Some events hold sway over our collective awareness of belonging to a single community, for better and for worse. The latest digital social innovations allow us to harness this powerful feeling to collective policymaking. Combined with the European Citizens’ Initiative, the European Institutions could well become a catalyst of a real participative, bottom-up approach of elaborating public policies.
As Europe is going through some tough social unrest (e.g., high records unemployment, endogenous terrorism, just to name a few) and institutions seem to fail to address the most urgent matters for their citizens; there seems to be two paths for Europeans, that is to say either fuelling the ranks of political radicalism (on both extremes), or harnessing untapped brainpower to collectively design our next public policies.
Policy-making is a messy process and the methods necessary to formulate it can range from simple perspectives to solid knowledge-based arguments. Whatever the method, a few opinion leaders often get to state and set these differences in debates more rhetorical than actual interactive, constructive exchanges.
In a context of tightened public expenditures, it would behove the European Commission (EC) to experiment with more innovative and interactive policymaking.
From collective awareness to collective policymaking
In the aftermath of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, which happened amid a backdrop of long-decried socio-economic tensions, the hitherto unseen rallying of millions of Europeans in favor of fraternity and freedom looks like a wake up call to never take any of our freedoms for granted. The viral “#JeSuisCharlie” rallying cry in the streets and worldwide media is powerful proof that a lot of people – beyond militants – are willing to rally, speak up, and march in favor of community-oriented principles and values. Countless debates and exchanges went on between millions of people throughout the wide range of online social platforms; this has borne a noticeable result: raising awareness of many societal tensions while freeing related debates. So what now? Could all this awareness and energy be harnessed to fuel collective policymaking towards smarter, more inclusive policies?
Given the diversity of interests and viewpoints in Europe, opinions need forums where they can be confronted, debated, and assembled in order to formulate the most encompassing and innovative improvements for our societal issues.
Empowering freedom of expression
Everyone has pondered the possibility of a more participative policymaking process – a more collaborative and democratic society. This would allow for more interests to be voiced and better discussed, resulting in more encompassing and tailored policy outcomes; ultimately empowering freedom of expression.
A priori, the sheer size of Europe, a community of millions, would seem to defeat the possibility of an interactive policymaking process when all we have to exchange and confront viewpoints are e-mails, blogs, meetings, petitions and referendums. Nothing truly interactive, comprehensive, constructive, or far-reaching is currently employed to foster these discussions. Yet everyone would agree that collective intelligence shall always outsmart a single person’s intelligence.
Existing institutions, part of the solution
What if the latest developments of Internet software would allow for such an interactive and constructive process to be implemented? What if the EC itself was funding such developments?
A few years ago, Imagination for People, MIT, and Open University helped develop such a software platform that enables policy crowdsourcing. Assembl is designed to be an open, free online forum that collects, assembles, and enables coproduction of insights and ideas in a structured and effective way. Assorted with data visualization and statistics, it makes it possible for each participant to see whose voice gets expressed, how it is exchanged with other ideas, and how it fits within the overall debate. The EU-funded version, Catalyst, has the noble intention of enabling millions of Europeans to co-write a constitution. While this goal is admirable, why not focus on more attainable projects that can directly impact Europeans’ daily lives?
To some extent, the EC is already more of a policy orchestrator than an author, since it relies heavily on advisory groups and stakeholder consultations to formulate policies. The latest technological developments allow for more democratic, transparent, and efficient policymaking processes.
Combining the latest digital social innovations with the European Citizens’ Initiative
Just imagine a community-oriented proposal (e.g., on developing time-based currency exchanges for those disaffected by the 2008 financial crisis), co-produced by a few thousand Europeans using Catalyst, signed by a million of them through online grassroots initiatives, and finally submitted to the EC via the European Citizens’ Initiative (Art. 11(4) Treaty on EU).
The EC could be the catalyst of such a democratized debate by setting teams to orchestrate such forum and thus enabling voluntary European citizens to partake in policymaking.
Moving forward, collectively
What better way to ensure more democratic and all encompassing policies than empowering the citizens? What better way to improve our prospects of living together than by giving everyone the chance to partake in shaping our common rules and our future?
For us to achieve a more participative, inclusive, and interactive society, we should take advantage of our inherent interconnectedness. In many regards, the EU has always been an ongoing innovative experiment. It contributed to bringing more peace, and it now is on the edge of bringing more democratic policymaking to Europeans. A whole new generation in Europe is not only educated, worldly, self-reliant, and technology-savvy, it is also available and willing to speak up in a constructive way.
Claire Davanne is an international public affairs specialist who has worked in and with several national and international governmental institutions. Based on her personal experience, she is passionate about harnessing innovative technologies to develop a bottom-up approach in elaborating public policies – for the public’s benefit. A French native, she graduated from Sciences Po with a Master’s in Public Affairs and has worked in Paris, Washington, DC, and Brussels. She is constantly seeking new ways to engage people in public processes and exciting initiatives.
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