The Directorate of Youth and Sport of the Council of Europe organized in March 2009 a seminary reserved to young researcher, policy-makers, youth organizations and young people coming from 47 European countries. This seminary had as topic the new partecipation methods based on Information and Communication Technology (e-participation). The results were collected in a document, which can be consulted online (http://www.coe.int/t) and fitness an open structure of encounter, where all partecipants had the opportunity to live a practical experience of cooperation in an important field within the Council of Europe.
During the organization the Directorate of Youth and Sport of the Council of Europe developed a clear thought: if public partecipation is a foundamental element for “human rights, democracy and rule of law”, then everywhere there is a general trend toward the decreasing of partecipation to the traditional events of the political life of democracy such as elections and traditional participation forms (political parties and trade unions). However the new technological developments gave young people many new possibilities to raise their voices and take part to society in alternative ways (for example online forums, SMS, e-democracy).
These are the new trends and developments which brought to a reflection process within the Council of Europe. This process found its expression in a series of tests and programs, as well as seminars like this one, whose aim was to investigate on “the new partecipation ways”. They analysed the actual trends of young people based on IT technologies and on a constructive exchange of practices and information among the principal subjects in youth sectors.
Experts and partecipants developed 3 main discussion areas: the first related to the relationship between young people and partecipation (the exclusion reasons of young people from partecipation by adults, the repentance towards change by politicians declared by youngs); the secondo one concerns open questions about e-participation (what does e-participation really mean? Does it really offer opportunities of higher partecipation? Does it really bring to e-democracy?); the third one had instead a more positive approach because it was dedicated to the identification of positive factors contributing to e-partecipation incentivation (e-participation is an opportunity of emancipation, action and change; it is open and inclusive, it has no limits and offers a rapid access to information).
At the end of the seminary all partecipants elaborated also concrete advices which will be used by stakeholders to create a synergy between joung people doing e-participation and the youth sectors of the European Community. They were presented during the meeting of the State organs within the Council of Europe holded in Mollina from the 23 to the 25 of March and will be widespread to all researcher networks who activated partnerships to the European Community. Everything happened also in relation to the implementation of the future declaration titled “The future of youth policies in the Council of Europe: Agenda 2020”.
These advices go from a generic to a more specific target such as for example for researchers and policy-makers: the wider reflections concern the relationship between digital gap and e-partecipation, whereas the more specific ones – for example for policy-makers – suggest to integrate more and more the e-partecipation forms to the actual global priorities (environment, public debt of poor countries, education and employment) within a transparent decisional process with a daily system of comment, discussion and evaluation. Another important topic regards the ways of inclusion of disadvantaged youngs, the settlement of enough funds for information in formal and informal context in order to increase technological alphabetization among young people. The advices directed to researchers concerned the development of studies regarding ICT competences among young people as well as motivation and behaviour in decisional processes both offline and online. For youth organizations the advice was to increase the interaction with mass-media and relevant subjects (NGO, public institution etc.) in order to ensure the value, impact and visibility of all e-partecipation programs developed by youth organizations, involving young social parts (for example parents, teachers, peers…) in planning and implementation so that these programs can bring to a real social change. It is moreover necessary to think out a common ethical code for e-partecipation by young people who cooperate with European as well as to organize educational activities in which young people can hand down their competences in ICT sector to their peers and to old generations.
A study titled Partecipatory Paradoxes, Facilitating Citizen Engagement in Science and Technology From the Top-Down? by Maria C. Powell of the “University of Wisconsin” and Mathilde Colin of the “University of Wisconsin”, published last month on Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society focused on the same topic – i.e. public partecipation – but within processes of diffusion of technologic knowledge. The results are not so enthusiastic, but they contribute to give back complexity to a frame work of partecipation dinamics which need different measures in order to be really incentivated on a widespread level.
The sudy underlines how the mechanisms to involve citizens in the diffusion of scientific and technologic knowledges are nowadays popular all over the world. However those mechanisms with a bottom-up nature aiming at influencing the decisional processes had only a limited success. The authors deepened the potentialities and challenges needed to facilitate the engagement of citizens in the sector of nanotechnologies following the logics of Top Down, i.e. how academics and researchers can develop a fructuous engagement with citizens within public institutions supporting partecipation.
The authors got to the conclusion that the comparison between stakeholders, researchers, policy-makers and citizens is possible, but only if they all invest a great amount of time for partecipation: a high expenditure of energy only possible with a huge institutional support.