In 2007 ATO of Valle del Chiampo, a consortium of thirteen municipalities in the western area of the Province of Vicenza, launched a project called PARCO (Participation and Communication) in collaboration with Observa.
The project aimed to involve citizens, institutions, businesses and associations in the dialogue on the interventions for the protection of water resources. In this field of activity, major priority was given to the purification and treatment of the waste coming from the tanneries here present, as this area represents one of the World’s most important industrial districts.
The decision-making process, with regards to those issues that will have an enormous impact on the environment, on the business sector and on the citizens, has seen the adoption of a strategy that involves communication and participation, in order to highlight the perspectives of every subject that holds an interest in the matter, pointing out the critical issues and the common elements of strength. In this light, there was started a communication process that involves political decision-makers, representatives from businesses and from the civil society, as to reach a common reading of the problems and finding of solutions, activating a dialogue that allows for the identification of the potential risks not only from the technical viewpoint, but also from the socio-cultural one.
The project activated three actions:
a listening phase through the involvement of 100 social leaders from various agencies and institutions in the area, pointing out the expectations, perceptions and requests on environmental issues;
a survey through which a sample of 1000 citizens, representative of the population, was interviewed on the relationship between people and the environment, focussing the attention on the issues of pollution and of services and projects for the protection of the environment (find here the presentation of the results);
a civic forum realised on the basis of the survey results, during which citizens, experts, entrepreneurs, associations and institutional representatives met to analyse and discuss the management of industrial waste.
The forum served as the meeting space for different actors, proposing innovative dynamics for dialogue and discussion, which led to the selection and examination of several questions from the public, favouring an in-depth analysis of the issues. The final public assembly allowed for a thorough investigation of the questions included in a document prepared by the citizens, fostering the dialogue among different perspectives and interests.
Together with these initiatives, the project realised a website, in order to keep the dialogue with the public open and to present all the material of interest and the programme of the initiatives that are taking place on these issues.
For a wider diffusion, the objectives and the project results were published in a presentation book available on-demand at the ATO offices in Arzignano.
Finally, the project was taken as the case-study in a university thesis on the theme of citizens’ participation in the debates on highly complex techno-scientific innovations. Elaborated and discussed by Roberto Cibin, at the faculty of Sociology of the University of Trento, the thesis titled Techno-science and citizens’ participation, intended to analyse whether the guidelines and the various models offered by the theories on deliberative democracy (such as Consensus Conference, Citizen’s Jury etc.) can represent valid solutions to support the mechanisms used in the representative system of liberal-democracies; this also in the light of the new opportunities – offered by these very experiences – to generate “situated learning” both through the sharing of tacit knowledge, which develops in collective argumentation, and through the function of uncertainty in science, which allows for the creation of reflexive knowledge. For these objectives, the major area of research concentrated on the study of the civic forum “Let’s save our Lives”, a concrete instance of dialogue between citizens and experts on the problems of industrial-waste disposal. The theoretical and empirical reflexions highlighted how, despite all the mistakes and difficulties in the current implementation, the deliberative meetings in fact offer significant help both in the involvement of citizens before decisions are taken, and in the process of encounter-fostering between experts and non-experts, and, finally, in the creation of informed citizens and attentive to the common good.
(Translation by Sara Pascoli)