The Italian leg of INCITE DEM’s Democracy Labs was organized on May 28th and 29th, in Rome. The selected location was Esperienza Europa (Europe Experience), a space recently opened by the Italian Office of the European Parliament in Piazza Venezia, right at the heart of the eternal city, a few meters away from the Colosseum. The space was conceded given the great interest showed by the staff of the EU Parliament: could this have something to do with the then forthcoming European elections? It could have happened that they asked us to remind participants about the vote, but, well, business is business…

A welcome coffee, strictly following Italian tradition, was waiting for the early birds, until the beginning at 09:30. A diverse group of 18 people started by introducing themselves and answering to the icebreaker question: “what job would you never do”, which quickly led to a relaxed environment and laughs.

“At first I was a bit intimidated because I have been retired for 6 years now, but the welcoming booklet helped me a lot in getting familiar with the methodology and in the end, I arrived quite relaxed”.

– Female participant

Four groups were formed, under the guidance of Kyoto Club’s project staff, to ensure that people already knowing each other did not sit at the same table. The first session, in the morning, was dedicated to sharing and listening each other’s participation experiences. Everyone seemed comfortable, mainly thanks to the crafted facilitation by Ms Angela Pagano.

In the afternoon, people had to deal with a prototype, i.e. an (un)success story from a best-practice country, Norway, about a local decision-making process related to the construction of a skiing facility. Participants were asked to reflect on the process timeline and local citizens’ involvement: tables started buzzing right away, in a flowing crescendo which turned into an open debate when each group presented its own revision. Indeed, the room seemed quite well prepared, as some very detailed solutions were explained, and precise observations were collected. At 16:30, a successful first day ended.

“I have been surprised by the posters and post its, I did not use these kinds of materials since I was at school. I have to admit, though, that working like this has brought the creativity forward. Sometimes I felt without a guide, but this is positive, I think, because you are not forced to do A or B, you can do C and nobody argues”. 

– Male participant, lawyer

In the second day, everybody understood how the solid and productive environment, created through the sharing and listening exercise, is crucial to be prepared for the second part of the workshop.

Indeed, participants now challenged themselves in co-creating new participatory processes, representing their ideal way of involving citizens and civil society in a common decision-making pathway.

In the morning, they were stimulated with utopian press excerpts from a near future, and then they had time to regroup and think about structured original ideas.

In the afternoon, they put their ideas into practice by creating a story, with characters and scenes. Two politicians joined the workshop: they sat together with the groups at the tables, in turn, listening to their descriptions and inputs and sharing their long-term experience in the public administration, bureaucracy and policymaking.

Finally, all groups presented their stories by using a storyboard, including pictures, drawings, acting.

At the end, at 17:30, everybody felt tired but engaged, as people continued to share opinions while taking the exits. We are not sure whether it influenced their voting intentions, but we are confident that it meant a lot for future participation.

INCITE-DEM is Funded by the European Union (GA 101094258). Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or European Research Executive Agency (REA). Neither the European Union nor REA can be held responsible for them.

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