Deliberative democracy: addressing social fragmentation and polarisation

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How can we design our democratic systems to work in this world? The European landscape is experiencing a transformative change and the need to reimagine democracy becomes urgent.


On May 28, Re-Imagine Europa hosted the third and final session of the workshop series ‘Re-Imagine Deliberative Democracy’, titled ‘Beyond Talk: Action Steps for Europe’s Future, a space for discussion and strategies proposals on how to enhance participation, co-creation, trust, and transparency within Europe’s democratic processes.   

The session, organised by Re-Imagine Europa, under the scope of the Horizon Europe Project Orbis, led by Politecnico di Milano, had the mission of bridging the gap between citizens and policymakers by turning discussions into concrete actions. Using a backcasting methodology, the participants actively engaged into sessions in which they  identified the steps needed to achieve the objective of the previously co-created vision.  

Erika Staël von Holstein, Chief Executive of Re-Imagine Europa, opened the discussion questioning the current state of our democracies: “It’s a very timely moment to really ask what we want our democracies to look like, what are our strengths and weaknesses, and what is leading to the challenges we are seeing.”  

As trust in political institutions is declining globally, democracy needs to be reimagined to address social fragmentation and polarisation. To reach a transformative change, we need clear action steps to foster a more inclusive, transparent, and participatory democratic system. Colin Scicluna, Head of Cabinet of the Vice-President of the European Commission Dubravka Šuica, observed numerous global threats to democracy and encouraged the participants to examine Europe more closely: “many consider the upcoming elections to be a quite a test of how resilient our democracy can be.” 

As a way out, deliberative democracy emerged as a promising approach and the workshop concluded with actionable recommendations.  By directly involving citizens in policymaking, deliberative democracy is perceived in a more complementary way than current democracy. To guarantee inclusivity and diversity, it is essential to ensure diverse voices are heard in democratic practices, which promotes a sense of belonging and ensures policies address the needs of all societal segments. Moreover, transparency and accountability are pivotal for building trust, requiring clear communication and robust accountability mechanisms. 

The participants agreed as essential securing access to education focused on democratic values and critical thinking. This includes addressing the digital divide and promoting media literacy, crucial steps in ensuring informed citizen participation. To achieve this, innovative engagement methods and a new information ecosystem need to be developed to tackle digital transformation and misinformation effectively. As a remark, the session also addressed the role of technology in democracy, that offers great opportunities, but it also presents significant challenges, requiring us to use it as a tool to improve democratic processes rather than letting it dictate our future. 

By focusing on these areas, the workshop was a call-to-action towards tangible change for a stronger, more inclusive, and adaptable democratic system in Europe