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Netra Chhetri (left), World Wide Views project manager for Arizona, tallies votes at the 2012 World Wide Views event at ASU. Photo by: Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes

Giving everyday citizens a voice in global policy decisions

Giving everyday citizens a voice in global policy decisions
Posted: May 01, 2015

Eric Sheptock never thought anyone cared about his take on biodiversity. After all, he wasn’t a scientist – he was a homelessness advocate living in a shelter himself. But when he was approached to take part in the World Wide Views on Biodiversity in 2012, Sheptock was excited to share his opinions and feel like an important part of the process.

It’s that kind of diverse citizen input that organizers are seeking for the next WWViews event, this time on climate change and energy. It will be a one-day event that rolls out in time zones around the world on June 6, with more than 5,000 citizens and 50 countries participating.

It begins at dawn in the Pacific Islands and heads west until ending at dusk at ASU’s Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes. The views will be incorporated into the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris in December.

Finding a truly representative group of citizens to participate is a challenge. In Arizona, for example, the 100-person group will need to include 14 people who don’t have a high school diploma to reflect the educational demographics identified by the 2010 U.S. Census. When the goal is to get input from a truly representative citizen group, those opinions count as much as anyone else’s.

“Even if someone hasn’t finished high school, he or she is still a citizen of this particular geography. They have their views, and they may be different than those embraced by the educated community, but that doesn’t mean those views should be neglected,” said Netra Chhetri, who has long supported involving all citizens in the planning and development of policies that they will ultimately have to live with.

Chhetri, associate professor with the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes and senior sustainability scientist with the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, is a WWViews project director.

“We want to honor the multiple views about climate and energy because the policy or outcome of this UN framework should be useful for everybody,” Chhetri said.

Perhaps just as valuable as providing genuine citizen input to United Nations proceedings, however, is the impact of the deliberation experience on the individual participants.

“They will sit with five fellow citizens with different backgrounds and ethnicities for eight hours to deliberate and listen to others. Think of the possible empowerment that might happen while listening to others and having others listen to you,” Chhetri said.

After the 2012 WWViews on Biodiversity, for example, one 82-year-old woman came up and hugged Chhetri. She was grateful that the university and the UN still cared about her experience and insight.

Another woman who participated in the 2009 WWViews on Global Warming couldn’t read or write. She was so honored when she received the information booklet in the mail from a university – a place where she had never before set foot – that she asked her daughter to take the information to her middle school to discuss it with her teacher and class and get recommendations for what to say at the event.

“You not only educated an illiterate woman, you have excited and empowered her,” Chhetri said. “And because of her inability to read, she was compelled to pass this to a new generation and her class. One thing touched two generations.”

Mahmud Farooque, associate director of the consortium’s Washington, D.C., office and another WWViews project manager, agreed that the long-term benefits of the experience are immeasurable.

“It’s not just one day, one event,” Farooque said. “It has a multiplier effect in terms of getting people informed, engaged, and thinking more collectively about these things.”

Standard approaches to outreach, however, such as listservs, posters and pamphlets, frequently fail when attempting to engage lower-income, illiterate or non-English-speaking citizens. Chhetri and his colleagues had to figure out different ways to reach those people and persuade them to participate, including sending fliers in handwritten envelopes to low-income neighborhoods, advertising on Telemundo and the Craigslist job section, and speaking to people at homeless shelters, public markets and international grocery stores. Talking with people, they’re able to emphasize that the event is for non-experts, who don’t need any specific science or current-events knowledge, to allay any potential fears of being embarrassed.

In addition to the pamphlet mailed out before the event, which is available in multiple languages, participants watch short videos to bring them up to speed on whatever issues they will deliberate. A trained facilitator makes sure that all participants get the same amount of time to talk before each person votes individually for what he or she believes is the best answer to various questions. The results are published immediately on a Web platform.

“Participants can see how their answers compare with those of citizens around the world, which is a particularly powerful experience for citizens in non-democratic countries,” Farooque said.

Participants with a variety of incomes, education levels and ethnic backgrounds, from both rural and urban areas, are still needed for the upcoming event in Tempe on June 6. The project managers are hoping that the wider ASU community might be able to provide connections to those who might be a good fit. The daylong event includes lunch and a $100 stipend, funded by ASU’s School of Sustainability. Additional stipends are also available for transportation to help meet the demographic requirements.

For more information or to apply, please visit the CSPO WWViews webpage at cspo.org/research/wwviews-climate-and-energy.
Jennifer Pillen Banks, Jennifer.P.Banks@asu.edu
The Center for Nanotechnology in Society

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World Wide Views Climate and Energy Forums in the US

In a policy breakfast seminar in Washington DC on Thursday, March 19th, ECAST team members Rick Worthington, Mahmud Farooque, David Tomblin and Gretchen Gano introduced World Wide Views on Climate and Energy (WWViews C&E) project and hosting efforts in the US. WWViews C&E is a global citizen consultation organized by the Danish Board of Technology in collaboration with Missions Publiques and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat.

On June 6, 2015, about 100 citizens representing the demographic diversity of the host countries will attend daylong meetings at sites around the world. Participants will receive the same balanced and vetted information about issues on the agenda for the December 2015 UN climate summit in Paris, and discuss these issues at tables with 8 participants and a facilitator.  Their views on these issues will be published online and presented at both preparatory meetings and at the climate summit.

ECAST, which previously coordinated the U.S. component of the 2012 World Wide Views on Biodiversity project at four US cities (Boston, Washington, Denver and Phoenix), is providing guidance, coordination and training for the 2015 WWViews C&E sites in the US, currently Boston, Tempe, Ft. Collins and St. Paul as well as working with experts at US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) to develop regional programing and outreach.

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Ahmedabad India - Two senior citizens in traditional Gujarati attire

“New contrasts” from Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India

New Contrasts

Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India, 10 October, 2012

By Rick Worthington

First, a confession:  I had never heard of Hyderabad, India before my involvement with World Wide Views on Biodiversity, a project to provide citizen input to the delegates at the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity Eleventh Council of Parties (COP 11) that started here on Monday (October 8).  Arriving early Sunday at Rajiv Ghandi Hyderabad International Airport after 33 hours in transit from Los Angeles, my exhaustion receded as I left the secure area of Arrivals and took in the vista revealed by a spacious outer room that is open to the green countryside descending below the airport.  Walking through the space became an immersion in contrasts.  Its fresh air provided tangible relief from the conditioned variety dispensed in airplanes and most airports.  The massive concrete structure, and in particular its open front at the far side, framed a pastoral scene beyond.  And the openness itself struck a pleasant contrast with conventional, security-driven airport architecture.

The greenway leading from the airport to the city was lined with pink and white flowers on luscious tropical bushes, and attractive billboards welcomed delegates to the convention.  There were unmistakable markers of a metropolis in the global south—people walking at the edge of the highway with little concern for traffic whizzing by, buildings with re-bar extending above incomplete structures—but these accentuated rather than diminishing the intrigue and energy that had emerged at the airport, leaving me to wonder if this was a new kind of Third World city.

Soon enough, vast expanses of wretched structures housing the urban poor appeared alongside what had been a greenway, and the bustle of foot, motorcycle, car, bus and truck traffic going all directions at once (at 7 a.m. on a Sunday, no less) cemented Hyderabad’s affinity with places like Bangkok, Johannesburg and Lima.  Iconic among the many images of that ride in its illustration of calmly living at the edge was the motorcyclist traveling alongside my taxi (i.e., within about 6 inches) who navigated with his left hand while holding a cell phone to his ear with the right.  In this context, the airport and greenway seem to symbolize what development can muster in countries like India: a beginning toward socioeconomic improvement that quickly yields to the sheer enormity of the challenge.  By contrast with the greenway, the majority of Hyderabad’s land and inhabitants is beset with incessant traffic, air befouled by exhaust and dust, and the ubiquitous stench of garbage.  Security is high at passages between these two types of zones, whether the particular boundary is between the street and hotel, or between a country club and its environs.

Among the splotches of prosperity in this bleak landscape is a high tech zone known as HITEC City, which includes the Hyderabad International Convention Center hosting COP 11.  Few things convey the cultural and political underpinnings of this zone better than the promotional ventilations of a developer who aspires to multiply its initial footprint nearly 100-fold:

“Hyderabad,a twin city along with Secunderabad, has now acquired a third dimension – Cyberabad, a city by itself, covering 51 sq.kms. It has been declared a pollution free, eco-friendly town. HITEC City forms the core of this new knowledge hub. Some of the other institutions which are part of Cyberabad are Indian Institute of Information Technology(IIIT), ISB, proposed golf course, botanical gardens, night safari, Engineering Staff College of India, University of Hyderabad, etc.”

Information technology is at the forefront of Hyderabad’s considerable high tech activity, but the city is also the center of biotechnology research and business in India.  The ecology-for-the-rich culture of the convention center’s neighborhood, as well as the prominence of the life sciences industry in its economy, leave one to wonder:  how did a biotech center become the host to the Convention on Biodiversity, where conflicts with the agendas of biotech developers in agriculture, pharmaceuticals, and other life sciences industries simmer just below the surface, and not infrequently above it?  This tension dates at least to the founding of CBD in 1992, when U.S. President George H.W. Bush declined to sign the convention at the behest of pharmaceutical companies that chafed at its aspirations to compensate biodiversity-rich (i.e., developing) countries and indigenous populations for the use of their genetic resources and knowledge of them.  (Bill Clinton later signed the Treaty but it was never ratified by the Senate, leaving the U.S. in the company of Andorra, the Vatican, and South Sudan as signatories who are not bound by the treaty, compared to 192 countries fully integrated into it).

Are CBD and our own project, World Wide Views on Biodiversity, largely symbolic exercises in a larger cultural and political environment that is dominated by forces opposing their aspirations to sustainability and democracy?  Or is it possible for contrasting agendas to identify zones of convergence that lead to effective action toward CBD’s aims?  Questions like these emerge from the contrasts I have observed in my first few days in Hyderabad.  In subsequent posts I will report on observations here that prompt concerns about CBD, inspire appreciation for what people are actually doing, and help inform a vision of prospects for the future.