In October, 2014, World Wide Views – a method used for engaging the public in R&I – was applied in 11 European countries as part of the EU funded project PACITA (Parliaments and Civil Society in Technology Assessment). The method’s application aimed to demonstrate the power of societal engagement on issues related to science and technology policy, and to inform EU-wide policy making on Sustainable Consumption.
One of the methods for engaging the public in the R&I process is the so-called World Wide Views. It was initially developed by the Danish Board of Technology and is used to engage citizens across different countries in simultaneous debates about important (but often complex) issues with the aim of providing advice to politicians and policy-makers. So far the method was been successfully applied to addressing issues such as global warming (2009) and biodiversity (2012). Most recently the method was used to seek citizens’ insight on the topic of sustainable consumption.
On October, 25th, 2014, a citizen consultation based on the World Wide Views method was held in 11 European countries – Austria, Belgium (Wallonia), Bulgaria, Denmark, Czech Republic, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain (Catalonia). The consultation was part of the EU-funded project PACITA (Parliaments and Civil Society in Technology Assessment) and was referred to as European Wide Views. Each partner in the project was responsible for organising a national meeting, selecting the participants, finding an appropriate venue, translating and distributing information materials.
The topic of the consultation in each country was “Sustainable Consumption”. Around 1030 citizens of different age, gender, settlement, education, occupation background from around Europe gathered together to discuss the issue. They were lay people, without prior exposure to or expertise in the field discussed.
The agenda consisted of four thematic sessions, each based on a different issue related to sustainable consumption – introduction to the concept of sustainable consumption; shifting consumption towards sustainability; reducing consumption; and reducing waste. Following about a 45-minute-discussion on each theme participants were asked to vote on a questionnaire, which provided a rich set of data to the organisers. Before and during the meeting, the citizens were presented with detailed and accessible information to prepare them for the discussion and voting. Each session started with an information video and then participants (divided into groups of 8-9 people) proceeded to deliberating on the questions assisted by a trained facilitator.
The votes from each session were collected and reported online, and were immediately made publicly accessible on the project’s website for review and comparison. The results of the votings, as well as the contents of the discussions at the different tables, were reviewed and analysed in a policy workshop in Copenhagen a week after the consultation took place. A special policy report will be presented to the European Commission and other interested stakeholders in February 2015 in Brussels.
That specific iteration of the method proved to be very successful in each of the participating countries. It enabled a large number of citizens to come together and discuss specific aspects of the topic of Sustainable Consumption, which in turn led to increased public awareness in this field. Thus citizens had the chance to voice their opinions and concerns, and also to help inform future decisions on the EU level about measures related to sustainability and consumption.