On the 17th and 18th of April 2023, the Kick-off Meeting for the DUST project was held in Delft, The Netherlands. For many of the partners it was the first opportunity to meet each other in person and share thoughts, perspectives and visions for the project. The value of being face-to-face and forming real connections is immense and reflective of the ambition of the project. Many topics were covered over the 2 days, involving project partners and externals. Read on to see what was discussed and how the positioning of the project is taking shape!
DUST in the EU Perspective
Nora Allavoine, from the European Commission (DG Research & Innovation), provided an overview of DUST's policy context. She highlighted the significance of understanding and incorporating existing narratives at the local level to work with the least-engaged communities. Her colleague Samuela Caramanica, from the European Research Executive Agency, DUST funding agency, complemented her presentation with more details on the EU research agenda on democratic participation.
DUST Project coordination
Of course, no kick-off could not cover organisational matters. Presentations from Anna Gralka (TU Delft), Samir Amin and Yoann Clouet (ISOCARP Institute) covered how to streamline the deployment of acivities in DUST and how to retain effective communication throughout. These practices are essential when working in large teams and on complex content and serve to maximise the potential impact of the project.
DUST Interactive dialogues
Three parallel sessions were held over the afternoon of the first day, covering key aspects of the design of the project and drawing on the expertise of attendees.
Session 1: The communicative dimension of DUST - alternative narratives & affective learning
In trying to understand and engage with existing transition stories, DUST aims to develop a robust communication strategy that considers the influence of narratives on governance, media, and other aspects of the transition process. In a session moderated by Lei Qu from TU Delft and Samir Amin from the ISOCARP Institute, the focus put was on exploring alternative narratives and affective learning as essential components of DUST's communicative dimension. Participants discussed how to identify the communities DUST will seek to engage with, and how engagement can be facilitated by understanding alternative narratives and using affective communication, mostly focusing on communities that are both unwilling and unable.
Session 2: On analysing and evaluating the participation of least engaged communities in place-based approaches to just sustainability transitions
A key aspect in this phase of the project is to develop an analytical framework to assess citizen engagement in regions target by the Just Transition Fund. Moderated by Neli Georgieva from the University of Strathclyde and Uwe Sedült from the University of Zurich, session 2 discussed key aspects in the DUST approach. One significant aspect revolved around conducting a citizen survey to gather insights. Both practical and conceptual issues were raised regarding the survey methodology. The survey should aim to focus on "prospective" citizen participation in democratic innovations, employing conjoint analysis to measure perceptions of different modes of governance. This approach would shed light on citizens' perspectives on engaging in future democratic processes. Another essential element discussed was the Actor Process Events Scheme (APES) methodology. Participants deliberated on the scope of the policy domain to be studied within the APES framework, considering the balance of broader policy streams and more focused, design-based policy phases.
Session 3: The instrumental dimension of DUST - a hybrid format of designed territorial and digital tools.
To foster effective engagement, it is important to identify and reach different social groups in the project regions. Leneisja Jungsberg from Nordregio led a session where participants emphasized the importance of establishing delivery channels that bridge different actors. Trusted organizations, such as fire brigades, housekeeping collectives, and agricultural associations, were identified as potential channels in Poland and Gotland for instance. Furthermore, it was recognized that traditional communication channels might not resonate with certain groups, particularly young people. To increase engagement, it was suggested to connect with them in spaces they frequent, such as nail bars, hair salons, barber shops, and explore the use of co-creative AI platforms. Leveraging AI technology not only benefits the DUST project but also equips young people with valuable literacy tools for their future.
Dialogues of societal partners & Advisory Board members
The second day of the Kick-off meeting started with a discussion on the inclusion and characters of least-engaged communities in DUST regions. The discussion clearly revealed the multifaceted nature of least engaged communities in the case study regions. Addressing their diverse needs and challenges requires tailored approaches and innovative strategies. It is only by recognising the distinct demographics, heritage and position of the least-engaged communities that DUST can foster meaningful engagement and pave the way for a just transition in these regions.
DUST Kick-off meeting concluded with a public seminar to discuss the various topics related to the project, from cohesion policy to the citizen participation.
Martin Ferry from the University of Strathclyde discussed the evolution of stakeholder participation in EU Cohesion Policy. He highlighted the application of the partnership principle, the involvement of the local level through territorial instruments, and the increasing emphasis on citizen participation in the new Policy Objective 5 'Europe closer to the citizens' for the 2021-2027 period.
Ellen van Bueren from TU Delft emphasized the importance of citizen participation in just sustainability transition policies. Key challenges include including vulnerable communities and examining the alignment of citizens' interests with political ones. The presentation also discussed the institutionalized venues for participation, the appropriate scale for decision-making, and the knowledge, capacity, and interests of the people involved.
Paolo Graziano from the University of Padua focused on active solidarity and citizen engagement in a multilevel context. Procedural challenges include policy design, formulation, and implementation, while opportunities for inclusion involve policy information dissemination, mapping and networking of societal actors, and deliberative fora co-organized with civil society organizations and youth associations.
Cristina Cavaco from the University of Lisbon presented a case study on the territorial model of Portugal's 2007 spatial planning and development program. The study highlighted the binary vision between territories of power and economic vitality versus lagging behind regions, despite Cohesion Policies Funds and place-based policy approaches. The concept of "future-elicitation" was introduced to emphasize the power of imagines and maps in eliciting alternative socio-spatial imaginaries.
Adam Drobniak from the Academy of Economics Katowice discussed the challenges of the just transition in Polish coal regions, exploring the complexities and dilemmas faced in the process.
Artur Ochojski from the Academy of Economics Katowice, representing the BOLSTER Team, discussed Multi-Actor Forums (MAFs) as participatory platforms for actors affected by the transition. The aim of MAFs is to increase social acceptance, accommodate the needs of marginalized groups, and develop participatory governance models.
Across the 2 days, the DUST Kick-off meeting provided a platform for fruitful discussions on engaging least engaged communities in sustainability transitions. The meeting highlighted the significance of understanding existing narratives, utilising affective communication, and employing innovative tools to foster engagement. The energy in all discussions was high and through the many voices and perspectives in the project, we are excited to see what emerges!