March 4. 2024. 9:48

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Crowdsourcing citizens’ ideas can benefit EU policy cycle, experts say

Ten European cities took part in a pioneering experiment to gather citizens’ ideas on how to address air pollution and present possible solutions to policy-makers, through a crowdsourcing process that experts believe could become part of the EU participatory toolbox.

The consultative exercise, which started in January 2022 and ended in January 2023, gathered input from the residents on the issue of air pollution in their cities, with the aim of elaborating possible solutions for policy-makers.

The experiment, led by the European Citizen Action Service (ECAS), an organisation promoting democracy in the EU, produced a series of recommendations, which included investing in renewable energy, taxing big polluters and improving sustainable mobility.

The process

“We asked citizens all across Europe for ideas on improving air quality based on their everyday challenges around air pollution,” said Elisa Lironi, programme director at ECAS, adding that the idea behind it was to have a “real transnational participatory democracy experiment”.

The process involved participants from Amsterdam, Athens, Berlin, Brussels, Budapest, Burgas, Lisbon, Podgorica, Riga, and Tallinn, using an online platform where they could propose solutions.

In the second stage of the experiment, participants were invited to vote on the ideas, which were then combined among the different cities in a policy document prepared with experts.

During the final event held in February, stakeholders involved in the process looked back at the experiment and its challenges.

According to Petko Georgiev, director of ProInfo in Bulgaria, challenges include mobilising sufficient resources, retaining citizens’ attention over a long period of time and explaining how the process works and what its impact is.

Moreover, being a pan-European experiment involving cities with different civic culture and media landscape, “one-size-fits-all policies would never work in such a diverse environment” Georgiev said, pointing to the need for different campaigns to promote the experiment and encourage citizen participation.

Tessel Renzenbrink, co-director of Netwerk Democratie in the Netherlands, said it is important to combine online and offline participation, to make sure everyone has the opportunity to take part in the process.

A future in the EU toolbox?

Despite these challenges, crowdsourcing could complement the existing toolbox of participatory processes at the European level, according to Lironi.

A seat at the table? Europeans’ place in EU decision-making

From petitions and consultations to the European Citizens’ Initiative and citizens’ panels, the EU has several tools in place allowing Europeans to have their say on EU policies. But how effective are these participatory and deliberative tools?

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“Crowdsourcing is a way to actually allow citizens to set the agenda as well at the EU level on policies that they care about,” she told EURACTIV, adding that “it is not too technical and it is a way of at least consulting citizens on a regular basis and allowing them to be part of a process”.

The idea of introducing crowdsourcing at the EU level was also included in a European Parliament report on citizen participation adopted in July 2021, pointing to experiments such as participatory budgeting and crowdsourcing “to enable citizens to be involved in the co-creation of policies with EU decision-makers”.

According to Lironi, crowdsourcing could become a parallel channel of participation together with consultations carried out by the European Commission on upcoming legislation. Moreover, it would allow Europeans to monitor how their contributions feed in during the policy cycle.

Weak participatory tools hinder citizens’ attempts to shape EU policies

The EU’s attempts to encourage citizens’ engagement through participatory tools has made little impact due to the lack of information and clear follow-up, experts say.