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The European Commission invites Malmö University to design for democracy


Malmö University is one of six educational institutions working on a new project to encourage political engagement among European citizens.

©European Union 2017 EP/Fred Marvaux

The EU Policy Lab has invited the institutions to promote democracy with the help of innovative design. Researchers and students have been asked to develop creative concepts that can increase civic engagement. The project is titled The Future of Government 2030+ and looks at how relationships between citizens and government might transform by 2030 and beyond.

A Malmö University research network, The Collaborative Future Making Network, has taken on the task of producing five design proposals that can strengthen democracy. Senior lecturer in design and social innovation, Per-Anders Hillgren is leading the team of researchers and students.

“It is exciting that the EU Commission’s research lab wants to know more about how design can boost citizens’ influence. I think it shows that the issue is being taken seriously. What makes our university unique is that we have a long history of working with design and democratic processes,” says Hillgren.

With recent political changes like Brexit and growing populism, the EU’s research lab has an increased interest in thinking outside the box when it comes to democracy.

“People feel that their voice has no impact and that populism is on the rise. It’s important to ask ourselves what democracy might look like if we dare to think of it differently,” Hillgren says.

Per-Anders Hillgren

The five proposals from Malmö University are based on a method called critical design and seek to address the challenges currently facing democracy. One of the proposals, for example, suggests the idea of ‘democracy conscription’ as an alternative to military conscription. 

“Instead of compulsory military service, citizens would have the opportunity to serve democracy for a year. This would entail working on an issue that they feel is important by creating discussion and investigating the effects of different policy approaches,” explains Hillgren.

Another idea is to give a voice to the environment when dealing with democratic processes.

"This particular proposal is about reflecting more on the environment and climate. In New Zealand, the Whanganui River has the same legal rights as a person, so things have already started to move forward in this area,” he says.

The University’s suggestions have been submitted to the European Commission and the EU Policy Lab will continue working on the proposals during workshops this autumn.

Text: Petra Olsson

Last updated by Maya Acharya