Ireland’s role in €3m EU project designing the future of democracy

12 Mar 2021

Image: © Stephan Dinges/

Two Irish research institutions are part of an international project to evaluate democratic processes and experiment with new participatory models.

This month marked the beginning of an EU-funded research project to examine participation and deliberation in democracies.

The EUComMeet project has received €3m in funding under Horizon 2020, the EU’s funding instrument for research and innovation.

It sets out to find an effective response to the challenges facing liberal representative democracies. To do this, researchers will experiment with the system of governance and representation of the European Union itself.

The project will also explore ways in which to reduce polarisation, encourage inclusiveness and strengthen European identity. Another of its goals is to find out how to narrow the representative gap between policymakers and citizens.

Nine partners from across Europe will collaborate on this research, led by the University of Sienna in Italy. Project coordinator Prof Pierangelo Isernia heads up the university’s Department of Social, Political and Cognitive Sciences and has experience coordinating several EU-funded projects.

‘There is a good deal of potential in deliberative and participative processes as Ireland has amply demonstrated with the very successful citizens’ assembly model’

Dublin City University (DCU) is among the EUComMeet research partners, bringing expertise from two of its research centres to the project.

Prof Andy Way, deputy director of the Adapt research centre, will lead the project’s integration of technologies related to automated moderation and translation. Adapt is the Science Foundation Ireland research centre focused on digital content and aims to drive its research towards a balanced digital society.

FuJo, DCU’s institute examining the future of media and democracy, is also part of the EUComMeet project through its director, Prof Jane Suiter.

Suiter, who last year was named Researcher of the Year by the Irish Research Council, joins the project as lead researcher on the importance of emotions and their significance.

“There is a good deal of potential in deliberative and participative processes as Ireland has amply demonstrated with the very successful citizens’ assembly model. But there is much we still don’t know,” said Suiter.

“The team at DCU will examine whether these processes can help make people more reflective while countering disinformation.”

Designing new participatory spaces in democracy

While scientific understanding of democratic processes is expanding, work remains to be done in understanding and evaluating the impact of participatory and deliberative processes.

Ireland’s Citizens’ Assembly is considered a prime example of deliberative democracy at work. Its selected panels of 99 citizens and a chairperson have considered a number of burning political questions and led to substantial changes in the country, including the 2018 referendum on access to abortion.

Over the next three years, the EUComMeet project will set out to design novel participatory spaces that include citizens, policymakers and stakeholders from across Europe. These spaces will be designed for flexibility, interaction and ease of use. They also must be built to scale.

As Adapt’s place on the project indicates, technology will have a role to play in moderating these spaces and providing automated translation of multiple languages.

The nine partners will also connect with experts from contributory partners including the University of British Columbia in Canada and the Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford University, California.

As well as the actions outlined above, EUComMeet will devise a proactive research strategy to understand the strengths and weaknesses of current deliberation practices.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.