31 October 2022

An assessment of participatory and deliberative techniques and processes relevant to the European Green Deal

report project deliverable

However, the formats currently used should be enhanced based on the lessons learnt from a wide array of successful deliberative processes rolled out at local and national levels across the EU and beyond.

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An assessment of participatory and deliberative techniques and processes relevant to the European Green Deal

Creator: Mathieu CUGNOT Copyright: © European Union 2022 - Source : EP

Moreover, European institutions do not yet apply citizens participation and deliberation in a systematic, evidence-based way. Hence, the REAL DEAL project aims to produce a comprehensive protocol of how the EU could and should design and deploy deliberative and participatory concepts, formats, and tools, to turn the objectives of the European Green Deal (EGD) into political actions and social practice. The main feature of this protocol is to ensure joint ownership over this crucial transformation by a wide range of stakeholders and citizens. The former includes representatives of the political, economic, scientific, and civil society sectors. The latter includes a cross-section of the European citizenship in all its diversity and cultures. Moreover, the end product, the protocol, is envisioned to provide guidance on how to give a voice to citizens and those individuals and groups who are often neglected and disenfranchised from the political process while being most affected by the necessary transformation. The protocol will also be sensitive to the diversity within Europe concerning social and political histories, cultures, institutional arrangements, and the way in which they give rise to different aspirations and challenges associated with the realisation of a green and just transformation.

This deliverable contributes to the protocol by assessing of participatory and deliberative techniques and processes relevant to the EGD.

Key take aways: 

  • On deliberative democracy and deliberative participation:
    • The implementation of the EGD requires more than the deliberative decision-making process in elected or delegated bodies associated with the respective political system. It also requires the substantive engagement of stakeholders and citizens in designing, evaluating, and selecting public policies.
    • This engagement by all sectors of society in governance is called participatory. Today, the challenges to representative democracy bring attention to other democratic qualities such as participatory, strong, discursive, communicative and welfare democracy. Two main pillars of representative democracy (delegation and majoritarian voting) have been in tension with other democratic qualities (such as creating multiple opportunities for participation beyond elections). The main critique of majoritarian decision making is that it may jeopardise the rights of minorities, while not providing any logical base for assuming that majority-held preferences may be any wiser (della Porta, 2019).
    • If, in addition to being democratic, deliberative, and participatory, the process of decision making also provides genuine opportunities for meaningful participation from the full spectrum of social demographics affected by the issue being deliberated (e.g., marginalised, disadvantaged, and historically discriminated members of society), then it can be considered inclusive and representative, as well (Chwalisz, 2021; Fishkin, 2018).
    • On environmental governance: There have been and remain severe conflicts between market-driven interests and environmental concerns ranging from local to large scale cross-boundary issues which weigh heavily on the difficulties in setting effective policies for environmental governance within Europe and beyond. Meaningful compliance with policy entails changes in patterns of behaviour in societies, which in democratic contexts grows from citizen and stakeholder engagement in policy making. Evidence in this review indicates that participatory deliberative processes engaging citizens and stakeholders and conducted under conditions of transparency, legitimacy, inclusion, and effective moderation can help address these highly conflicted environmental governance challenges.
  • Boundary conditions: fairness, representativeness, inclusion, closure, ownership
    • The literature review shows that if the conditions of fairness, representativeness, inclusion and closure, and ownership are met, along with developing faith in their own competence, participants start to place trust in each other and have confidence in the engagement process, and by extension, more broadly in governance. This is particularly true for the local level where the participants are familiar with each other and have more immediate access to the issue.
  • Methodological challenges
    • One of the main challenges of citizen engagement is to involve, throughout the process, participants with a great diversity of backgrounds, with a specific focus on hard-to-reach fringes of the population. Beyond the traditional method of stratified random sampling, which is helpful – but not enough - for selecting participants with a diversity of backgrounds, there is still a need for further experimentations and solutions. It is therefore necessary to rely on further methods or to use dedicated formats in order to secure the participation of these groups throughout the process. - Moreover, the use of digital tools has proven to be useful to involve some fringe of the population (above all younger generations), while a combination of both, online and offline formats, would ideally enable a more inclusive process.
  • Learning from case studies and experiences
    • The review of different citizen engagement processes that have taken place at the national and pan-European levels have revealed that there is not one format to conduct citizen participation that is suitable for every type of issue, nor is any method suitable for any context. Nevertheless, some key take-aways can be drawn from this review:
    • First, all processes described need to be seen in their own social, political, and cultural context. For instance, the potential of minipublics formats differs considerably when conducted in different political systems. In states in which the political system, in general, is more open towards civil society organisations and movements, minipublics are more widely accepted and influential compared to states in which there is little political involvement on the part of civil society. Besides the political context, the social and cultural context in which a deliberative or participative process is organised influences what kind of format, method, tool, or communication style would be most useful. When organising transnational processes, it is therefore important to consider the variety of contexts in which participants live and the effect this may have on the process of the deliberation and eventually on the results. This variety of contexts needs to be considered in the design of the deliberation process. -
    • Second, what is needed in a deliberative or participative process also depends on the desired outcomes, or the intended goals of the intervention. Deliberative or participative interventions should a) help to legitimize the government that genuinely functions on a democratic basis, b) have an effect on political or technical decision making, (c) lead to public support for decision making, d) lead to agreement (or consensus) between citizens about policy decisions, (e) lead to more understanding between people with different opinions, (f) lead to informed and deliberative citizenry, (g) empower citizens and (h) have an effect on sustainability outcomes.
  • Multi-level governance (MLG)
    • Citizen engagement must be integrated into the structure of MLG. In addition to vertical and horizontal cooperation, MLG can be further enhanced by also involving non-governmental actors, including citizens, especially on topics that directly affect them. The most advanced option to do that is to co-develop, meaning to invite stakeholders to jointly develop a policy, programme or project, starting with the collective analysis of an issue.
  • The question of meta-consensus
    • The more actors, viewpoints, interests, and values are included and, thus, represented in an arena, especially on high-level complex issues such as climate change, the more difficult it is to reach a consensus/agreement. However, even with very heterogenous compositions of participatory bodies, mutually respected and legitimate agreements can sometimes be reached.
    • Although consensus need not to be the ultimate aim of deliberation in which participants are expected to pursue their interests, an overarching interest in the legitimacy of outcomes (justification to all affected) should ideally characterise deliberation (Chambers, 2003).
    • Deliberation should be plural more than consensual. Deliberation should recognise pluralism and strive for meta-consensus, involving mutual recognition of the legitimacy of different values, judgements and discourses held by other participants.

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