The EU is launching major initiatives in research, and the citizens are getting their say
A man on the moon
The EU Commission has been inspired by the Apollo 11 mission’s goal of putting a man on the moon, and has launched the EU Missions, which will address some of the major societal challenges we are faced with.
The Commission has defined the five following areas, which will be each be addressed by a mission:
- Conquering Cancer
- Climate Change Adaptation and Societal Transformation
- Climate-neutral and Smart Cities
- Soil Health and Food
- Healthy oceans, seas, coastal and inland waters
Each mission will be organized as a flagship project – large-scale, multi-disciplinary research and innovation projects, that aim to create research and innovation that generates new knowledge and technology, along with concrete solutions and proposals for political action.
The EU Commission has an intention of engaging the citizens more actively in its work, and has consequently decided to involve the European citizens in defining what each of the five missions should focus on within its area.
The Mission of Citizen engagement
For this reason, the summer 2020 has seen citizen engagement events take place in 10 EU countries – two about each of the five missions. On account of COVID-19 all events have been held online. 50 citizens took part in each event, and they were selected to represent, as far as possible, the demographic and geographic diversity in each country.
Each event sought to uncover the hopes and concerns of citizens in that country, along with what issue areas they saw as most important and what their recommendations and suggestions for the individual mission was.
VO Europe is coordinator of the project and has hired The Danish Board of Technology as internationally renowned experts in facilitating and designing citizen engagement processes and in methodologies for engaging citizens using digital tools.
Each mission has a Mission Board, and The Danish Board of Technology’s task has been to design online processes for two of the five missions, Climate Change Adaptation and Societal Transformation and Healthy oceans, seas, coastal and inland waters, where citizens can express their attitudes, hopes and concerns concerning the mission area in question, as well as consider the work that the respective Mission Board has done in designing that mission so far.
The online processes made use of the three tools Zoom, Decidim and Mural.
The goal is the solution
The next step is an open consultation, taking place right now, where all European citizens are invited to share their ideas about what is important to do or prioritise for each of the five missions.
The process with the 10 events has also functioned as a pilot phase, where different methodologies and tools can be tested, ahead of the take-off of the missions in early 2021, and which will see further citizen engagement.
The goal of the five missions is for them to create solutions to major societal challenges, and engaging the citizens in the process of defining the focus for each of the five missions will create a better understanding of how aspects of the mission area are experienced throughout the wider society, and what issues are experienced as most important.
This will generate more qualified suggestions for what is important, because it is not only researchers’ hobby horses that get dragged out, but most of all because the citizens between them have a much more widespread experience of society than researchers do, and can thus represent many more views of each mission area.
In addition comes the democratic tenet that because these challenges concern all of society and will affect all of us, the work with defining the solutions to them should not be reserved for researchers, civil servants, policy makers and other decision makers.
The added bonus is that involving citizens will create greater societal ownership and buy-in of the missions, because the wider society has been involved in defining them.
Use the experience and knowledge of tools
The five missions will be launched as independent flagship projects, like Human Brain Project, each running over several years and having both more partners and foci than regular EU research projects.
In the work with designing the mission processes, The Danish Board of Technology has drawn on experiences from previous projects and processes involving digital and online engagement, such as e.g. EuropeSay on AI, AI360, Strategic Foresight, CIMULACT, EUth, SurPRISE and DESSI.