Innovative Schemes of Public Engagement, Pros and Cons

This topic was presented by the blogger Laura in Euroenviro2016 in Denmark, hope it is going to be interesting-




One of the hotly debated topics in Europe is the need of public engagement in decision-making process. This phenomenon is called “democratic deficit”, and it is referred particularly  to European Union’s institutions. In fact, according to eurosceptics, they were directly born in sin. However such a feeling has deteriorated throughout the economic crisis.
In order to respond the European Union has enacted a lot of initiatives: on the side of environmental matters, it was stated lawfully with the Aarhus Convention in 1998; more recently Public Engagement 2020 initiative was put into force. The latter is a project whose mission is “identify, analyse and refine innovative public engagement (PE) tools and instruments for dynamic governance in the field of Science in Society” (

From Bruxelles to Rimini

One project that could be considered as part of this flow of good intentions is “Là Dove C’era L’Erba” (in English “There, were the grass once grew”), a project held by The Rimini Local Administration.
Basically the Italian National Association of Local Administation Bodies (ANCI) set out a contest for the best projects with the aim of engaging the youth in the co-design of public spaces and services (read about it here: And Rimini won with its idea, that relates it with the respect and valorisation of the environment and alternative economic schemes. Some of 1st and 2nd year RESD students took part  (including the author of this article), and as participants they were asked to attend to 10 workshops and in the end to design a project that would give new birth to some locations spotted by Rimini officials.

From Theory to Practice

Except that now it is the time to tune “ You’re just to good to be true…”.
Exactly, as Italians say “Between the sayings and the facts, there is the sea”.  The problem lies in the existing  discrepancies between the workshops contents and the final task. In fact, those meetings were both practical and theoretical, however they were too superficial. As an example, one of the latest was about how to build a business plan: very interesting. The problem is that with few slides and little time the participants still had no clue about how to begin and carry out such a demanding document. What is more: there was a lecture about how to plant trees. A thrilling experience for near millenials who are far more familiar with personal computers than with watering flowers on the balcony. But how are they expected to know the property of a soil and understanding its best use?
The problem is that when you are asked to design an activity taking place in a specific place, you cannot ignore any factor, if you want your project to endure in time and to be successful in terms of sustainability, productivity and above all feasibility. It is very easy to daydream and to forget reality constraints, this is what this experience may have taught to the participants.


Useful lessons

What comes natural after this reasoning is:  Was this effort- in particular in monetary terms- worthy? The total investment of this project is estimated to be about of 100, 000 euros (taxpayers money, I guess).
The interesting B-side effect of this question is that it is coherent to every investment done to engage the public in decision-making process.
The thing is: it is high time that citizens could have an impact on what directly affects them. However, this has to be conducted cleverly and coherently.
The PE2020 initiative issued a first policy brief (downloadable here: about the first results of their analysis on which factors determine the success of  a Public Engagement Scheme. Those are summed up in the following table:


 Successful factors Barriers
Transparency Uncertain impacts of PE
Balanced Inclusion Scarce level of education of citizens
Effectiveness and Reactivity of the Policy Low confidence placed on those initiatives



In other  words,  an effective public engagement scheme has to be sound and clear in all of its processes and future applications, and that is has to be commensurate to the level of education of its participants, due to the criticalities enlisted above.
in the case study shown upwards, unluckily, it is reckoned that all of the criticalities were present, and the 3 requirements were neglected. In particular, the investment is threatened to be unfruitful because the technicalities required by the implementations of such projects are not going to be met by participants’ efforts. The results will be in such scenario, creative projects which will be never put into practice, being too costly and physically infeasible.

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