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Bucharest Consultations Report | The Power of the People

On May 20th, 2023, Atlas co-organized with Eidos Foundation and the Democracy and Culture Foundation grassroots consultations to crowdsource policies on improving the people’s power in democracy. Around 100 people joined the full in-person event that lasted from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm, and between 10 to 20 people were present online (depending on the hour).

Opening

Andrea Venzon opened the day by explaining the importance of people’s power in today’s politics and governments. He elaborated on the role of citizens in government and how the most inspiring leaps forward in a democracy are often, if not always, people-led. He also highlighted how Romania, a country that witnessed big anti-corruption protests in the last few years, was an ideal place to host this topic and show the world how governments can be made accountable to the people. Andrea closed by explaining how this was a unique opportunity to make the participant’s voice heard and ensure that democracy evolves in the right direction for this and future generations. He went through the program of the day, the “rules of the game,” and explained how the results of the consultations would be used by the Democracy and Culture Foundation and presented at the 2023 Athens Democracy Forum. 

Online participants joined via videoconference.

Achilles Tsaltas then delivered remarks to frame those consultations in the broader work of the Democratic and Culture Foundation, explained the “Reimagining the Building Blocks of Democracy'' Project and motivated participants by highlighting their role in a global effort for democracy.

Panel

The event was opened with thought-provoking remarks by the following speakers: Ana Mocanu (Researcher on misinformation and Associate at Funky Citizens) and Ginny Badanes (Director at Microsoft Democracy Forward). Colombe Cahen-Salvador moderated the panel and enabled the audience to participate.

The panel focused first on core blocking factors when it comes to the power of the people, such as lack of accessibility to politicians and institutions, lack of trust in not only governments but civil society and each other, lack of knowledge of participatory initiatives running, and the difficulty for people and also public officials to understand their powers and rights. Policy proposals such as citizen assemblies, referendums, participatory budgeting, and citizens forum were discussed on stage, and interestingly enough, local best practices, such as youth participatory budgeting in the city of Cluj-Napoca, internationally known in the democratic practitioners’ circles, seems not to be well known among Romanian citizens.

It’s worth noting that participants engaged immediately with the panelists, expressing eagerness for real people’s power in government and for their voices to be heard. Questions were extremely on point and pushed the conversation in the right direction.

Such panels can help in setting the stage and ensuring that participants think outside of the box.

Identification of Issues

Following this panel, participants were asked to identify at least three issues with “the power of people.” 

Those present in person were divided into four groups and asked to designate a spokesperson to take notes and present the results. Those present online were able to brainstorm together and input their ideas into the software provided. They all had 60 minutes to identify issues linked to today's democracy, primarily focusing on the "power of the people."

Given that the size of the groups  (>20 people each) would make for a process less debate to be too chaotic, participants built very interesting, internal democratic structures to perform the exercise. This resulted in activities such as voting on the prioritization of issues within each group to multiple spokespeople being selected to present the outcomes. 

The spokesperson of each group was then asked to present the issues identified. Here are the issues/pain points that came up: 

  • Lack of civic engagement (both domestically and for ex-pats disengagement from their country’s democracy), lack of mindset/can-do attitude for changing things and clear processes to do so
  • Lack of trust due to lack of accountability
  • System disincentivizing people’s participation through bureaucracy or ill-conceived institutions
  • Lack of representation, as the right people are deemed to not be included in decision-making and people cannot trust their leaders
  • Lack of a safe environment leading to fear of getting involved
  • Lack of participatory processes and lack binding powers for processes that are in place 
  • Lack of trust because of corruption and incompetence
  • Lack of civic education for children, adults, and educators
  • Lack of transparency, lack  of knowledge of what constitutes transparency, lack of communication about ways to be engaged, access to decision-making, and information
  • Divide between rural and urban areas
  • Lack of independent information and regulation of social media

 

Prioritization of issues

Many issues were outlined, and participants then prioritized the ones they wanted to tackle or thought were the most important. They all had three votes and proceeded to vote. 

The top three issues were selected to be tackled in the next phase. This was done online through the consultation software provided by Atlas, and in person by giving participants stickers to place on the post-its they thought were most important.

The three main issues were: 

  1. Lack of civic education (60 votes) - this included lifelong civic learning, training for educators, and civic literacy.
  2. Lack of civic engagement (33 votes) - this included the lack of civic mindset, citizens’ apathy, and lack of adequate participatory processes. 
  3. Lack of transparency (23 votes) - this included access to public officials, training and knowledge on how to access public officials, communication, and misinformation.

 

Creation of Citizens’ Proposals

Following the prioritization of issues, citizens went back to their group (online and offline) to create proposals that would best address any or all of the three issues selected. They had around one hour to do so. They were asked to make concrete proposals that could be used in Romania and abroad.

Solutions identified online were then presented to the in-person audience by the facilitators. The in-person spokespersons were then asked to present their solutions to the audience again. Here are the solutions that came up: 

  • Pass regulations for political parties with public funding to have to allocate part of their budget to publicize non-partisan voters’ information.
  • Introduce measures to stimulate civic engagement, such as demanding corporations to give time-off for civic volunteering and fiscal incentives for citizens to participate in civic education.
  • Dedicate a substantial share of public budgets (e.g., around 20%) to participatory budgeting.
  • Create citizens’ audits bodies, chosen by sortition, to review public spending and call for investigations when suspecting misuse of funds. 
  • Put in place open regular public forums online and offline in which representatives have to engage with their communities to provide updates on projects, and funding, present their new initiatives, answer questions, listen to feedback, and enable citizens’ proposals. Those should be held regularly, all over countries.
  • Develop an online platform for legislative proposals for all new legislation to be published,  compared with previous text, in which citizens can provide feedback and proposals, and in which citizens will be able to view how parliamentary committees and politicians answered to their ideas. 
  • Create a government agency for citizens’ engagement that uses engaging and modern tools to inform citizens (such as social media campaigns, influencer engagement, etc.) to increase civic awareness.
  • Develop a joint government cloud accessible to the people for information to be regularly shared to ensure transparency and accountability (including on spending, new appointments, etc.). Develop a similar intra-institutions platform to ensure the same goals and increase efficiency within governments themselves.
  • Create a watchdog to ensure that funds aimed at civic education and engagement are adequate and properly spent.
  • Develop a national agency for civic education responsible for training educators, providing digital resources on democracy, and ensuring key infrastructure (such as reliable internet access) to ensure those resources can reach all areas of the country are put in place
  • Democratize the education system itself to form more informed and empowered citizens: 
    • At a young age, by greater teachers’ training in democratic practices, making parts of the school curriculum run democratically instead of top-down, civic education and debate classes, mock-democracy training workshops with stakeholders from all realms of society)
    • For all adults, by providing life-long civic education

It is worth noting that during this process, a few solutions were overlapping and complementary, which meant that the facilitators engaged in long discussions with the groups to group and consolidate them. 

Prioritization of citizens’ proposals

Many solutions were outlined, and participants then prioritized the ones they preferred or thought were the most important. They all had three votes and proceeded to vote:

  • Democratize the education system itself to form more informed and empowered citizens: (48 votes) 
    • At a young age, by greater teachers’ training in democratic practices, making parts of the school curriculum run democratically instead of top-down, civic education and debate classes, mock-democracy training workshops with stakeholders from all realms of society)
    • For all adults, by providing life-long civic education - 
  • Develop a joint government cloud accessible to the people, for information to be regularly shared to ensure transparency and accountability (including on spending, new appointments, etc.). Develop a similar intra-institutions platform to ensure the same goals and increase efficiency within governemnts themselves. - (25 votes)
  • Put in place open regular public forums online and offline in which representatives have to engage with their communities to provide updates on projects, funding, present their new initiatives, answer questions, listen to feedback and enable citizens’ proposals. Those should be held regularly, all over countries. (16 votes)

While the voting was taking place, a brief presentation on “The Future of Democracy” and the practice of foresight was held by a partner of Eidos Foundation. The session was then concluded with the hosts announcing the results, repeating the next steps, and thanking everyone!



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