Welcome to the fourth newsletter from the Permanent Observatory of Public Engagement (POPE). Because of the need to fight COVID-19, public engagement and empowerment have become even more important: it is this engagement and empowerment that encourages responsible behaviour, such as taking care of vulnerable groups or using tracing applications. We hope that this move towards community action and solidarity will remain with us even after the crisis ends.

This issue is dedicated to the questions of public engagement during and after the COVID-19 crisis. In the first article we talk about communities that have organized themselves from the bottom up, and discuss how governments should encourage and guide the empowerment of citizens rather than using totalitarian surveillance methods. The second article gives an overview of platforms and initiatives that have been used to increase citizen empowerment. The third presents the case of Barcelona, where citizen empowerment was successfully implemented alongside smart city solutions. To get first-hand insight into these issues, we were very fortunate to have the opportunity to sit down for an interview with Francesca Bria, who is currently the President of the Italian National Innovation Fund and who previously worked on big public engagement projects, such as DECIDIM.

Interview with Francesca Bria, President of the Italian National Innovation Fund, Honorary Professor in the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose at UCL in London and Senior Adviser on Digital Cities and Digital Rights for the United Nations.

Article 1. “What do citizens need to fight COVID-19: more surveillance or empowerment?”

“As systems collapse, people rise” says the author of Theory U, Otto Scharmer, in his recent article, where he reflects on the changes brought about by the COVID 19 crisis. At the same time, the historian Yuval Noah Harari writes in his article about the world after coronavirus, “A self-motivated and well-informed population is usually far more powerful and effective than a policed, ignorant population”. These two articles complement each other: the first one talks about communities that have organized themselves from the bottom up, and the second one discusses how governments should encourage and guide the empowerment of citizens rather than using totalitarian surveillance methods.

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Article 2. “Citizen empowerment: examples of active projects”

In this article we give an overview of recent active European and international initiatives on citizen empowerment and its increased importance due to the COVID -19 crisis. These initiatives are organised virtually, which gives citizens the opportunity to act collectively, even in lockdown, and allows them to be heard by policy makers.

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Article 3. “Citizen empowerment and public engagement: the case of Barcelona”

Barcelona is one of the most successful cases in terms of implementing the model of Smart Cities. Already from 2012, Barcelona started to incorporate smart city solutions across urban systems such as waste management, street lighting, public transit and parking. But one of the key smart city elements implemented in Barcelona is citizen engagement. The city of Barcelona aimed to provide tools to the public to systematically gather their opinions. This way, Barcelona puts citizens at the heart of decision making, stimulating a bottom-up approach.

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TRIGGER project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme, under the Grant Agreement number 822735. This newsletter reflects only the author’s view and the Commission is not responsible for any use that maybe made of the information it contains.


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