Can science, involvement and citizen participation go together? The pandemic and the increasing skepticism towards science have prompted a reflection, like never before, on the importance of correct and reliable scientific information and on the need to provide citizens with unbiased information, to empower them and stimulate public participation.
And that is precisely the goal of the new European project “Inclusive Science and European Democracies” (ISEED), as it aims to examine and understand the mechanisms that promote citizen involvement and participation, in particular when it comes to scientific issues.
Improving governance processes is in fact a priority for the European Union, which has decided to fund the project as part of a call for proposals for the development of new models of participatory and deliberative democracy.
The research consortium of the ISEED project, coordinated by Ca 'Foscari University, is made up of 12 European and non-European partners including the University of Trento with the Department of Sociology and Social Research, and will work on the research project for three years starting from spring 2021, with a total funding of 2.7 million euro.
How important are the relations between mental shortcuts, reflection and emotional aspects, in forming opinions and creating polarization on scientific issues? Measuring and interpreting reasoned argumentation at various levels of the discourse is one of the objectives of the project, that will examine both traditional and social media.
The project will also examine various case studies involving public opinion, active citizenship, scientists, political governance. It will make an overview of the new spaces where participatory and deliberative practices are welcome in order to replicate, where possible, the most successful cases on a larger scale. With one goal: to rethink the 'public sphere' by adding more voices to public discourse.
"We will explore and test the conditions within which certain practices of participatory and deliberative citizenship on scientific issues can be successfully applied to a knowledge-based governance model - explains Eleonora Montuschi, professor at the Department of Philosophy and Cultural Heritage and scientific coordinator of the project. And we will study how this model can be fully integrated in the representation system currently in use in democratic societies".
"We seek to establish at an empirical level - continues Montuschi - how the current participation practices implemented by citizen science can facilitate citizen direct participation in purely scientific issues, which used to be the prerogative of scientists alone. At the same time, we also seek to find out how these practices suggest innovative methods to face and overcome the barriers to democratic participation, which also prevent participation in the decision-making process that comes from it".
"Our objective is to define and further develop the concept of 'deliberative participation' so that it can strengthen both the quality and the level of legitimacy of the political decision-making process, above all by placing the role of knowledge at the center of decisions, especially on scientific matters" explains Giuseppe A. Veltri, full professor at the Department of Sociology and Social Research of the University of Trento.
"We will investigate and analyze the different evaluation strategies, especially on social media, that are based on knowledge and on deliberative processes, to search for elements that favor the inclusion of vulnerable and/or marginalized social actors. Another objective is to try to stop any social and political manipulations, such as those deriving from current phenomena such as populism, or from the polarization of public debate".