We are all in this together when it comes to the development of society. That can be understood in terms of formalities – citizens’ vote at elections and the popularly elected politicians who receive a mandate that allows them to control the development – or informally, where ‘from the bottom and up’ is systemized.
It is possible to observe a few main tendencies in municipalities all across Denmark when it comes to the engagement of citizens or co-creation. The first and most important ascertainment is that there is a lot going on. This is especially true of that part of engagement which deals with the day-to-day handling of cases. Talking to the football club about the new artificial grass pitch is increasingly less formalistic. Dialogues on shutting down schools are much more oriented towards the future. There is a new kind of authority on its way, where the citizen is a potential partner and this is very, very good. However, there is a “but”.
In the other end of the life of a municipality, where strategic issues are raised, things are very different. Here only a few are involved and this is unfortunately very common. It is also where problems often occur. It is problematic for authorities and politicians to shut out the citizens when this is exactly where the main work unfolds.
Perhaps the current tendency for higher levels of engagement leads to further engagement on the strategic areas. One can only hope but is seams rather unlikely, as ‘the safe space’ for the Governmental administrations is in making the daily cooperation with citizens as easy and smooth as possible and not letting them participate in the great power play.
If we move to where the strategies are determined in collaboration with citizens, the risk one must be prepared to take is greater, but so are the profits to be gained. When the politicians and authorities give the citizens a say on the strategic level they achieve higher levels of cooperation and support for taking action where they otherwise would have hesitated. The main challenge in politics is usually not the decisions made but the ones not made, and as so the support and mandate for action is rather crucial.
The point could be gaining the support to act in a decisive manner when handling a demographic challenge, planning a strategy that will allow young newcomers to move in. Citizens have previously wanted and achieved this. It could be about citizens selecting suitable principles for climate adaption which both farmers and the owners of summer houses support, as we have seen before as well.
One cannot help but wonder which decisions would have been made if the citizens had been consulted properly on the rather heated discussion a few years back, on the “payment zone” of Copenhagen. Back then, the newsfeed Ugebrevet A4 stated that 7 out of 10 Danes, app. 72% of Copenhageners and 64% in the neighboring municipalities supported the payment zone (Ugebrevet A4, 13th of August 2007). What went wrong, one might ask. A conclusion might be that the results were not born of content, but rather of the fact that the Danish Parliament did not open the decision-making process up to citizen participation.
We hope that this issue of ENGAGEMENT might spark further curiosity about how strategic societal challenges – local, regional and national – can be solved by engaging the citizens early on.