This note has been prepared by Sopinspace, designer and operator of the debate, and validated by ADEME, the agency for which it was organized. The note provides a concise overview of the debate process, from its genesis to its conclusions and outcome. This overview was prepared for the closing event held on 11 July 2007. The note also aims at giving the necessary context for assessing the proposals arising from the debate in the coming policy decisions.
Genesis of the project
The energy management debate was initially designed as a research experimentation and finally turned to be an important real-world operation involving citizens and civil society in the design of energy and environment policy. The project was designed in the frame of the Ph. D. thesis of Nicolas Benvegnu in the Centre for the Sociology of Innovation (CSI) of ENSMP in Paris (dir. Michel Callon). This thesis was the object of a co-operation between EDF R&D (the research division of the main French electricity company) and ENSMP. The co-operation agreement planned for an experimentation at real scale of internet-based public debate on policy orientations. The initial plans for the debate were drawn by Sopinspace and CSI and submitted to ADEME that decided to act as the main sponsor of the debate. A partnership was formed, bringing together many NGOs (environment and energy NGOs, but also consumer unions and family associations) and science communication agencies.
Positioning and originality
The EDM debate used ICT in an innovative manner, while combining internet-based exchanges with face-to-face meetings. The initial analysis was that with the growing awareness of climate change, the need for mastering better the energy demand was recognized and more or less consensual. However, the effective ability to act on the demand for energy does not seem to progress at the required speed for addressing what is at stake. The debate was held in 3 phases. In the first one, Internet users were asked to express their views on why energy demand management does not progress better and to formulate proposals on how to overcome obstacles. In the second phase, multi-stakeholders meetings took place in several cities, bring together internet contributors to the first phase, experts from ADEME and representatives of the NGO partners. From the mass of proposals, these 7 facilitated workshops selected 32 of them. In the last phase, these 32 proposals were the object of a new internet-based debate aiming at refining them, understanding their possible undesirable effects, and discussing the conditions for their application. At the end of this third phase, 30 proposals constitute the outcome of the debate (see below).
Overall thematic map for the debate (at its conclusion). This interactive map gives direct access to more detailed maps for each of the themes and to the debate contents.
The first phase (open Internet-based debate) used innovative tools for thematic cartography. Thanks to their application, participants had a synoptical view on the debate proceedings and were able to contribute at the relevant place in the ongoing exchanges. Additional information was included in the maps as the debate developed, and even the structure of the maps evolved. Important changes to the maps were justified by the “cartographers” (from Sopinspace) and subjected to user comments. The usage of thematic cartography has proved to be remarkably useful for maintaining readability and in order to make possible for contradictory exchanges to develop in some “zones” without preventing other themes to be debated in a constructive manner.
Participation and contributions
The debate proceeded from 6 March 2007 (launch event) to 11 July 2007 (final event). Its aim was to produce a structured catalogue of views and constructive proposals. Having the widest possible participation or the largest possible number of contributions were not the primary objectives. However it was essential to obtain a good coverage of the diversity of approaches, perceptions and proposals. The site had around 30,000 visits, up to 5,000 unique visitors per month, 1,600 often very rich written contributions. The exchanges were always courteous and respected the ethics of debate. A very good relaying over the Internet by the debate partners made possible to mobilize participants, though one may regret the absence of coverage by general public media, due to the fact that their attention was focused in this period on the electoral debate in France. A better coverage in television, radio, or daily newspapers would have raised the number of visitors and would have brought a greater number of contributors with less prior awareness of environment and energy issues.
Users who registered on the site (which was necessary to post initial contributions, but not for commenting on posts by others) were invited to provided facultative sociological data. More than 90% of the 435 registered users accepted to do so. The sociological diversity of participants is high, even though there is the usual over-representation of intellectual professions and an under-representation of industry workers. There is an important participation from young citizens: contributors aged 18-24 amount for more than there share in the population and more than 50% of participants are less than 40 years old. The geographical diversity of participants is also remarkable for a National debate in France: 70% come from outside Ile-de-France. In contrast, the participation from women is disappointing (22%) in comparison to other Internet-based debates that we have organized. This is maybe explained by the “energy” focus in the title: “environment” would probably have brought a stronger women participation.
25 concrete policy or action proposals and 5 inventories of agreement and dissensus constitute the outcome of the debate. The latter are on subjects where argumentative exchanges have dominated (primarily on the respective role of renewable energy and nuclear energy for electricity production). After the second phase, 32 proposals had been formulated, but during the third phase 2 of them were merged with other proposals. The 30 proposals are classed in 3 categories: 16 proposals that have been considered mature or urgent enough to be transmitted in priority to decision-makers and partners of the operation; 12 proposals or inventories of consensus/dissensus that, without being necessarily less important, appeared to need further study or discussion; 2 proposals whose feasability or relevance was severely challenged in the final phase. The first category proposals regard for instance:
- eco-taxes and direct policies for the field of transport
- new incentives for energy saving investments, training for professionals and independent consulting services in the field of buildings
- consumer information, for instance on the energy content of all products (over their full life-cycle)
- a coordinated approach to spatial and city planning.
ADEME has committed to publish in September 2007 a position on the follow-up it will give to the proposals. It will transmit the proposals arising from the debate to the Grenelle de l’environnement (a multi-stakeholder summit on environmental issues to be organized in the Autumn of 2007). Every NGO partner will be in a position to carry forward the proposals that they deem relevant.
Beyond this immediate follow-up, one can raise the issue of more permanent exchange processes between public policy, specialized expertise and the general public. Calling experts and public agency personnel to interact in real-time with internet exchanges was a rich and demanding experience. It called for much adaptation from all the persons involved.