity of local actors to address issues that have non-obvious sources (globalization etc.).

SPIRAL methodology is providing answers to certain of these obstacles. While a new online platform –plus training sessions on “unveiling the creative potential of people” could address the remaining obstacles.

The new online platform should not be designed as a research tool or a tool to foster free exchanges on any subject of individual interest (as was the case for Edgeryders) but as an act-search tool able to strengthen local process by inspiring, creating social imagination, revealing new ways of approaching poverty and precariousness, promoting change, all this among “normal” citizens. The online platform should prototype inclusive social models or solutions allowing knowledge and experiences from different sources to interact not for the sake of pure innovation, but to embed in daily life the potential to respond to poverty, precariousness and exclusion. It should help to rebuild self-belief, overcome inertias and identify resources in order to meet concrete needs identified through SPIRAL.

The combination of both the approaches should enhance local citizens’ capacity to identify and carry out action in a sustainable, innovative and inclusive way.

The action fostered through the project will be aimed at:

  • Ensuring progressivity, thus ensuring that progress is made towards narrowing the gaps in accessing rights and well-being in increasingly unequal societies;
  • Ensuring that people are not stigmatized or criminalized;
  • Ensuring that paths for building common-goods are open, namely through sharing;
  • Ensuring that public consciousness on dignity as a human right increases.

Concrete project organization

Clusters of cities and “individual” cities": 30 cities will participate into the project. 25 out of them will be chosen by political contacts between the Council of Europe and the local authorities, as is the case of the cities involved in applying the SPIRAL approach to involve the citizens in defining the well-being for all. 5 cities will be identified by other means, namely by individuals involved at local level in the relief of poverty and precariousness. Although these last cities could be identified by individuals, a consensus should be reached with local authorities and, of course, the action should be embedded in a collective approach.

The 25 cities chosen through political contacts will be grouped in 4 or 5 clusters, as to facilitate meetings and learning processes. At the moment the following clusters have been identified:

-Romania (might involve Moldavian and Serbian municipalities);

-North France, Belgium and Luxembourg

-Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria

-Portugal (might involve Spanish borders cities, mainly from Galicia)


-Russia (?)

Citizens of the 25 selected towns will participate in a SPIRAL session to identify their criteria on well-being for all and a set of actions that they are willing to undertake to fight exclusion. The SPIRAL sessions will include a training on “unveiling the creative potential of the people”, as to avoid path dependency in the identification of actions. Local or European innovators could as well be invited to analyze local potential and resources to engage innovative action. Local engaged people will be as well directed to the new online platform as to gain information on alternatives ways of organizing resources to fight poverty.

The remaining 5 cities identified by individuals should build patterns of collective involvement without necessarily adopting the SPIRAL approach.

Clusters of knowledge for action: The new online platform should be organized in a user-friendly way to support action. It means that compiled and well-structured information should be easily accessible (thus, radically different from the current Edgeryders platform), show the multiple solutions that have been adopted to address the same kind of problem and provide contact persons (with practical knowledge on the subject) and exchange opportunities for action.

How can we structure the knowledge and the information on the new online platform? The Council of Europe perspective is that knowledge for action could be structured on topics, responding to some of those rights that are becoming reversible in current times, i.e. access to food, access to housing, access to learning, access to employment, access to mobility, access to public spaces, access to a healthy environment (four or five others could be chosen on an experimental basis).

Under these “clusters of knowledge”, alternatives to accessing food for instance (urban gardens, shared-organic gardens, collective organization of consumption as GAS in Italy or AMAP in France, use of abandoned lands, fight against waste, mix of public food assistance/distribution and collective organization of consumption, etc) without being stigmatized and progressing towards forms of healthy and sustainable ways of consumption, could be listed, analyzed and synthesized as “concrete models for social inclusion”.

The “clusters of knowledge” could be managed by creative individuals, able to gather information on action and transform it into a tool for inclusive and collective action.

“Unveiling the creative potential of local people”: Everyone has a creative potential that could be developed with others’ support. The project will develop –with the support of creative individuals and artists- and test a set of training tools for “normal” people to act creatively or to actively support innovative action.

Questions to be addressed on fostering local action to fight precariousness and inequalities

How can we:

a) Create legitimacy to propose and act;

b) Foster critical masses of actors and stakeholders, including those currently excluded, to ensure completeness and sustainability of the action;

c) Facilitate identification and weave resources beyond conventional funding and charities (multipartite social contracts, common pooling of resources) ;

d) Ensure progress towards stability in the long term;

e) Allow learning on action, transformation and existing political/financial support;

f) Reinforce influence beyond the local (legislation, structures, policies) through comparative analysis and networking.