CODE Europe is a project that empowers citizens to co-create policies with decision makers on local, national and EU level. It uses digital crowdsourcing, a participatory democracy mechanism that takes advantage of the availability of technological solutions to solicit and analyse “the wisdom of the crowd”. So far, some 100 000 citizens across Europe have taken part in the process, aiming to influence decision making up to the level of the EU Ambient Air Quality Directives, which is currently under review. The Crowdsourcing on air quality is running from 1 January 2022 to 31 December 2022 in 6 cities across Europe: Athens (Greece), Riga (Latvia), Tallinn (Estonia), Lisbon (Portugal), Burgas (Bulgaria) and Budapest (Hungary). In addition, a similar activity funded through the Europe for Citizens Programme is being conducted in Amsterdam (The Netherlands), Brussels (Belgium), Berlin (Germany) and Podgorica (Montenegro).
During a Conference in Ljubljana held on November 22, 2022 participants shared their thoughts what makes CODE Europe unique among other projects about citizen engagement with environmental decision-making:
Air quality is an everyday topic for many of us, but it is also something very abstract. If you have never thought about how to fight air pollution, what are the possible tools, the potential actions that people can take against air pollution, then it can be quite difficult to find real-life solutions.
As the CODE Europe project is mainly an online initiative, we had to think about the possibilities we have in the online world. Of course, social media was the main platform for us to promote the campaign. We did several tests, created videos and other graphic materials, analysed existing survey data to engage people through fact-based information. We tried not only to ask for their inputs, but also to give something back in exchange for their participation. To start with, we collected interesting, important and useful facts from Europe, Hungary and Budapest about people’s attitudes towards air quality and air pollution and environmental protection in general. I think that was the major challenge we tried to solve: how to motivate people.
Looking at the crowdsourcing campaigns in all the cities we work with, it’s also a very interesting exploration of how we as a consortium can run a campaign in countries that are very different in their historical traditions, political culture and environmental consciousness .
For me, as a sociologist and researcher, this is one of the most interesting parts of the project. What kind of communications channels, direct messages and broader concepts of the environment will work in 6+4 different cities? We had to develop a general tool, but also custom campaigns. In 2023, which is the last year of the project we will focus on analysing how our tool and approach worked in these very different social and political contexts.
For years we have been studying digital democracy and how citizens can actually use e-participation tools to reach out to their policy makers at the local, at the national, and especially at the EU level. A few years ago we’ve been doing some research about how we can define the success of digital democracy tools and how citizens can also have more impact on policies at the EU level and work together with their representatives to co-create legislation – Directives etc.
We found out that the EU level, apart from consultations or the European citizens’ initiatives or petitions to the European Parliament there was still something missing: a real e-participation tool for citizens to constantly set the agenda and to also co-create policies with their policy makers and representatives.
The CODE Europe project was created in order to test out a real transnational crowdsourcing that would allow citizens to have a say on air quality in Europe. The project started last year with a research component. There was an assessment framework that was built in order to define the success of e-participation and there was also the creation of ethical guidelines for social listening. In the second year of theproject we launched a transnational crowdsourcing in 10 different cities across Europe together with a sister project called DIGIDem which is funded by the Europe for Citizens programme.
The crowdsourcing on air quality is divided into four different phases. In the first phase, for
the first three months we have asked citizens to identify all the problems that they have in their daily lives related to air quality and pollution. We received more than 2 300
contributions that were actively given by citizens identifying what real issues they have in their daily lives due to the pollution of their cities.
In the second phase we had the problem-solving part, so after the identification of problems we asked citizens in these 10 different cities to tell us how they want their local, national and European policy makers to tackle these problems on the local level and the national level and the European level around air quality issues. We received almost 800 active contributions of solutions that citizens would like to see.
In the third phase we had around 900 citizens voting for the top 10 solutions
that they think should be a priority, especially at the EU level, to be implemented as soon as
possible. These citizens’ preference were decided amongst 30 different solutions; and the top 3 were around taxation of big companies that are polluters or supporting renewable
energy infrastructure and also supporting cycling and walking infrastructure in their cities. In the fourth phase we’re asking citizens to co-create with experts on texts that will
be then sent next year to all EU legislators and representatives that are actually working on air quality policies. The European Commission is currently revising the ambient air quality Directive, that sets limits on pollution in the air that people breathe.
Citizens should be a part of this discussion and we hope that through this transnational crowdsourcing next year we can advocate actively for what citizens have been calling for in this whole year of collecting their ideas. We will make sure that these ideas reach MEP’s and European Commission officials working on environmental issues.
I have been involved into electronic participation and digital democracy research and in practical projects for two decades now, and one thing that I often observed during my practice and theoretical research was that there is a lot of reinventing of the wheel in terms of how to use in digital technologies for enhancing democracy. What I would like to say is that although digital technology is developing from the Internet 1.0 to 2.0, social media and web 3.0, and also now the blockchain and other technologies, which are progressive in terms of how the humanity is developing digital technologies, the fundamental core issue of democracy and how people are governing their society is remaining the same, so the question here is are we making progress with developing digital technologies in terms of also developing democracy?
What I like with the CODE Europe project is that it is trying to experiment with a new approach to e-participation called crowdsourcing. This is a new concept which is trying to generate the wisdom of the crowd in terms of solving society problems. I think this approach could be very beneficial first of all because it takes into account the wisdom of the crowd.
The wisdom of the crowd is very important, because the current social and political problems are very complex and there is no one clear solution for them, so you have to take into account different options, different solutions and the best way to find and develop them is to embrace the wisdom of the crowd.
Secondly, digital technologies have advanced to this degree that they can support the digital crowdsourcing, the wisdom of the crowd generation; however, one of the key added value of the CODE project is that it makes crowdsourcing systematic, by having four stages of bringing the knowledge of the citizens from basic ideas to generation of the solutions into the policy proposals.
Such proposals have broader legitimacy and also very good potential to be implemented, because many regulations which are being drafted in the “business as usual” democratic processes are having issues with implementing in the field and also at the end of the day bringing the real added value to the quality of life of the citizens.