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NEB approach to citizen engagement

Explore how the NEB approach to citizen participation is about problem identification and empowering citizens to co-create potential solutions.
Two people in an urban garden looking at a tablet device
© RMIT Europe, EIT Community and New European Bauhaus

‘Citizens are key drivers of the transition towards more sustainable, inclusive and beautiful places and lifestyles… The New European Bauhaus is made by and for each citizen.’ (Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Mariya Gabriel).

A key element of the NEB approach to citizen participation is not just about problem identification but empowering citizens to co-create potential solutions in an ideation process.

Citizen participation is stated in the ‘main objectives’ of the NEB as per the European Parliament resolution of 14 September 2022. According to a European parliament report the NEB initiative aspires to create a cultural movement that will:

  • contribute to a smarter, more sustainable, inclusive and enjoyable living environment and foster local and global knowledge; focus on improving the quality of people’s lives by creating healthy and affordable living spaces, rethinking the status quo and transform spaces, buildings, cities and territories.

In addition the NEB initiative aims to reshape the way EU policies are conceived by:

  • bringing together architecture, design, the arts and science
  • engaging with communities to nurture policies and legislative developments which have an impact on the built environment and the well-being of the workforce
  • defining the environment of the future by meeting the need for spaces that are accessible and adapted to new and changing ways of life
  • being accessible, transparent, affordable, socially and geographically fair and inclusive and must actively involve EU citizens, community-based organisations and local residents, ensuring social and territorial diversity and supporting all scales of projects, in a bottom-up way – from project design to roll-out and evaluation.

In step 1.2, we introduced some key ingredients needed for citizenship engagement. Here, we can start to identify how the New European Bauhaus has strategically employed participation mechanisms in its design phase and across all subsequent initiatives within the NEB, and within the NEB community and other stakeholders.

Transparency

To ensure open and transparent processes, the New European Bauhaus designed a website with links to participation tools, information on its Roundtable discussions, partners, and a list of key events. In addition, it developed a visualisation system that permitted interested users or organisations to track and analyse all contributions to the progression of its initiative.

Diversity and equitable treatment

In order to establish the key themes and challenges of the initiative, the NEB invited public contributions through its website. Citizens were invited to respond to founding principle of the New European Bauhaus – positive, inspiring stories as a motivational driver to build beautiful, sustainable, inclusive forms of living.

The contributions were then clustered into the following three criteria:

  • Existing examples: A description of community projects already in place
  • Visions and ideas: Project proposals not yet implemented
  • Challenges: The wishes and needs of citizens.

All entries were treated with the same level of attention and extra vigilance was directed toward unique entries to counter-balance the contributions of larger groups.

Citizen-led decision making

The NEB employed a ‘clustering’ strategy for grouping contributions. This was enacted to avoid forcing contributions into predefined categories and allowed the public to identify specific trends.

The NEB put these mechanisms in place to ensure the transformative projects it supported were accessible and meaningful to everyone.

The four thematic axes

Based on the inputs received during the co-design phase, the NEB were able to identify four key thematic axes:

  • Reconnecting with nature – bringing individuals and communities closer to nature, that contribute to regenerate natural ecosystems and prevent loss of biodiversity or invite them to reconsider their relationship with nature
  • Regaining a sense of belonging – contribute to a ‘spirit’ or ‘meaning’ of places, communities (where individuals belong to a group) or goods that celebrate diversity
  • Prioritising the people and places that need it most – addressing the needs of territories, communities and individuals because of economic, social or physical characteristics
  • The need for long term life cycle thinking in the industrial ecosystem – contribute to the transformation of the industrial ecosystems towards more sustainable practices.

In the following steps, we’ll examine each axis in turn and explore how it has been embedded within the elements of place, practice, and experience.

Your task

In the discussion below, tell us about your city. What are the critical issues affecting urban development in your area? How might your city approach the engagement of co-designing with its citizens, using the principles discussed above?

Further reading

If you would like to read further about some of the concepts we have covered, the following resources are optional.

Citizen’s at the centre: A new approach to civic engagement

Building a Foundation for Public Engagement in Planning

Putting Citizens First: Engagement in Policy and Service Delivery for the 21st Century

Superblocks are transforming Barcelona. They might work in Australian cities too.

© RMIT Europe, EIT Community and New European Bauhaus
This article is from the free online

Fostering Inclusive Citizen Engagement in Urban Development

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