In this project, we investigate what kind of contact the local politicians have with citizens, and what kind of contact they might want more or less of. In recent years, a number of new ways have been developed in which citizens can participate in local politics - so-called democratic innovations. Involving citizens strengthens the democratic readiness of the population, but also contributes to legitimizing the representative democratic system. The elected local politicians should be responsive to citizens both before and after elections, it is held, and smart solutions to local problems may be developed together with knowledgeable citizens. However, the research shows that local politicians are not always as comfortable with the various forms of citizen participation that are introduced. What we so far know very little about, and which we will therefore investigate in this project, is what kind of contact with the citizens the local politicians need in their work and how the needs of the local politicians are considered when new arenas for citizen participation are developed in the municipalities. We assume there is a need to be responsive to the citizens, receive information and views and make use of the knowledge the citizens possess. However, we believe that the need for contact is two-sided, and that the elected representatives as political leaders also want to influence the citizens' perceptions of local political matters and possible solutions. With this as a starting point, we will, in collaboration with three municipalities (Åfjord, Rana and Drammen) and the Local Government Organization (KS), investigate the possibility of developing new forms of citizen participation that are beneficial both for citizens and for local politicians. The research team includes the Institute for Social Research (ISF), Nord University, Aarhus University and Oslo University - also responsible for managing the project.
Local governments need to manage complex societal problems in areas such as climate change, demographic change and depopulation, and marginalisation. To provide effective and targeted policy responses to such problems, politicians need citizens’ inputs to understand citizens’ world views and problem perceptions, to ascertain citizens’ needs and preferences, to obtain factual knowledge and, not least, to assess support and resistance. In practice, politicians often fail to use the potential benefits of interactive arenas organised by local governments. The result is that relevant citizen-generated information does not always reach political decision makers, and problems remain ill-defined or even ignored. The DEMRE project will expand our knowledge of how local elected representatives can better contribute to manage complex, emerging problems by adopting innovative practices of citizen participation and engagement. Despite scholars’ and practitioners’ long-standing interests in designing new arenas to facilitate citizens’ political engagement, very little is known about politicians’ distinct needs in interactions with citizens and about how well various interactive arenas match these needs. The aim of the DEMRE project is to better understand how the design of interactive arenas affects their capacity to meet politicians’ needs, to measure local politicians’ responsiveness in terms of setting emerging problems on the agenda and to develop a normative theory on the democratic potential of accommodating politicians’ needs in citizen engagement. If the insights gained in this project are allowed to guide the design of interactive arenas, we believe that politicians will find such arenas more attractive, which, in turn, will result in polices that are better informed and adapted to address urgent local problems. Improved citizen-politician dialogue can also improve the legitimacy of local democratic institutions.
DEMOS-Demokratisk og effektiv styring, planlegging og forvaltning