The #EURegionsWeek workshop: highlights, questions and observations from the room

The Workshop “Citizen Engagement and Regional Policies” , took place within the context of the European Week of Cities and Regions on October 8th from 14.30 to 16.00, on Zoom.

The recording of the call can be found here: https://euregionsweek2020-video.eu/

150 registrations of very diverse participants: public servants at all levels, from the city to the Commission, European networks, consultants, academics and more.

Citizen engagement is a powerful way to tap into collective intelligence. So why is it so hard to get people to participate?

We discussed the challenges of citizen engagement; the role of data for and about collective intelligence; present some experiences; and discuss a possible future where different regions might pursue different models, rather than trying to converge on a dominant one.

The workshop was to encourage Europe’s regions to experiment with different economic models and show a data approach to collective intelligence which is the magic dust that can propel regional cohesion if people are enabled to act, not just talk.

Speakers were:

  1. Alberto Cottica, Research Director, Edgeryders
  2. Alessandro Bellantoni Head of the Open Government Unit, OECD, France.
  3. Amelia Hassoun (@amelia) Phd candidate, Oxford Internet Institute, United Kingdom.
  4. Giacomo Pinaffo (@giacomo.pinaffo) Project manager, Fondazione di Comunità di Messina, Italy.
  5. Stefan Appel Head of Unit of the Competence Centre for Administrative Capacity Building and the EU Solidarity Fund, DG REGIO, European Commission, Belgium.

Comment bellow to connect and ask questions you would like to be discussed during or after the event.

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Here a short list of highlights from the call:

What if we asked European regions, especially at the periphery, not to try to “catch up” with central ones, rather to lead in experimenting with different economic system? Maybe Thessaly does not want to be like Bavaria after all. Maybe it wants to be like Bhutan, promote harmony and “gross national happiness”. Maybe Pomerania wants to try a high-efficiency, low-GDP economy based on public goods. Maybe Sicily wants to try being a solarpunk utopia of mostly self-sustaining communities. As these regions move up the learning curve, their learning benefits us all – we can copy from them, the former laggards, what they have found to work. – Alberto Cottica, Edgeryders, opening remarks (read the full post).

People tend to feel it is always the same clique of NGOs and experts. However, there are “islands of good practice”, and they are many: OECD has recently listed 300 of them, from all over the world, in the last 10 years. Good practice tend to be associated with deliberation (people decide, not just advise), with professionalization of engagement, both on the side of public officials, and on that of citizens. – Alessandro Bellantoni, OECD

In my experience, engagement is situated. It happens at the point of delivery, where people’s life takes place. People are already participating in politics by living their lives; thus, citizens do not need to become active, because they already are.
Oh, and participation is not always about talking: anthropologists know that people do not always say what they do or do what they say – @amelia Hassoun, the Oxfort Internet Institute

In Messina, we follow Amartya Sen’s capability approach: development is essentially freedom. We generate trust and engagement by focusing hard on expanding the range of choices available to people and communities – @giacomo.pinaffo, Fondazione di Comunità Messina .

What does cohesion mean? It can mean many things, but for sure it means that citizens should have access to public services and opportunities, regardless of where they are. – Stefan Appel, Head of Unit of the Competence Centre for administrative capacity building and the EU solidarity fund, DG REGIO European Commission

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Your question, reflection or experience
My LinkedIn name is Fotios Kotzakioulafis and I am seeking to build a career in the European Union

Would you like to schedule a call with the organizers of the webinar?
No

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Your question, reflection or experience
I would like to know more about the projects that Giacomo Pinoffi mentioned, especially which data he consulted and where he found this policy model of “engagement” for let the family from slums moving out with all these advantages he was mentioning. I repeat, these families didn’t have any choice. There was already a project behind this action, that is Moving the slum from the city center to use those part of territories to build new very expensive building and to support the new project for the waterfront.

Would you like to schedule a call with the organizers of the webinar?
No

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Your question, reflection or experience
In your experience, are there areas in which citizen engagement is easier to implement than others? If yes, what are the reasons for the difference?

Would you like to schedule a call with the organizers of the webinar?
No

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Your question, reflection or experience
Strong sense of dejavu having provided pro-bono support to resident groups in UK cities in the 1970s, followed by an official role in a regeneration agency in Scotland where participation became formalised into a box-ticking exercise.

Since then ‘participative design’ has been reformulated as ‘co-design’ and social media and communication has transformed the space in which this engagement can take place.

Is there a role for independent support/advocacy or does disintermediation through technology allow more direct/genuine engagement between residents, communities and local/regional bodies?

Would you like to schedule a call with the organizers of the webinar?
No

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Your question, reflection or experience
I believe that there is a convergence between citizen engagement and the concept of smart villages, which promote a participatory approach and aims to accompany local initiatives since it also includes the notion of social innovation.

In that matter, I believe that using methods based on the Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation systems (AKIS) could lead to a better understanding of the needs at a local level.

This could take the form of an invitation to the locals to gather and share ideas, or talk about local problems. I also agree with what was said earlier about people already being active and the fact that we shouldn’t ask them for more work. So what could be a solution? And who should be entitled to analyse them?

Would you like to schedule a call with the organizers of the webinar?
No

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Hello @YannickFrank, is there anyone in particular you would like to reply? Also: by “areas”, do you mean geographic location (example: Sicily) or domain (example: urban planning)?

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Your question, reflection or experience
Normally, citizens are not so active. People are only active when something negatively affects them, sometimes too late. For example if the city and/or the investors announced to build a factory or a highway near their homes they will protest, but they don’t take part in public consultation for the spatial plan of their neighborhood at the first stage. The question is what are or should be new methods useful to encourage citizens to be more active and engaged at the early stage of public consultation and how to improve the process in order to avoid conflicts and misunderstandings?

Would you like to schedule a call with the organizers of the webinar?
No

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http://www.fdcmessina.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Riqualificazione-urbana-e-lotta-alle-diseguaglianze.pdf

I had a lot of similar experiences in my work— here’s a direct quote from one of the planners:

We put the Masterplan online for 90 days and people can comment. But people only care when it becomes clear that it will directly affect them, which is after that period

But this brings us back to @nadia’s point: that the response tells us something about why the initial announcement or consultation might not be engaging citizens properly (rather than blaming citizens for not showing up for the meeting). We could instead acquire knowledge of what spaces the residents of an area frequent and where they get their information — in the community centre noticeboard? Facebook? Local newspaper? And instead post there. Or we go a step before — how and where do we do the planning for the neighbourhood? What time? In what location? I’d wager these answers are often not in line with where residents spend their time and when they are free.

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Alternatively, and perhaps more controversially, if you’re committed to keeping the same practice, consider the “protest” the citizen participation and engagement and actually listen to it at that stage!

We say “people only care when it negatively affects them” like that’s some kind of problem – but isn’t that instead the framework we should start from? Who decides when something is “too late”?

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My highlights from the initial panel talks:

People tend to feel it is always the same clique of NGOs and experts. However, there are “islands of good practice”, and they are many: OECD has recently listed 300 of them, from all over the world, in the last 10 years. Good practice tend to be associated with deliberation (people decide, not just advise), with professionalization of engagement, both on the side of public officials, and on that of citizens. – Alessandro Bellantoni, OECD

In my experience, engagement is situated. It happens at the point of delivery, where people’s life takes place. People are already participating in politics by living their lives; thus, citizens do not need to become active, because they already are.
Oh, and participation is not always about talking: anthropologists know that people do not always say what they do or do what they say – @amelia Hassoun, the Oxford Internet Institute

In Messina, we follow Amartya Sen’s capability approach: development is essentially freedom. We generate trust and engagement by focusing hard on expanding the range of choices available to people and communities – @giacomo.pinaffo, Fondazione di Comunità Messina.

What does cohesion mean? It can mean many things, but for sure it means that citizens should have access to public services and opportunities, regardless of where they are. – Stefan Appel, Head of Unit of the Competence Centre for administrative capacity building and the EU solidarity fund, DG REGIO European Commission

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Hello, actually I got the link, but I was asking to have the email address of Giacomo Pinaffo, if it can be possible.

Thanks

Best regards

Martina Polimeni
Arch. Paesaggista
iscr. Ordine APPC n. 2232

PhD Candidate in “Urban Regeneration & Economic Development”
Dep. PAU - Università “Mediterranea” di Reggio Calabria

International Visiting Scholar at KU Leuven - Dep. of Architecture
P&D - Planning and Development

+39 3892592191
+32 486857907

Dear Martina,

I’ve now finished my other meetings and I’m now able to provide a more detailed reply. In your first post you probably refer to the old city renovation programme, for which we fully share the environmental and social limitations and criticalities you raised. Our intervention was born precisely to falsify that approach, to conceive the urban renovation of the city within integrated policies of sustainable human development and imagining it as a process of hybridization, necessary to overcome the centenary ghettoization and the control mechanisms of the organized crime, that have characterized the distorted community dynamics of those pieces of territory.

Our project is part of the Capacity programme, co-financed by the Council of Ministers as part of the National Programme for the renovation of the suburbs, and focuses only on 2 well-defined areas of the slums (as I said, Fondo Saccà and Fondo Fucile, involving 200 of the more than 2000 families living in the slums). I reiterate the fact that the intervention actions have provided for a broad engagement of residents from the beginning, offering them various options for choosing the housing solution. You will find all the details on the alternatives generated, with also extracts of the interviews carried out with the beneficiaries (which show the long process of mutual trust building), in the intermediate evaluation report I linked above. Further updates and insights will be published shortly, reporting in detail the results of the activities: an evaluative research that models through the game theory the new alternatives generated, and therefore the expansion of the substantial freedoms, for the project beneficiaries is also being published in an international journal with peer review. All these researches are conducted in collaboration with third-party evaluative research centers, independent from the Foundation.

To further emphasize the distance from the old city renovation program, I also reiterate that, unlike what you report in your post, there is no intention of building speculation: in a confined space, two single-floor eco-buildings, dedicated to hosting about 12 marginalized families and socio-educational services for the community, will be created, while the vast majority of the land will be transformed into an urban park. Finally, our areas of intervention do not concern the seafront, that you mentioned in your post.

The Foundation has been involved for over 10 years in sustainable social, environmental and economic development projects in the area, with the aim of concretely demonstrating that other development models are possible. The approaches you mention are in no way, and never will be, compatible with the ideals and history of the Foundation.
Since you are geographically close to us, we will be happy to meet you whenever you want to present our activities in detail!
You can directly contact me at g.pinaffo@fdcmessina.org
Best,
Giacomo

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Martina, you can send a private message to @giacomo.pinaffo from this platform: Click on his name, then on the blue “Message” button top right.