Image Working with computer

Themes

The Summer School will address how participation and transparency link to the political system of representative democracy and how new approaches can be implemented. There will thus be a focus on transparency and accountability in governance and societal decision making. We will look at choices and values related to public participation as well as obstacles and paradoxes related to transparent information processing. In the following you find a short introduction to central themes of the Summer School.

Transparency and accountability

Transparency is generally considered to be a key factor in the enhancement of democratic decision-making processes. This theme will explore tools for making processes more transparent, their potential for avoiding a too narrow framing of issues, as well as providing means for enhanced participation and accountability. A specific focus will be on the transparency concept developed in the RISCOM model(1) according to which clarity in factual claims, awareness of value-laden issues associated with factual claims and testing of stakeholder authenticity is achieved by the stretching of arguments. Exposing stakeholders to new perspectives requires procedures for elucidating the issues from all possible angles. Procedures for transparency creation aim to result in a fair process, where different viewpoints must be allowed in the debate.

(1) Key references to the RISCOM Model and the VALDOC approach are given at the Karita Research web site : http://www.karita.se. Some of the references are available for downloading.

Deliberation and public participation

 There are several reasons for inviting the public to participate in decisions on controversial issues such as energy production, nuclear waste management and genetically modified organisms. One reason is that citizens represent an important source of values and that this basic assertion should be made explicit in democratic societies. Another reason is that a broader set of actors can contribute with important knowledge that may otherwise be left out, but which also should be valued and taken into account. This theme will concern the different rationales for involving the public and the various instruments, such as focus groups and consensus conferences, used with the explicit aim to encourage public deliberation on complex issues.

Decision-making, risk management and governance

Most issues of some complexity that cause public concern have risk as an essential component. There are a number of principles for the management of risk and different possibilities and limitations connected to these. Traditionally, the expert community has conducted risk management through quantitative risk assessments (QRA), but these have been criticised as not dealing adequately with uncertainties, and as having embedded value assumptions. Other principles are the precautionary principle and ALARA (as low as reasonably achievable). This theme will explore the implementation and practical application of such principles, as well as the different values and interests involved when risk management is opened up to stakeholders and a wider public.

Communication and communicative tools: journalism and lobbying

Facts and values are intertwined and, as such, form the cornerstones for all conscious democratic decision-making. Both must therefore be communicated in society. This involves an interplay between many kinds of actors such as politicians, scientists and various specific stakeholders groups. The mass media have a central role in communicating both politics and science to the public, but they also set the stage where other actors must perform in order to get attention. Increasing commercial pressure, shorter time limits and more entertainment at the expense of investigative journalism are contemporary trends that form the media stage. This theme will ask questions about the roles the mass media plays in public discourse, and for the creation of awareness in complex issues.

Special attention is also directed to other means of communication, such as the formation of "pressure groups" and professional lobbyists, as ways to open influential channels and provide input to central decision making processes. At the summer school, we will ask whether this may be seen as a threat to democracy or as a useful contribution.