We combine the know-how of ‘European Village’ on public deliberation with the local context-specific knowledge of ‘Sustainable Samothraki’ and the experience of regular visiting researchers
Small islands are renowned sources of natural richness and cultural diversity. Yet their fate is often decided in urban political centres, while community voices, untrained in structured dialogue, are largely bypassed, leading to local conflicts and resignation. Departing from a small Aegean island, we embark on a visionary participatory journey to co-define insular developmental priorities and co-design an open-source toolkit for democratic deliberation for the entire Greek archipelago.
Samothraki Island, North-Eastern Aegean Sea, Greece
Samothraki is a small mountainous island with unique natural and cultural heritage, at the crossroads of development pathways. Like in many other Greek islands, the local society and environment is directly influenced by decisions made at higher levels, such as the planning of an industrial wind farm at the peak of the mountain, the increasing intervention of global tourism and real estate markets, and EU agricultural policies. Yet, the local community is largely excluded from regional planning deliberations. The lack of the tools and culture of genuine dialogue has led to major conflicts within the community (e.g. about wind farms, tourist development and animal grazing), while the institutional barriers for citizens to influence regional policies has led to feelings of resignation.
First, our idea aims at democratically activating the community in jointly outlining a vision of local insular development, in their own terms, where all voices are equally expressed, respected and appraised. For this we engage in a participatory and visionary democratic dialogue, where conflicts are exposed and mitigated. Second, we tackle one of the major shortcomings of public deliberative processes in Greece, which is usually reduced to higher level stakeholders. Instead, we explicitly try to make deliberation more inclusive and explore ways to incorporate community voices in regional decision making.
Decisions on insular development are of direct relevance to the entire community of around 3.000 residents. We will engage citizens from all strands of the community, including representatives from local associations, regional bodies, as well as the around 30.000 regular visitors. Since some voices are more dominant, we will especially ensure the active participation of the ‘voiceless’: women, migrants, foreigners, illiterate, and the elderly. Based on our preliminary work, we will especially target representatives from already identified ‘polarized’ groups, e.g. middle-aged male farmers leading a traditional life with little contact to outsiders vs. younger more educated citizens working mostly in tourism services who sometimes perceive the “specialness” of the island as backwardness.
1. Collective identification of key controversial issues, using open dialogue and storytelling, classification of opposing views. Preparation of community space
2. Inclusive stakeholder mapping at various levels (local, regional, national)
3. Capacity building for local action groups (seminars on conflict management, nonviolent communication)
4. Preparation of brochure and newsletter.
5. Deliberative visionary (backcasting) open meetings
6. Cross-feeding workshops with higher level authorities
7. Summer deliberative activities with seasonal residents and frequent visitors
8. Codification of findings, preparation of insular deliberation toolkit
9. Setting up of a local communication structure (e.g. physical space, reactivation of local radio)
10. Final event
Our vision of success includes the following:
1. Diverse local views are now clearly mapped and communicated to the community
2. An effort has been made to merge potential convergences and persisting divergences
3. Conflicts are substantially mitigated
4. A culture of community deliberation is established
5. The roadmap to the ‘institutionalization’ of local decisions is chartered and the process is clear
6. The open newsletter has evolved into a local newspaper, and/or the local radio is reactivated
7. A series of local institutions have been set up (meeting point, annual festival)
Marginal rural places, like Samothraki, are often the recipients of decisions generated at higher scales, and repercussion of financial or other crises, often causing feelings of resignation and lack of cooperation for a common goal. By consolidating the experience and outcomes of the process in a replicable toolkit, we hope to produce a rural “lighthouse” of civic participation and inspire democratic engagement in similar insular and peripheral areas in Europe. The exploration and articulation of the dynamics between different levels of decision making (from local to European) and the translatability of local decision to institutional impact, will make EU institutions more relevant and accessible to locals communities, thus highlight the real European vision
As residents, or regularly visiting ‘researchers’ in Samothraki for over a decade, we deeply care about this special island and have a long term vision and motivation to help. Over the years of our involvement with the local commons, we have learned that ‘island sustainability’ can only be achieved by combining a concern for the environment with developing a vibrant and democratic community. We strongly believe all insular communities have the right to choose their developmental trajectory. In order to achieve this one needs a culture of respectful dialogue. This is why we say: keep a utopian vision, walk together one step at a time...
Funding requested from Civic Europe
Personnel costs: 27,000€
Travel and accommodation: 6,000€
Project management and administration: 3,000€
Office expenses: 3,000€
Communication and dissemination: 3,500€
Events / Workshops (logistics): 5,000€
Publication costs: 2,500€
We would very much welcome feedback on the overall structure and feasibility of our plan!