ENGAGE – Participation for a Sustainable Common Good

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Research question

A central goal of social and political action is to promote and to protect the common good. At the same time, aspects and principles of sustainable development (in ecological, social and economic terms) are critical elements of the common good and unverlying conditions in the process of defining the common good. Such a 'sustainable common good' can be significantly supported by different forms of civic involvement and participation. Many newer forms of civic involvement and participation, however, are accused of only representing certain groups of citizens. In result, these forms of civic involvement and participation are said to promote only certain personal interests instead of the common good, which would lead to even more entrenched social inequalities.

This is why the inter- and transdisciplinary joint project "ENGAGE – Participation for a Sustainable Common Good" researches the conditions under which civic involvement and participation actually does contribute to the promotion and proteciton of a 'sustainable common good'. The project started on 1 November 2019 and is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) over a three-year period (November 2019-October 2022) within its "Participation and Public Welfare" programme.

Research methods

Under the direction of Prof. Doris Fuchs (ZIN, University of Münster), Dr. Florian Kern (Institute for Ecological Economy Research) and Dr. Corinna Fischer (Oeko-Institute), the joint project investigates various forms of civic involvement and participation at the national and the local level as well as within associations and self-organized initiatives.

We are planning to first analyse general trends in civic involvement and participation based on quantitative data before we will be conducting five case studies based on qualitative data. These case studies will examine the conditions needed in processes of civic involvement and participatoin to promote a sustainable common good. In the course of this, a special focus will be set on process design, strategies to reach out to and to involve citizens, and frameworks of the observed forms of civic involvement and participation.

Case Studies

In its case study, the Centre for Interdisciplinary Sustainability Research will focus on informal, dialogue-oriented participation of citizens at the municipal level to evaluate the relating challenges of effectively addressing increasingly differentiated milieus, the conditions of success of civic participation, and effects of social inequalities. Part of this case study is a practical experiment, involving the organisation of a real participation format in cooperation with a German municipality.

The Institute for Ecological Economy Research is conducting two case studies. The first one deals with the participation of civil society in and through associations, with focus on a comparative study of classically organised actors (such as labour unions, or welfare organisations) and newer associations that deal with environmental, nature and climate policy. The second case study deals with the participation of civil society in decentralised, self-organised formats with a focus on critical-creative milieus, e.g. in open labs, repair initiatives or urban gardening projects.

Two more case studies are conducted by Oeko-Institute. One is on national partisicpation processes, analysing participation initiated by the Federal Government, such as citizens’ dialogues on quality of life, on the National Resource Efficiency Programme or the European Union. Another case study deals with civil society participation in traditional and precarious milieus, such as in allotment garden owners’ associations, countrywomen associations, community shops, or initiatives for self-help and neighbourhood support.