BioökonomieREVIEREstablishing and testing of a participatory governance framework for the development of the model region BioökonomieREVIER Rheinland

Note: On January 1st, 2021, the ongoing research projects of the Culture of Participation will be transferred to the Ruhr University Bochum.

The coal phase-out has been politically decided: open-cast mining and coal-fired power generation in the Rhenish lignite area will be abandoned. This will be followed by structural change accompanied by extensive financial aid from the German government until 2038. The objective of the funding is to develop the mining district into a flagship region for sustainable, integrated economy. A great potential for the location is seen in the development and expansion of bio-economy. The idea is to gradually replace fossil fuels with renewable resources in order to produce energy and new products.

The task of the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities (KWI) in the collaborative project led by the Forschungszentrum Jülich (Research Center Jülich, FZJ) is to develop, test and evaluate a participatory coordination and action framework for local citizens and organized civil society.

The participatory governance structure is intended to enable fair and just involvement of the local actors in political consultation and decision-making processes. The concept to be tested consists of a steering group, two citizens’ councils and a citizens’ assembly. The link between the interactive participation processes is an online participation platform.

This will be a challenging task: the Rhenish lignite mining area is characterized by profound social conflicts that shape the local situation and divide entire municipalities. Established lines of conflict between proponents and opponents of open-cast mining, between those who resettle and those who stay shape the image. Narratives about the fossil growth path, the mining of coal and those concerning alternative energy production and the preservation of nature are juxtaposed.

Conflicts of this kind influence joint action and a factual exchange of views on the reorientation of the region. How these narratives interrelate, whether they block each other or have a beneficial effect on the future development, are unresolved questions that will be addressed in the course of the project.

A combination of structured formats and methods of citizen participation, unique in Germany so far, will be tested and evaluated. Top-down and bottom-up approaches as well as online and face-to-face methods will be used in an integrated way to examine which of the panels and formats are suitable under which conditions and in which settings.