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Developing deliberative and participatory democracies through experimentation

Research should elucidate the complex links between political discourses and identities (including populistic standpoints), dialogue guided by reasoned argumentation and the potential for achieving consensus on policy choices. Projects should also consider issues pertaining to effective participation in deliberative and participatory processes (especially as regards vulnerable groups and the politically less active) and as to how effectively these are translated by governments and institutions into concrete action. Research should equally examine how deliberative and participatory processes relate to polarisation and how (or if) it can assist in reaching mutual understanding among citizens with different views and positions. Lastly, attention should be paid to how deliberative and participatory democracy can best complement representative institutions. Issues of coordination, complementarity, scaling up (of such practices) but also opening up more traditional representative institutions should be examined.

The impacts of technology need to be further illuminated. Re-evaluating and re-assessing the contribution of digital technology in implementing deliberative, participatory (and by extension direct) democracy is needed. Projects should offer exhaustive assessments of experiments and innovations in deliberative and participatory processes highlighting success and failure factors. The role of the internet should equally be examined (also in connection to social media) in light of recent trends, which have cast doubt on its capacity to act as a platform of rational communication between equal participants.

In the EU context, the notion of the public sphere, as a key deliberative element, should be reconsidered both conceptually and empirically in view of the economic, social and political crises and developments of recent years. This includes a reappraisal of the question whether there is, could, or should be a European public sphere, which could enrich the democratic quality and the liberal character of the EU, in a context where supra-national European institutions are often perceived as insufficiently democratic and transparent.

Research should examine how the concept of deliberative and participatory democracy could be used and adapted to facilitate such a process and whether and how it is compatible with polarization tendencies, which have been prevalent in recent years. It needs to be investigated whether these new trends contribute to social justice, how societies can be made not only more inclusive but also more reflective, and how critical capacity and attitudes can be developed which revive deliberative democratic discourses. In this context, the contribution of the education system needs to be worked out. Connections should be made with questions of (European) identity, whereby the focus should not lie on an essentialist conception of identity, but reflexive identity, which signifies a critical and transformative self-understanding. Research should investigate how to create arenas or spaces open to citizens which are conducive to collective decisions made through public deliberation. Cooperation with partners from third countries, from both established and emerging democracies, is encouraged in order to have comparative perspectives that would be an important value added for the impact of the project.

A set of concrete actions could look at experimental and participative approaches to civic and social life, and suggest pathways for strengthening democracies at all levels, in terms of concrete actions, pilot projects and experimentation. They could build on previous results of international, European and other projects in these areas. In a context where citizen involvement and citizen participation in research and innovation is strongly stressed for Horizon Europe, this proposal could help to lay the groundwork.

The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU in the order of EUR 3 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. This does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

Liberal democracies have come under pressure in recent times. Political distrust, polarizing discourses, lower electoral participation and populist narratives that reject the idea of an open society manifest themselves in Europe and beyond, with very strong support. The challenge therefore is to examine whether and how deliberative and participatory approaches – theoretically and practically – can fulfil the promise of greater and more enlightened participation in the present context and reach out to include those alienated from the political process. The difficulties deliberative and participatory approaches may face are also important to appraise.

In the last two decades deliberative and participative democracy has become increasingly prominent as a response to the challenges besetting liberal representative democracies. Premised on notions of direct democracy, active citizenship and decisions reached through argumentation, these new practices of democracy has in theory the potential to revive democratic legitimacy and help close the gap between citizens and political elites, who are often perceived as representing powerful interest groups.

This action will move to another level our understanding of deliberative and participatory democratic processes and identify ways of how they can be improved in practice. Research should make this action on how to create arenas or spaces open to citizens which are conducive to collective decisions made through public deliberation. Proposals should outline methods and policies by which democratic practices can be strengthened in order to rebuild trust in political, economic and social institutions.