Description of activities
The CO-ACTE (Construire la Coresponsabilité Avec les Citoyens des Territoires Européens) project was launched in August and September 2015 after being approved for funding from the EU Europe for Citizens programme. As planned, the CO-ACTE project started with a citizen gathering and synthesis phase, asking what citizens felt they needed to guarantee co-responsible wellbeing for all, today and tomorrow, and/or which measure they would most support if they were able to co-decide with political leaders. This phase was carried out using the same principles as the SPIRAL approach , which is an approach to direct democracy that ensures an equal voice for all, without intermediaries or any preconceived ideas, that is both introspective and prospective, and individual and collective.
From the first syntheses available at the start of 2016, this initial phase revealed the importance of principles highlighted by citizens when it comes to setting goals for societal progress. Although, expressed as they were, these goals may seem to be utopian and idealistic, they explain what co-responsibility for the wellbeing of all (including future generations) implies, and provide a perspective for joint reflection on ways to progress towards this ideal.
This became clearer still when the project moved into its second phase of research and sharing of civil society initiatives that responded to these citizen proposals. The four thematic meetings that followed, which took place between May and September 2016, revealed how these citizen proposals were already active in a growing number of existing initiatives. Through examining their complementarities, a synthesis of their contributions progressively emerged in the form of a reference model for how to move towards co-responsibility for the wellbeing of all today and tomorrow.
The method for progressing towards this ideal was yet to be defined, given that the routes to get there are different depending on the specific context in each territory, region and country. The second synthesis meeting which took place in Charleroi at the end of September 2016 highlighted the key barriers to such progress, as well as the need for co-learning involving not only public, private and citizen stakeholders at a local level, but also public authorities at other levels: regional, national, European and global. This resulted in a proposal of roadmap to co-learn how to progress towards co-responsibility for the wellbeing of all, to be divided the following three sections:
- Following on from the direct-democracy approach, working with citizens to co-define goals for progress: wellbeing for all today and tomorrow, and co-responsibility.
- Promoting collaborative processes for experimentation and co-learning between local actors and public authorities at other levels (regional, national, European and global).
- Extracting lessons regarding public policies to be promoted, using methods of deliberative democracy.
The final meeting at Braine-l’Alleud on 2, 3 and 4 November 2016, which was the Third International Meeting of the Co-Responsible Territories, improved this roadmap through extensive participation in 37 workshops organised by topic, project or country. At the end of the meeting, the roadmap was approved by the TOGETHER General Assembly as a guideline for the network, to be refined throughout the process. And a meeting at the Committee of the Regions opened up the prospect of collaborating with this institution to broaden the co-learning process to other member regions that might be interested.
In the final months of the CO-ACTE project, following the meeting in Braine-l’Alleud, the roadmap was adjusted on the basis of the meeting’s conclusions.
Changes to the original project
Between the preparatory meeting and the kick-off meeting, improvements were suggested, debated and added to the original project to increase its relevance and impact. One of these improvements was the introduction of the Delphi method in the phase of gathering citizen proposals. With this method, the global synthesis is presented to citizens, giving them the opportunity to read, collectively approve and complete it. Furthermore, it was decided not to wait for the fourth phase to enter into dialogue with public authorities regarding the proposals, but rather to initiate this from the first syntheses and to broaden it to include all stakeholders in society.
Subsequently, and in light of the first syntheses, there emerged a need to look for responses to the citizen proposals in existing civil-society or public-authority initiatives. The thematic meetings were then fully defined, and it was suggested that their number should be reduced from five to four in order to group the topics as broadly and interactively as possible. The idea was also to have a logical sequence between the four meetings, something that was not sufficiently highlighted in the initial project, in order to add value to the results from each meeting in those that followed. This made it easier to appreciate the complementarities between citizen initiatives, leading to gradual co-construction of a reference model, integrating all of the results from the meetings.
The emerging harmony between citizen proposals and the reference model resulting from the thematic meetings revealed that there is a need to follow up on the process started with the CO-ACTE project. Out of this need came the idea of creating a roadmap for progress towards co-responsibility for the wellbeing of all, something that was not planned for in the initial project.
Furthermore the reduction in the number of thematic meetings from five to four created the opportunity to hold an additional synthesis meeting after the thematic meetings. This additional meeting turned out to be especially relevant and useful, particularly in terms of introducing the key dimension of governance into the reference model, refining the roadmap, preparing for the final meeting in Braine-l’Alleud, and pursuing dialogue with public authorities.
Changes were also made to the dates of four meetings and the location of two meetings. These changes were formally authorised by the EACEA in view of their importance for adding value to the project.
Impact and visibility
The CO-ACTE project aims to transform the knowledge gained over years of experience with the TOGETHER Network and its members (more than 400 territories involved in SPIRAL, a participative process of co-construction creating a vision of wellbeing with citizens which serves as a reference both at a local and European level), creating an inspirational social project for European citizens and providing a vision for the future: that of co-responsibility as a means of progress towards guaranteeing wellbeing for all without compromising future generations. From that point of view, it is a success, having supplied the key elements that were missing from the SPIRAL process, so that it can effectively support progress towards co-responsibility. These elements were:
- The synthesis of citizen proposals that was added to syntheses obtained through SPIRAL on two points: a) broadening the vision of wellbeing for all to include public-policy proposals that favour co-responsibility for the wellbeing of all, and b) a condensed synthesis of all perspectives, allowing for easy reading of the whole;
- The reference model for progressing towards co-responsibility for the wellbeing of all, resulting from the pooling of a large number of complementary civil society and public authority citizen initiatives. This reference model echoes the synthesis of citizen perspectives, highlighting how citizen proposals, which might seem to be idealistic in today’s European context, may concretely be achieved.
Over the 18 months of the project, through eight European meetings, a plan for the future has been co-constructed with the 427 meeting participants (in addition to those who contributed online and over 1000 citizens who were part of the proposal-gathering groups, as well as around 12 000 people who have been part of the SPIRAL process since its launch). All, to varying degrees, have made a contribution to this co-construction through their specific experience.
The CO-ACTE project therefore supports an ambition that goes considerably beyond the community of citizens and public and private stakeholders that were involved. However, 18 months was too short a time to fully establish a basis from which to plan larger-scale communication. The project was caught between the need to formalise the knowledge gained and to circulate this knowledge. This issue was faced during the final meeting in Braine-l’Alleud where the two goals of refinement/enrichment of the project outcomes and circulating these outcomes were simultaneously addressed. From this perspective, the last few months of the project (up to 28 February 2017) were important for finalising the knowledge gained and lessons learned, including those from the Braine-l’Alleud meeting, explaining how this develops with final version of the roadmap.
With a well-explained roadmap now available, project partners can begin to follow up on the processes of communication and dialogue that were initiated during the last meeting, in particular with the Committee of the Regions.
Concluding, the tangible impact of the CO-ACTE project lies mainly in the perspective defined by a relatively modest number of participants (less than 2000). However, its potential impact is very large as the three resulting products (the synthesis of citizen proposals, the reference model and the roadmap) are three basic instruments which, together, provide a concrete operational guideline for promoting societal progress towards co-responsibility for the wellbeing of all today and tomorrow. The ‘snowball’ effect mentioned in the initial proposal for the project has not yet been achieved due to a lack of time, but the project has succeeded in creating favourable conditions for this to occur.
At end of the CO-ACTE project, the conditions for implementing the roadmap for societal progress towards wellbeing for all are relatively well established in terms of its organisational and institutional scope. In fact, it is currently being adopted by the TOGETHER network and its partners, as well as other networks, public and private stakeholders, and citizens that participated in its creation throughout the project. Communication has also been initiated with the Committee of the Regions, and may potentially be initiated with others throughout the implementation of the roadmap.
However, lack of resources presents a barrier to the roadmap being launched. At the end of the project, partners that might have been able to implement the roadmap no longer have the means provided by the European Union’s Europe for Citizens Programme which they had access to during the CO-ACTE project. One of the first tasks that the Roadmap Steering Committee will need to address is promotion of a partnership that will guarantee co-funding. This concerns section one of the roadmap (following up on the direct democracy process with citizens to co-define the goals of progress: wellbeing for all today and tomorrow, and co-responsibility), the coordination of section two, particularly the operation of Pilot Committee and working groups to be set up and, finally, funding for section three.
Naturally, we will firstly appeal to the Europe for Citizens Programme to provide this funding which should, given the nature of the roadmap, be spread out over a longer time than the 18-month period of funding for CO-ACTE.
As well providing some ownership of the project results, the reason for appealing to the Europe for Citizens Programme is linked to the very nature of the roadmap proposed. It is true that the roadmap might, on the face of it, seem disconnected from the overall goals of the Programme and the European Union as it is about promoting an alternative view of societal progress that is not simply measured using GDP as an indicator. However, this view is based on citizen expectations gathered using a democratic framework that is as rigorous and transparent as possible. Furthermore, and more broadly speaking, it provides a framework for a concrete renewal of democracy based on citizen democracy (which is direct, collaborative and deliberative), and which may be complementary to representative democracy. These may be essential contributions to the search for solutions to the current crisis of values and confidence throughout Europe. Moreover, through proposing a collaborative approach between citizens, civil society and public authorities around the idea of co-responsibility for the wellbeing of present and future generations, the roadmap perfectly aligns with and guides the way towards the United Nations sustainable development goals and the Paris climate agreements.
The roadmap resulting from the CO-ACTE project proposes the launch of a multi-level participative and collaborative process. It seems more essential than ever that this be explored, on the basis of all knowledge gained in territories regarding new forms of governance. It lays out a process for learning how to live together, taking into account all abilities regardless of how marginalised or under-recognised they are, through the exercise of listening, tolerance and collective intelligence on the level of European society and beyond, promoting a progressive society that is moving towards wellbeing for all today and tomorrow.