Models of participation in science and democracy

Citizen Science as a model to rethink how participatory and deliberative practices can be successfully implemented in democratic governance: this is the main goal of ISEED-”Inclusive Science and European Democracies”, the new Horizon 2020 project coordinated by Professor Eleonora Montuschi of the Ca’ Foscari  Department of Philosophy and Cultural Heritage. The research consortium consists of 12 European and extra-European partners who will jointly work on the conceptual and empirical aspects of the project starting in February 2021.

ISEED is a multi-disciplinary project with a shared centre of gravity in philosophy of science/social science/economics and political sociology, political economics, organisations and management, policy analysis, communication science, social psychology, feminist theory, as well as public engagement practitioners. Using as its starting point citizen participation in science related debates and programmes, ISEED will develop a new conceptual approach to the understanding of the role and value of citizen active participation in institutional decision-making that takes into account open, transparent and shared access to deliberative processes.
In particular, ISEED will contribute to the relatively less developed scientific literature about argument formation and management in the context of the new technologies of communication.

Citizen science will then offer to this project the tools to explore the conditions by which participation and deliberation successfully combine in practice, within and beyond citizen science practices.
In ISEED, citizen science initiatives, in all their diversity, will provide a methodological toolbox to rethink how to improve participation and deliberation in democracy, by offering innovative methods to overcome a number of current obstacles faced by deliberative practices.

Deliberative participation, as formulated and tested in this project, puts the accent not so much on the final act of choosing (e.g. voting for or against a position) but rather on the process that leads to making a choice.
Deliberative participation is, in other words, one of the forms taken by educated citizenship, or commitment to polity.

For this reason, deliberative participation can only find a chance of practical implementation in the context of an equally reformulated idea of public sphere that proves conducive to stronger forms of engagement, fruitful integration and open communication.
ISEED subscribes to the view that in a good deliberative democracy the so-called ‘public sphere’ should be taken as an inclusive term covering several and different publics and counterpublics, engaged with a variety of interests and values on a variety of topics and issues of social concern.

What takes the central stage is the role of an active education of citizens. Participation and deliberation in ISEED are the tools through which citizens gain critical awareness of their social identities, and control over the decisions that affect their lives. Within the same context, having fair and shared access to spaces and tools of knowledge production is arguably central.

ISEED also intends to evaluate and assess how misuses of digital technologies fuel social and political polarization and how they could instead potentially exert more positive impact in the implementation of deliberative, participatory and direct democracy.
The project will therefore investigate to what extent digital media have contributed to polarising discourses, populist narratives and distrust in science; in what forms emotions, rather than logical reasoning, are much more likely to be the driver behind decisions and in public dialogue on issue of social relevance; and what are the actual and potential contributions of social media to rational argument and better decision processes in debates concerning scientific issues.