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APES in the DUST Project!

Assessing the quality of citizen participation in policies for sustainability transitions is a central and recurring theme in DUST. Alongside the success of developing the STEP Index, our project partners have been working hard on developing and applying the Actor-Process-Event Scheme (APES) software. This tool is key to understand and analyse the depth and intensity of participation in the formulation as well as the implementation of the sustainability transition policies.  

The development of this tool within the DUST project is led by the Centre for Democracy Studies Aarau (ZDA), a research centre supported by the University of Zurich. ZDA’s expertise in democracy research and the use of digital tools to assess citizen participation have been critical for the application of the APES software in the various project areas under DUST.  

APES is a software tool which enables the tracing and mapping of participation processes or networks in policy actions. It helps to understand three important aspects of stakeholder engagement in policy: who, when and to what extent. It seeks to identify and analyse the diverse range of stakeholders engaged in the different stages of the policy cycle, while also quantifying the level of engagement and influence exerted by stakeholders across different policies for sustainability transitions. APES is useful for exploring how decision-making processes pan out systematically at different levels of governance.  

The APES tool has three components: first, the actor, which focuses on examining the roles and influences of the different stakeholders, for instance, the individuals, groups or organisations who take part in policy processes at different governance levels. In DUST, our analysis of participation takes place at multiple levels of governance; EU, national, Regional or Municipality level. APES is used to assess the participation of various types of actors across these levels. Second, the process component, which deals with the various stages or phases of the policy-making cycle. Third, the event component, which represents the milestones or important events that take place within the policy processes. Using APES allows the project to analyse decision-making and policy implementation phases across all three of these components. 

In the DUST project, all the eight case study locations have been sites for multiple policy interventions, like EU-led policies, national regional policy, and spatial planning interventions, targeted towards localised sustainability transitions. For each of the case study locations, a single policy measure was selected for analysis with the APES tool. For this stage of the analysis, the case of Gotland was not included due to various limitations in gathering the necessary data within the stipulated time frame. This small setback aside, 7 of the other cases were successfully included in this stage of the APES analysis.  

A qualitative comparative analysis framework was used to examine the findings from the APES implementation for each case study region. Thus, the main aim was to understand cross-case patterns (both within and across the EU countries) of stakeholders’ involvement within the overall framework and implementation of just sustainability transitions. For the purpose of this cross-case evaluation, the depth and inclusivity of participatory processes were analysed. Such an evaluation which gives detailed insights into the diversity of involvement among stakeholders, the significance and influence of varied stakeholders in the participation landscape, as well as the interconnectedness between them.  

The comparative analysis showed interesting patterns of engagement strategies adopted by various EU regions within and across countries. One intriguing and critical finding from this analysis shows that the case study regions within the same countries do not consistently exhibit similar engagement strategies for sustainability transitions. Hence, even geographically close regions can have different participatory approaches in sustainability transitions. Within the multi-stakeholder and multi-region project landscape of DUST, such a finding holds immense value. 

With such interesting and important findings being discovered by the research teams spearheaded by ZDA, the DUST project has already made great strides towards fostering increased citizen participation for just sustainability transitions! 


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