The EU-funded Horizon 2020 DEMOTEC project will probe the role of Participatory Budgeting (PB) in fostering greater and more informed citizen participation in policy-making in a period of increased polarization and alienation from the political process. DEMOTEC focuses on citizen engagement in European regional and urban policies, combining in-depth research on participatory budgeting and mediated deliberation in the public sphere with real-world experiments.
The project involves a multidisciplinary methodological approach, applying innovative methods including experiments, computational text analysis of big data, representative surveys, framing and discourse analysis, and case studies in seven urban communities across Europe: Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, and Scotland.
DEMOTEC consists of an interdisciplinary and well-integrated consortium of academic, media and citizen engagement partners with expertise in political science, regional and urban studies, sociology, psychology, media and communication studies, and computer science. The Consortium places strong emphasis on the co-creation of democratic innovation and knowledge with policymakers and communication with a variety of stakeholders throughout the project, including public authorities at all territorial levels, journalists, civil society organisations and the general public.
The DEMOTEC project will assess how and to what extent the democratic innovation of participatory budgeting can lead to greater and more informed citizen participation in policy-making and engage citizens that feel disconnected from political and policy processes. In particular, the project aims to provide novel theoretical and empirical findings on participatory budgeting and democratic decision-making, develop practical tools and capacity for practitioners, and produce timely policy recommendations at different government scales.
The research design conceptualises participatory budgeting as both an independent variable, impacting on the level and quality of citizen deliberation and engagement, as well as a dependent variable to be explained. Assessing the degree to which PB impacts on engagement, the underlying causal mechanisms and the intervening variables mediating the relationship between PB and deliberative exercises are the core research tasks for DEMOTEC. On the demand side, understanding citizens’ attitudes and perceptions of democratic innovations, such as PB, is a central research objective that will be partly addressed by fielding a wide-ranging public opinion survey. However, citizens are not the only central actors. Civil society organisations and the media also play a crucial role on the demand side by shaping the support for, and representations of, democratic innovations.
On the supply side, political elites – elected representative and policymakers – have become more receptive in recent decades to democratic innovations that widen and deepen citizen participation in the political decision-making process. This is partly explained by weaknesses in the capacity of traditional representative democracy to represent citizens’ views effectively. As a result, democratic innovations, such as PB trials, have become a more visible feature of the policymaking and governance landscape. Participatory and deliberative mechanisms for direct citizen engagement in decision-making processes are highlighted as a potential response to the increased political polarisation and disaffection in parts of Europe. The overall conceptual framework of DEMOTEC linking participatory budgeting, Europeanisation, public deliberation and citizen engagement is illustrated in the following figure.