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DEMOTEC - Democratising Territorial Cohesion: Experimenting with deliberative citizen engagement and participatory budgeting in European regional and urban policies

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - DEMOTEC (DEMOTEC - Democratising Territorial Cohesion: Experimenting with deliberative citizen engagement and participatory budgeting in European regional and urban policies)

Reporting period: 2021-03-01 to 2022-02-28

In most European countries, trust in democratic institutions has declined – citizens are feeling left behind and disempowered to influence governments which they perceive to be disconnected from their needs and more concerned with powerful interest groups. One of the European Commission’s priorities is to give a new push for Europe and democracy, by giving European citizens a bigger say. The overall aim of DEMOTEC is to investigate whether and how Participatory Budgeting in regional and urban development policies can lead to greater and more informed citizen participation in policy-making and engage citizens that feel disconnected from political and policy processes. More specifically, the DEMOTEC project's objectives are to:

- Investigate the public discourse around Participatory Budgeting in the public sphere, as it appears in online news media and social media using nine languages (Dutch, English, French, German, Greek, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian and Spanish).
- Identify the main determinants of citizen support toward Participatory Budgeting and other democratic innovations utilising a representative citizen survey in ten European countries.
- Apply different Participatory Budgeting methods in practice through pilot experiments and real-world Participatory Budgeting events in seven municipalities from countries: Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania and the UK.
- Identify and formulate lessons and policy recommendations for effective and efficient methods for citizen engagement for policy-makers, practitioners and other stakeholders.
- Facilitate the sharing of knowledge and exchange of experience on democratic innovations among practitioners between countries and authorities at different levels.
- Promote awareness of Participatory Budgeting among citizens and wider stakeholders.
DEMOTEC is a three-year project that started in March, 2021. By the end of the first year of the project the major work completed concerns the study of the representation of Participatory Budgeting (PB) in the public sphere. This work involved the collection and analysis of large corpora of texts from online news media organisations and social media (Twitter) in nine languages (Greek, Romanian, Polish, Dutch, English, German, French, Spanish and Portuguese).

Concerning the main preliminary results from the examination of the news media corpus, we find that there was rather limited dedicated and detailed examination of PB as a policy option, as for a little over half of the sample analysed, PB was only mentioned in passing, e.g. as simply one among policies promised pre-electorally by some candidate for office. That said, coverage was for the most part either positive or somewhat positive and rarely negative (4.2%). A large majority of news articles presented PB either as a policy that could empower citizens or treated PB in more utilitarian terms focusing on its function as a possible mechanism for distributing communal resources. Much more infrequent were other framings, such as treating PB as an instrument for promoting social justice or a site of political contestation. Data from social media indicate that the majority of mentions of PB were made by media organisations (30%), political actors (23%) or Civic Society Organisations (13.4%), with 27% being published by citizens. The sentiment expressed through tweets was similarly positive, although only a single dominant frame emerged, that of PB as an instrument for citizen empowerment.

The remaining efforts of the consortium focused on preparatory work for the design of the representative citizen survey and the implementation of PB experiments in seven municipalities across Europe, including interviews with local stakeholders and a total of 16 training sessions with city officials and consortium members.
The research is expected to contribute towards a better scientific understanding of the relationship between PB, citizen engagement and democratic renewal. Beyond advancing the state of knowledge, DEMOTEC will deliver conclusions and recommendations that are relevant to policy (at different levels) and citizen engagement practice.

The work of the DEMOTEC project is expected to have three distinct impacts:
- Impact 1: Increase the understanding of deliberative and participatory democratic processes and how these can be improved in different European contexts. The project is expected to generate new scientific knowledge and understanding of Participatory Budgeting and apply different deliberative and non- participatory methods in practice, utilizing both quantitative and qualitative methods.

- Impact 2: Create open public spaces for collective decision-making through public deliberation by engaging in Participatory Budgeting experiments and events in seven case-study cities across Europe, taking care to involve all relevant local stakeholders in their design and implementation.

- Impact 3: Advance methods and policies for strengthening democratic practices and rebuilding public trust in institutions by providing improved Participatory Budgeting practices and methods, developing local practitioners and policy-makers’ skills, capacity and understanding and creating new resources for the study and implementation of participatory democratic practices.
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