20. May 2022

The Kick-Off workshop for the “European Innovation Lab” took place on Friday, 20th of May 2022. Over the next three months, the participants of the contest will develop their designs for a modern participation platform for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

The European Innovation Lab is a competition for young people who use their technical and digital expertise to make participation more citizen-friendly. The contest is based on the “digital formal public participation in environmental matters in the European Union”. When large infrastructure projects (motorway, power plant, factory etc.) are planned in an EU member state, a so-called Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is usually required. In other words, the project is examined for its effects on the environment, humans and animals. The EIA thus serves as an instrument of environmental precaution. EU citizens have the right to inspect the results of the EIA and, under certain criteria, to raise objections and even to take legal action against the project.

However, these rights can only be exercised if access to this information is made easy and barrier-free. The COVID-19 crisis is not the only reason why it is important that citizens can easily access information on an EIA digitally. Unfortunately, this is currently not the case: the different portals of the EU countries are not uniformly designed, difficult to find and some portals are only available in the national language.

In order to further develop these portals and to improve the quality of citizen participation, UfU has integrated a competition for so-called “young professionals” from all EU member states into its project “Strengthening electronic participation rights in environmental protection in the European Union – at the same time further developing digital participation within the Aarhus Convention and the European Public Participation Directive (Aarhus-Strong)”. The task of the participants is to develop ideas for the design of a platform that meets the requirements and objectives of modern digital public participation.

The Kick-Off Workshop

In the Kick-Off workshop, the participants were introduced to the topic with exciting presentations and had the opportunity to develop an awareness of the problem and exchange their initial ideas with the help of design thinking methods. Elisa Lironi, Programme Director at the European Citizen Action Service (ECAS) gave a presentation on the potential and challenges of digital democracy in Europe. Louisa Hantsche, Project Manager at UfU e. V., introduced the participants to the legal framework and requirements for EIA portals and public participation, and Robert Bjarnason, President and co-founder of the Citizens Foundation in Iceland, shared his knowledge on the opportunities and challenges of designing digital participation platforms.

The participants now have until 31st of August 2022 to develop their own concepts for a digital participation platform. A jury of experts will select the winning concept. At the second workshop on 16th of September 2022, the participants will have the opportunity to present their concept to an interdisciplinary audience of experts. The highlight of the event will be the award ceremony.