Storytelling is part of the European Commission’s job

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Filippo Addarii

Filippo Addarii [Kennisland/Flickr]

The Commission can make better use of art, technology and storytelling if it wants people to get interested, writes Filippo Addarii.

Filippo Addarii is Director of International Strategy and Head of EuropeLab at The Young Foundation.

On the 16 and 17th of December, a small crew of scientists, artists and policy makers gathered at Bozar in Brussels, to explore new ways to engage citizens, and leverage their passions and creativity, in order to renew and expand the European enterprise.

The occasion was the closing event of the EU-funded project Emergence by Design, which has been investigating the role of narratives for public engagement at the convergence between science, technology and art. Professor David Lane – a world renown researcher, who specialises in complexity theory, as applied to social processes – led the project.

Ralph Dum, the official in charge of DG Connect, set the tone of the event: “There are no storytelling consultants among the ranks of the Commission, but new technologies allow us to do better than hiring communication professionals. They give access to a potentially inexhaustible repertoire of good stories generated by citizens, and the power to disseminate them everywhere.”

If we want European Institutions to bridge the gap with European citizens and fulfill the most ambitious goal set out by the Lisbon Treaty, turning Europe into a “participatory democracy”, more must be done to allow not only “experts”, but all citizens to take part in the policy process. This means scaling-up efforts to understand how to leverage the collective intelligence of Europeans, and their creativity, passion and expertise, to push Europe towards a socially sustainable future.

Paul Dujardin, Director of Bozar, said, “We need to be pragmatic, working across sectors, disciplines and involve all levels of governance. Narrative is part of the job.” When these conditions are met, results can be surprising.

This is proved by Italy in a day one of the first crowd-sourced movies: 44000 videos shot by ordinary citizens. Lorenzo Gangarossa, the co-producer, explained: “Europeans do not only mobilize against things. On the contrary, they’re keen to put their creativity at the service of a cause in which they believe. And when you are able to engage large scores of people to co-produce, it is not only the product that changes, but the whole productive process. But how do you get people to upload 2200 hours of videos? In the first place, you need to be able to clearly explain what are you asking them to do in less than 30 seconds. Namely we asked people to film a moment of their life in a precise day: the 26 October 2013.

Secondly, you need authority to convince them that the effort is worthy. We enrolled Gabriele Salvatores, a famous film director and winner of a Oscar. We also mobilized scores of celebrities to promote the project through dedicated commercials and taking part in public events. In a third place, you need partnerships to reach different publics and provide technical assistance. In this case, more than 70 organizations were involved, ranging from the Ministry of Justice to the NGO Emergency and the European Space Agency. RAI, the Italian national broadcaster, provided the platform, where videos were uploaded, and granted commercial slots free of charge to promote the project. Professionalism, passion and concerted effort made the success!”

The result is a product where the division of labour has been shared between directors, producers, actors and the audience. More importantly the image of the country that comes out of the film is the opposite of the stereotypes usually associated to Italy – including the magnificent but corrupted and desperate country portrayed by Paolo Sorrentino in The Great Beauty.

The model could be replicated for many other different issues, starting with the European Union.  

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