Democracy School: Political Science Co-Hosting School on Participatory Democratic Innovations

Apr 5th, 2024


Günel Rzayeva is a political science graduate student at Memorial.


The big issues facing society today — climate change, growing economic inequality, the rise of populism — are often described as global issues that need local solutions.

But what if there was an opportunity to share local solutions, collaborate across borders and create more co-ordinated global responses to these problems?

Can discussion, collaboration and shared decision-making tools like deliberative forums, citizen assemblies and participatory budgeting used for addressing local issues help us at a global level?

Participedia Summer School

This is the focus of the Participedia Summer School on transnational democratic innovations being held at Memorial University’s Signal Hill Campus from June 10-15, 2024.

The week-long intensive course will see a group of leading local and international scholars and practitioners of civic engagement share their knowledge and experiences with students, professionals and academics from multiple countries.

“The issues we’re facing today are too big and too important to task just a few people with finding solutions.”— Dr. Sean Gray

Dr. Sean Gray, assistant professor with Memorial’s Department of Political Science, and local lead for the project, says today’s problems require innovative approaches to collaboration at the local and national levels, but also globally and across borders.

“That’s not an easy task, but there is some great work happening where people are taking a grassroots, collaborative approach to big societal challenges,” he said. “Too often these big issues are left to elected officials and bureaucrats to figure out. But the fact is, the issues we’re facing today are too big and too important to task just a few people with finding solutions.”

Leading practitioners and scholars

The school was born out of the global Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council-funded research initiative, Participedia, a project that aims to document examples of democratic innovations worldwide through a crowdsourcing research platform and provide learning opportunities for researchers and civic engagement practitioners.

This knowledge mobilization and shared learning aspect of the project is part of the motivation behind the summer school.

Participants will have the opportunity to work with leading practitioners and scholars such as the designers of the world’s first global citizens’ assembly; co-ordinators of the Conference on the Future of Europe; and the activists driving the global campaign to democratize the United Nations, to rethink how democracy and democratic models of civic engagement can help leverage local solutions to global issues.

The St. John’s school, led by Dr. Gray with the support of the Leslie Harris Centre of Regional Policy and Development and the Nexus Centre, will be one of three global locations taking part simultaneously, along with Cape Town in South Africa and Belo Horizonte in Brazil.

South Africa and Brazil will be connected to the events and programming in St. John’s through an online, hybrid format, creating a transnational virtual classroom.

Approximately 150 registrants and more than 70 faculty will join in, either online or in person, from across the world.

Dr. Archon Fung, Harvard UniversityAntoine Vergne, Missions Publiques; and Jon Stever, i4Policy, are among the confirmed instructors and speakers for St. John’s.

The initiative will bring together representatives from other institutional partners and collaborators including McMaster University, St. Francis Xavier University’s Coady Institute, the University of the Western Cape, the Federal University of Minas Gerais, the Innovation for Policy Foundation, Missions Publiques, Democracy International and the Conference for the Future of Europe.

‘Collaboration and dialogue’

Dr. Paul Emiljanowicz, managing director of Participedia, says one of the biggest challenges the school hopes to highlight is the need to re-think global governance for the 21st century.

“How can we bring together diverse communities and perspectives from the global south and global north, harnessing our collective intelligence, creative and deliberative capacities through collaboration and dialogue to help facilitate the next generation of democratic outcomes?” he asked. “Through a decentralized approach, the Participedia Summer School will connect participants with a focus on practical cases and examples of citizen engagement, multi-stakeholder collaboration and co-ordination on shared complex social, economic and political issues.”

The Participedia School on Transnational Democratic Innovations is open to registration from current Memorial students and practitioners and professionals from St. John’s and beyond.

Tuition and travel support may also be available to Memorial students interested in attending one of the other global sites in South Africa and Brazil.

Some local presentations and panel discussions will be open to members of the broader public to attend and will be webcast for online participation.

If you would like to receive notification of these public sessions as information becomes available, please subscribe to the Harris Centre’s newsletter.