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Minecraft Workshop and the III Civic Panel in Gdańsk (photo by Dominik Paszliński /

How to involve and activate civil society?

Concepts, models and good practices presented during BSSSC Seminar in Gdańsk, 18th Feb 2020

25. February 2020

During the BSSSC Seminar, 'New Democracy for Addressing Local and Global Challenges' which took place on 18th February 2020 in the Baltic Sea Cultural Centre the invited expert (Marcin Gerwin) and partners presented some concepts, models and good practices of involving and activating civil society. Why did we focus on this particular issue? Because we are convinced that it is one of the biggest current challenges which matter to us and future generations. Also, because those tested new approaches constitute a reasonable and necessary attempt to fight widespread distrust of party politics, public institutions, policy-making or even democracy as such. And BSSSC has always had democracy, participation and multi-level and multi-sector cooperation at heart.

The discussions could point to the conclusion that no matter if we talk about citizens' assemblies (in their diverse shapes and focus), festivals, debates open to citizens or initiatives related to creative Bureaucracy, all of the presented solutions are a good way of encouraging decision-makers and citizens to rebuild mutual trust and work together for the positive changes in our communities.


Below please find a short summary of several initiatives that aim at activating and involving citizens, which were presented during the BSSSC seminar in Gdańsk,  together with some additional information. We hope that this short report will motivate  BSSSC members not only to promote those forms of democracy but to include their principles in daily life and work.


Citizens’ Assemblies


'Citizens’ Assemblies are great! And we all want to do them!' M. Gerwin


According to the UK Parliament definition, a citizens’ assembly is 'a group of people who are brought together to discuss an issue or issues, and reach a conclusion about what they think should happen. The people who take part are chosen so they reflect the wider population – in terms of demographics (e.g. age, gender, ethnicity, social class) and sometimes relevant attitudes (e.g. preferences for a small or large state)'.


As the experts point out citizens’ assembly is the community in miniature (a city/ a region/ or a whole country). One of its pros is also the fact that it gives members of the public the time and opportunity not only to discuss a  certain topic but also to learn about it more, before reaching conclusions. A very comprehensive guide to citizens’ assemblies, written by M. Gerwin you can find here.


They can be organized on the municipal level (Gdańsk and some other Polish cities being a good example), regional level (a perfect case is provided by Ostbelgium 1 and 2) and country-level (Ireland).  A very promising example of the presented approach is climate assembly (the United Kingdom) which would be a good way of encouraging decision-makers and citizens to work together with experts on defining concrete means to mitigate and adapt to climate change locally.

As this type of democratic practice is gaining popularity, also the European Commission is trying to include the citizens more. Some of the ways the EU citizens can take an active part in policymaking at the European level is by participating in the European Citizens’ Initiative, online consultations by the Commission, or European Citizens’ Dialogues. Moreover,  this trend is visible in the decision of the new EC to launch a  Conference on the  Future of Europe  - a two-year process in which the ambition is to involve citizens, including youth, as broadly as possible.

Citizens/Democratic Festivals and Public Fora

'Almedalen Week - the democratic meeting place for everyone. A magical place for dialogue, exchange and unexpected meetings that help to develop our society. The unique Almedalen spirit is created by openness, accessibility and mutual respect.' Purpose and vision.

Citizens Festivals, Festivals of  Democracy, People's Festivals – there are various names for the events, inspired by the Almedalen Week (which has its roots in Olof Palme speeches during several summers he spent in Almedalen). They all, however, have much in common- they are open to everybody, free of charge and deal with important (sometimes difficult) issues of public interest. The growing importance of this type of forums (evident in increasing number of participants) shows that it is a very attractive form of engaging citizens in public debate. The festivals attract journalists, lobbyists, local and national politicians of all political colors, employees from local, regional and national organizations and representatives of non-governmental organizations constituting a multi-sector and multi-level platform of dialogue.

Similar events held in the BSR:

  • The Finnish event is called SuomiAreena and was started in 2006 in the city of Pori

  • The Danish event Folkemødet started in 2011, Bornholm

  • A Norwegian event was first held at Eidsvoll and later moved to Arendal

  • In 2013, the Arvamusfestival in Estonia was started

  • there was a plan to organize a similar event in Schleswig-Holstein in May 2020, now postponed to the next year

Creative Bureaucracy

' The Creative Bureaucracy’  highlights the human perspective. It understands people are at the heart of the system. It puts the lived experience of working within or with a bureaucracy center-stage. A bureaucracy is not only a structure or ‘organigram’ with functional relationships and roles. It is a group of people with lives, emotions, aspirations, energy, passion and values.' Charles Landry

The goal of the initiative is to bring 'Increase in innovations in the Public Sector; recognition and exchange of innovators; recruitment of performance-oriented, innovative young talents; improvement of the public perception of the Public Sector and its innovative strength'.

Talking about innovations-  inspiration can be taken from gamification. An interesting example was provided by Magdalena Zakrzewska - Duda from the Baltic Sea Cultural Centre, who - within the UrbCultural Planning project has conducted a  series of workshops with pupils to work with different elements of urban space, as well as the emotions they evoke. The pupils learned about their surroundings and observed how important where they live is for their well-being. Finally, they mapped the emotions and created the Minecraft model of Wałowy Square in Gdańsk. Undoubtedly, it can be a fun and interactive way of activating and involving citizens,  not only in local spatial planning. For more innovative solutions adopted particularly on the local level, look up the Urb Cultural Planning project.


One of the forms of promoting the concept of creative bureaucracy and uniting the people around it are Creative Bureaucracy Festivals. The first two took place in Germany, in BerlinThere are other countries interested in organizing similar events, too. For example, Belgium, which hosted a festival in 2019. It is worthwhile to follow the developments.

by Marta Czarnecka-Gallas

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