Citizen participation in Aust-Agder
How can policy-makers and politicians guarantee fair and meaningful citizen participation? How should they engage with new, digital ways to communicate ideas and contested issues, mobilise support and influence local political agendas?
These are some of the questions discussed in three workshops held between 14th and 22nd November at Sørlandet Kunnskapshavn in Arendal. The participants were local policymakers and elected representatives from the municipalities, the county government and the regional road agency involved in the Areal- og transportplan Arendalsregionen, the regional transport plan for Arendal, Froland, Grimstad and Tvedestrand, four municipalities in Agder county, southern Norway.
Their discussions were facilitated by a research team that came together as a collaboration between CeDiT, University of Agder´s network Bynett Sør (linking academics and policy-makers), and regional climate policy advocacy network Klimapartnere Agder. Co-production of knowledge with non-academic partners has been at the centre of the project vision from the beginning.
The workshops are part of a research project that studies the linkages between:
- institutional and non-institutional communication and participation processes at play in the design and implementation of Arendal’s regional transport plan;
- smart mobility as climate policy;
- the issue of road tolls as financing mechanism for climate-friendly regional transport plans;
- the role played by digital communications and social media in these processes.
Individual interviews with workshop participants are now being carried out. The expected outputs will include academic articles, and co-production of ready-to-use knowledge and background materials with participants from the institutions involved in the transport plan.
The research team is led by two CeDiT senior scholars: anthropologist Vito Laterza and sociologist Alex Ruser. The project brings together their international perspectives, previous experience in similar projects and policy advising in Germany, Italy, Austria, Zambia and South Africa, with a strong Norwegian knowledge base.
University of Agder (UiA) PhD candidates Rachel Berglund and Kim Øvland are contributing with their in-depth knowledge of institutional policy, communication and participation processes in southern Norway. William Fagerheim from Bynett Sør and Gunn Spikkeland Hansen from Klimapartnere Agder are providing important perspectives from policy and civil society organisations.
Erna Synnøve Kjensjord, UiA media officer, is providing key insights into media coverage of local and national politics around transport plans and the debate on road tolls. Research assistant Katrin Vandrecht, with a background in development studies and communication, is carrying out the bulk of the data collection and contributing to analysis and write up.