A slide from Idea 2: widening the audience with public policy participation

Workshop report: better EUropean communities & public policy participation

Resources and first thoughts from my recent ‘EU communities & policy participation’ workshop at the European Week of Regions and Cities (EWRC).

Background: the workshop was introduced in Seeking examples of real participation in EU policymaking, followed by The limits of public participation in policy and Should we put machines we don’t understand in charge of public policy?

Firstly, a huge shout-out to my fellow speakers and to everyone who took part. Apart from Anthony Zacharzewski (@anthonyzach), who as Democratic Society founder has probably forgotten more about public participation in policy than I will ever learn, I shared the stage with the Two Busiest People in Brussels that week: Agnès Monfret (head of unit, Communications, DG REGIO) and Michele Cercone (head of unit, Events, Committee of the Regions). The fact that they even managed to show up amazes me. And we would probably have fallen on our collective faces without Matteo Salvai (@saved_mat) manning the Slido.

While 70 people registered to the workshop, only 35–40 showed up— possibly because of Belgium’s General Strike, possibly because I emailed everyone what to expect. Totally understandable that some desisted.

We had two ideas to explore, so after Michele’s scene-setter…

(video cut from two provided by Katy Owens, who made it for the first few minutes to explain the background)

Idea 1. Build a Community of Practice for the EWRC

… Agnès introduced the context and I set out what a community of practice actually is, and why they could help:

Slideshare, unfortunately, doesn’t show animations

At this point we asked the attendees our first question via Slido:

Better than expected: half were likely or certain, and most of the rest might.

Some examples

While the concept appears new to the EU’s regional policy stakeholders, the EC’s research departments have been doing this for 15 years, as the examples we showed next demonstrate. I was joined by Pascal Goergen, Secretary General of FEDRA, whose NeoConnect software is powering the latest iteration of one of them.

Some links and additional notes on these examples:

  • ICT Research Event (2002-): since we piloted this for the IST 2002 Event, the DG responsible (first INFSO, then CNECT) have used this approach scores of times since, developing it constantly. The latest event I see is ICT Proposers’ Day 2017. Judging from last year, they’re no longer using event co-creation, probably because after 15 years their community no longer needs it. But all the networking features from 15 years ago are still there.
  • Smartcities (2009-): this was (I think) the first EC community to not offer rewards related to funding, and still succeed. Perhaps because were were probably the first to actually ask potential users what they wanted before we started building anything (audience research below). Currently being relaunched using FEDRA’s NeoConnect.
  • Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe (2012-): EPALE is interesting because the members’ core interest seems to be sharing relevant professional resources across linguistic, national and other barriers, coupled to partner search, private collaborative spaces and subcommunity features. The multilingualism strategy is therefore central to the way it brings value to users (audience research below).
  • Futurium: more policy- than programme-oriented, Futurium has evolved a lot since its launch five or so years ago, and now welcomes policy input to a wide range of EU issues.

The key point I hammered home with these examples is that successful communities provide members with very good reasons to get involved. As a representative of the Committee of the Region’s communications team pointed out, people lack time. For a community to succeed, it must be in the Top 3 places they need to spend time in professionally.

a community must be in the Top 3 places Members need to spend time professionally

So, time for another poll:

Users could choose 1, 2 or 3 response. Given the three options’ interconnectedness, I was surprised to see agenda-setting so low.

Idea 2. Widen the audience with public participation in policymaking

Building a community of practice around an event like the EWRC should be easy, as the examples indicate. But expanding it into a Community of Interest — i.e., widening it to include people who don’t know their way around the Brussels Bubble — is another question altogether.

Done correctly, it would help re-establish EU democratic legitimacy. Done badly, it would poison the well further (if that was possible).

First, a proposal that should work, if executed properly:

Followed by a quick poll:

One third would, one third might. More than expected for an unproven concept.

Then some examples of how this has been done successfully before, from Anthony:

One way to improve the previous poll’s score is for the EU Institutions to share some of the load. I proposed four ideas where that would make sense (economies of scale, previous experience, etc.) via one last poll:

Surprising (to me) results

First Conclusions

Given that I’ve sunk time into this, you’d probably assume I drew my conclusions before we even held the workshop: that the EU’s ‘regional community’ should adopt these ideas as suggested. And it is true that if they had successfully done this a few years ago, they would not be launching a “#CohesionAlliance” — they would be deploying it.

if they had successfully done this a few years ago, they would not be launching a “#CohesionAlliance” — they would be deploying it

But the key word is ‘successfully’. For every community successfully convened by the Commission, there must be 5–10 failures, launched in disregard of what potential community members actually want or need.

And while the above polls are encouraging, this was a small, self-selected sample.

These results must therefore be further validated through audience research. I’m currently helping other parts of the EC with such research, and it is no small matter to do properly, spanning ethnographic research and interviews, surveys, focus groups and more.

In the meantime, much simpler audience research, carried out for two of the communities mentioned above, can be found here:


I’ll be further digesting the results of the workshop — along with the material people have sent me before and after — in the coming weeks and months. To get it, subscribe to either the workshop’s dedicated enewsletter or my own personal one (below). Hashtag: participatEU.

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