Thousands of citizens offer their future vision for the European research agenda

Thousands of citizens share their future vision for the European research agenda

A thousand citizens from thirty European countries have shared their visions for the future in order to make a contribution to the European Union's research agenda. What topics are important for the future? And what will this mean for everyday life? LEI researchers Janneke Vader and Volkert Beekman are members of the Dutch research team for the project Citizen and Multi-Actor Consultation on Horizon 2020 (CIMULACT). In this article they talk about the project.

At present, the research agendas are largely dominated by scientists and policymakers. Citizens have very little say and the topics on the agenda have little relation to everyday life.

What is the goal of the CIMULACT project?

'We want citizens and other interested parties to be involved in developing the research agenda for the European Commission's Horizon 2020 programme. At present, the research agendas are largely dominated by scientists and policymakers. Citizens have very little say and the topics on the agenda have little relation to everyday life. Approximately one thousand citizens in thirty European countries are participating in this project to present their vision for the future.'

How are the participants selected?

'Our goal is to put together a varied group, but it's not a representative sample of all European citizens. We have asked people of different ages and varying levels of education to participate. We have also considered whether people live in a rural or urban environment and what they do for a living. We have also asked students and unemployed people to participate. But we've excluded people who are politically active and certain researchers.'

How have you catalogued all those visions for the future?

'In the first phase, workshops were organised in each country, during which the participants developed visions for the future. The minimum number of participants in a workshop was 36, so in the Netherlands we extended invitations to 48 people so we could be sure to reach the minimum. In the end, 44 people participated – we didn't expect to see so many! In Belgium there were fewer participants. The workshop in Brussels took place shortly after the attacks in Paris, when the terror alert was in place and public life was practically at a standstill. But the workshop was held anyway, and 23 people attended in spite of the situation. It's great to see how much interest people have in this.'

Weren't the workshop results hugely affected by the refugee crisis and the terror alerts?

'In the Netherlands, these developments did not have a significant influence on the workshop. We want to formulate visions for a future thirty to forty years from now. People were able to look forward without getting caught up in the issues of today. They were required to write a "mini-story" about a topic in the future from the point of view of their everyday lives. That resulted in thousands of fascinating stories by European citizens. In each country approximately six of these stories were selected, and a group of people developed the stories further into a vision for the future.'

How much progress has been made on the project?

'We've completed the first phase. Each country has completed a report with the six most important visions. Each report can be read on the CIMULACT website. It is very interesting to see the cultural influences and differences.'

What are the most important results from the Netherlands?

'The Dutch participants placed a great deal of focus on equality, as well as other values. People want a greater say in their personal development and use of resources. Everyone in the world should be able to get an education, without impediments or obstacles created by the system. The participants also found that mutual responsibility for one's own neighbourhood and taking care of one another are important. The idea of freedom is a little more abstract, but one point is that people want a new monetary system with more financial independence, as well as more focus on non-monetary values like happiness, health and friendship.'

What is the next step?

'We will be holding a co-creation workshop from 19 to 22 April, in which we will be working together with representatives of all the research teams and citizens, as well as a number of experts, to create a first draft for the research agenda. We will then assess this agenda proposal in new workshops with citizens and other interested parties. There will also be an online consultation, where everyone can respond to the draft proposal. The ultimate goal is to present a proposal for various research programmes. We aim to have this completed in 2017.'

Will it be possible to combine so many visions into one single European vision for the future?

'We'll see at the workshop in April. We have complete confidence that we will be able to arrive at a solid proposal. We in Europe are facing universal challenges when it comes to topics like education, mobility and sustainability.'

By Tefke van Dijk