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Home arrow Sociology arrow Policy-Oriented Technology Assessment Across Europe: Expanding Capacities

Background

The European citizens' consultation on sustainable consumption was based on a previous method design developed by a core of TA partners, namely the World Wide Views method. This method was originally designed to provide a platform for citizen participation in the UN COP negotiations on climate and biodiversity (Rask, Worthington and Lammi, 2012), but with a few modifications, it proved to be fully adaptable to the European context, producing the 'Europe Wide Views' (EWViews) approach. The method combines simultaneous national face-to-face citizen consultations with a web-based transnational comparison of national results. [1] At each national site, roughly 100 citizens deliberated in small groups on the basis of the same information material and voted anonymously on the same questions which made it possible to make transnational comparisons.

The issue of European policy development for sustainable consumption presents four characteristics, which makes the EWViews method particularly appropriate. First, patterns of production and consumption are intrinsically part of every citizen's daily life, and policies to affect these patterns therefore affect citizens directly. This is the basic criterion for situations in which citizens' participation should be considered a right. Second, the issue is one in which there is knowledge that concerns patterns and options readily available and relatively uncontroversial.

This means that informing citizens thoroughly and correctly prior to the consultation is possible and that deliberation can start from a platform of evidence. Third, sustainable consumption is an issue field in which political action is necessary at both the European and the member-state level. Market failures produce waiting games in which political intervention at multiple levels of governance is needed to create forward momentum. And lastly, sustainable consumption is an area in which choosing between policy options is an obviously normative, rather than merely technical, issue. The complex interdependencies involved in changing patterns of production and consumption mean that policy choices will have deep ethical, social and distributional effects. This makes the voices of diverse groups of citizens highly relevant since their input will likely foreshadow the reactions of the public at large.

Throughout the process of designing, organizing and carrying out the citizen consultation, politicians, policy makers and stakeholders have continuously been involved in identifying issues for deliberation and balancing sources of knowledge for the information material that was to be distributed to participating citizens. The process was thus supported by MPs, MEPs, Commission staff, NGOs with green and consumer agendas, researchers in the various fields, and interest organization representatives in retail and industry. The immediate purpose of this extensive pre-consultation involvement has been to ensure the direct policy relevance and overall soundness of the citizen consultations and their outputs. But the preparation process in itself has also served as a vehicle of informal dialogue across sectors and has contributed in many small ways to the formation of a common understanding and a common sense of urgency among diverse stakeholder groups. The willingness of politicians and policy-makers to open many of the meetings showed the political interest, which this process generated. The expressed interest of these end users of the citizen consultation made it clear to the participating citizens that the consultation was in fact much more than an academic exercise.

  • [1] For more information, visit wwviews.org/.
 
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