Democratic innovation through recognition

From Urban Arena Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Democratic innovation through recognition focuses on inclusivity in decision-making and policymaking processes. Diverse participants are convened in different and original ways in order to include multiple perspectives in urban sustainability efforts.

This page is part of an ongoing, open-ended online collaborative database, which collects relevant approaches that can be used by city-makers to tackle unsustainability and injustice in cities. It is based mainly on knowledge generated in EU-funded projects and touches on fast changing fields. As such, this page makes no claims of authoritative completeness and welcomes your suggestions.

General introduction of approach

Democratic innovation through recognition builds inclusivity in decision- and policy-making in the promotion of equality and justice in urban sustainability. It does so mainly in two ways: procedurally and methodologically with implications for equality. By directly engaging citizens in city budgeting processes (“participatory budgeting”) and in generating scientific knowledge (“civic science”), for example, diverse perspectives and experiences are drawn in from the start. An important aspect of democratic innovation, therefore, is recognition. In this context, roles traditionally assigned to experts and/or technocrats are transferred to citizens and diverse community members. Participatory and action research methodologies are often embedded in the approaches to democratic innovation that also invite citizens themselves to design and conduct meaningful research with the aim of improving the lives of subordinated or historically excluded groups (e.g., SocIEtY, CITISPYCE), as well as confronting and transforming existing power dynamics (e.g., TRANSLATE DEMOCRACY). For example, the approaches taken in SocIEtY and CITISPYCE projects draw important attention to garnering and integrating youth perspectives more in related political processes through forums of engagement that feed into the policymaking process. In this context, new perspectives emerge by tackling different issues ranging from restorative justice (see ALTERNATIVE) to air quality (see CITISENSE).

Shapes, sizes and applications

Democrative innovative approaches establish diverse participatory forums predominantly applied at a small scale in multiple settings. While some approaches (see TRANSLATE DEMOCRACY and ALTERNATIVE projects) are geared toward managing conflict and tensions inherent in democratic contexts, others emphasize procedural inclusivity with practical implications for establishing goals or agenda setting (e.g, URBANSELF), generating knowledge (e.g., CITISENSE), and producing various outcomes such as budgetary plans for a local municipality. The strength of these approaches, based on the examined projects, is found in the inclusive practical applications whereby disadvantaged, subordinated, or excluded people have the opportunity to participate in meaningful forums. While some of the forums produce concrete outputs, others are more about establishing cooperative civic relationships and networks. In many cases, however, it is not clear how the various approaches and their contributions endure once the project comes to an end. In some cases, experienced facilitators or conciliators are needed for transferability, particularly in the approaches that are directly focused on transforming conflict and power dynamics.

Relation to UrbanA themes: Urban, sustainability, and justice

Small community contexts or large convenings of a particular group (e.g., youth) generally provide the platforms for exploring and testing democratic innovation. Hence, in urban contexts, the approaches may be considered a good fit for neighborhood-size processes/projects or for larger city-wide efforts depending on the approach. These approaches to democratic innovation address justice in different ways, but particularly touch upon procedural justice with potential implications for distributive justice (i.e., who gets what and why). Democratic innovation promotes recognition by working with subordinated groups or challenging power dynamics through recognition in a way that either directly impacts sustainability, as in the case of Citizen Observations (COs) - also known as civic science - or creates potential for more democratic sustainability measures by generating experiences that build on civic capacities and expectations.

Narrative of change

It is well known that policymaking tends to be driven by powerful special interests. Democratic innovation creates openings in the dynamics of policy-making that is often driven by special interests and lobbies and, as a result, tends to exclude certain social groups. Through a bundle of approaches that fall under the democratic innovation umbrella, formerly excluded perspectives and contributions can emerge and directly impact decision- and policy-making. The expectation, and proven potential of these approaches, is that through shifting the power dynamics that sustain exclusionary mechanisms within democratic polities, more socially just outcomes may be achieved. This will also have implication for advancing urban sustainability goal.

Transformative potential

The different approaches covered here each have an inherent aspect that builds the potential for change. They do this in several ways: 1) making inclusivity central to governance approaches 2) opening procedural opportunities in participatory processes and 3) engagement in a common endeavor that is about life satisfaction and quality, and 4) dealing with conflict/tensions or power dynamics. In particular, the TRANSLATE DEMOCRACY project directly addresses power dynamics in which "misunderstandings and linguistic difference can become a starting point for a politics of translation that fosters a more inclusive and effective decision making, and strengthens social movements and local urban democracy in multilingual societies."[1] By opening up these opportunities and (political) spaces, transformation can occur as power dynamics and institutions are brought into question. As a result, not only the process but the very content of policy can be contested and rearticulated.

Illustrations of approaches

Democratic innovation approaches share a common methodology characterised by recognition in which particular segments of society take on new roles and are engaged in decision- or policy-making processes or forums that are traditionally predominated by others, such as experts (or adults). It is this aspect that makes them particularly innovative. Below are some examples of implemented approaches based on three different projects.

CITISENSE developed “citizens’ observatories” to engage citizens in environmental monitoring and information gathering through Earth Observation applications. Citizens engaged in science for the purposes of addressing sustainability issues is an innovative approach that circumvents that idea that science is strictly the realm of experts. It recognizes that laypersons can also contribute in the process of garnering important knowledge as part of the process of making decisions and policies. Citizens’ observatories” (COs) were employed in the project CITISENSE to empower citizens to contribute to and participate in environmental governance, to enable them to support and influence community and societal priorities and associated decision making. In this process, a community-based environmental monitoring and information system using innovative and novel Earth Observation applications was developed, tested and demonstrated. In CITISENSE, citizens gathered air quality data through sensors that provided real-time information on air quality in Barcelona, Belgrade, Edinburgh, Haifa, Ljubljana, Oslo, Ostrava, Vienna. The data was subsequently made available through widgets and mobile phone applications allowing people to comment and further share information. While there were some challenges in the project associated with, for example, data privacy, ethical and security issues, and scientific standards such as quality and reliability, the CO approach could increase awareness about environmental risks at minimal cost. Key aspects were identified as follows: “Based upon the review of different ongoing COs and of CO-related programmes in the environmental domain, we have identified key elements and qualities which are essential for a CO programme: (i) Be a unique virtual place to gather and share data from a variety of sources: novel sensor-technologies, open environmental data from public and national sources, and personal per- ceptions and textual/graphical contribution; and (ii) Extract and make use of relevant citizens-related data and provide multimodal services for citizens, communities and authorities.”[2] Also check Crowdsourcing.

Recognizing the important role of young disadvantaged people in policymaking brings in new perspectives that promote equality and quality of life from the perspective of a formally excluded segment of society. The project SocIEtY developed innovative ways for specifically enhancing the participation of disadvantaged youth in policymaking. This project established a forum for allowing young people to articulate their concerns and needs regarding quality of life issues that could be shared with stakeholders, politicians and non-governmental entities. The project specifically, “explores how young people aged 15-24 live in different European countries today; and examines what can be done to create social and institutional opportunities which will better enable them to live the lives they have reason to value”. Also check Culture for empowerment.

CITISPYCE, in a similar effort, also engaged disadvantaged and marginalized youth from major European cities in forums supported by socially innovative resources and technologies to assist policymakers across local, national and EU scales to address inequality.


  2. Liu et al.: A conceptual approach to a citizens’ observatory – supporting community-based environmental governance. Environmental Health 2014 13:107, pp. 10.