16 Νοεμβρίου 2022

Adáma – The importance of participatory processes


Lately, the issue of the quality of current democracy has increasingly been the subject of public debate. Leading thinkers point out that the inability of the political programmes and ideologies to provide sustainable solutions to complex social problems should lead to a radical modification of their operating model.

It is in this context that the call for greater citizen participation in decision-making is now coming to the fore. In search of solutions, some refer back to the archetypal content of the term democracy, referring to the Athenian model of classical times (Mogens Herman Hansen, 2005). Others, such as Habermas, alternatively propose a ‘deliberative democracy’ in the form of an ideal governance where the legitimacy of a decision is based, beyond the electoral process, on the existence of a consultation in which all those affected by the decision can participate (Habermas, 1998). In this direction, the contribution of Arnstein, who argued that any truly participatory process should ensure that all citizens, especially the “have-nots”, should have real power over the outcome is particularly important (Arnstein, 1969).

While the theoretical debate regarding the exact content and final form of such an endeavour continues, the focus has been shifted to the practical application of such an aspiration in the everyday lives of citizens. The project “Adáma”, carried out in Eleusis by the cultural production and management company MENTOR, as part of the EIT Community New European Bauhaus action of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), is an attempt to activate local residents in order to collaboratively  develop, through a series of participatory actions, a sustainable plan which will provide possible solutions to a series of local environmental issues.

Aligned with the values of the New European Bauhaus, a new creative and interdisciplinary initiative of the European Union which links the European Green Deal with our environment and our experiences in it, it was developed in three successive phases aiming at “co-identifying” the environmental problems of Elefsina, “co-imagining” the society of the future and “co-designing” a proposal which would ensure total inclusivity, without exclusions or discriminations of any sort. 

More specifically, during the first phase, an in-depth survey was carried out among the city’s residents, in order to identify the three most important environmental issues which they are facing on a daily basis.

The second phase foresaw both the application of the bodystorming technique, through the implementation of three thematic walks, one for each environmental issue raised in the previous phase, and sociodrama sessions promoting empathy. In order to ensure diversity, it was made sure that a variety of civil organisations such as EcoEleusis, the Elefsina Cycling Club, the “New Switzerland” Workers’ Housing Association, representatives of local government, primary and secondary education, minority groups, etc. were invited. 

Finally, during the third phase, an open dialogue took place during the World Café session, that aimed to deliberate on the issues that had arisen. Free and equal participation of all participants was ensured, creating the right conditions for a meaningful exchange of views. Consequently, numerous possible solutions to the complex environmental challenges which the city of Eleusis faces on a daily basis emerged.

The overall evaluation of all three phases of “Adáma” confirms the successful completion of the initial objectives of the project. By seeking out existing local networks of citizens’ organisations and asking them to identify the problems of local communities, it has managed to formulate valid proposals regarding the redefinition of the natural space and the social character of the city of Eleusis. Moreover, by acting performatively, it has demonstrated that it can serve as a model for shifting the management of sustainable cultural practices from a narrow circle of experts, occupied by the centres of power, to a broader basis that ensures wider citizen participation in the search for a more inclusive model of democracy.