‘Regulatory Gaming’ – A Look Into the European Union’s Attempts to Engage Citizens With Playful Design
17 Pages Posted: 5 Feb 2020
Date Written: January 12, 2020
What will democratic systems in the European Union (EU) look like in the next decade and beyond? Will tech-savvy policy-makers respond to the demands of citizens in an effective and timely manner? Or will the much-celebrated ‘co-creation’ of public policies via digital tools continue to remain an empty slogan?
In this Chapter, we move from a broad reflection on the impact that technology is having on all levels of society, and particularly on human relations, to an analysis of the role of technology in the policy cycle. We claim that technology has dramatically changed both the number of ‘connections’ between citizens and public regulators, and their quality. We also argue that the outcomes of this enhanced interconnectivity have been uneven, and the results not always positive.
Overall, citizens (and corporations) have benefited from the enhanced ‘access’ they have gained vis-à-vis public authorities through new communication channels. These benefits, however, have not been mirrored by equally significant progresses in design and implementation of public policy. Public authorities have struggled with the impact of new technologies on policy-making.
Communities and citizens now expect public regulators to respond both immediately and effectively to their demands. However, for the most part public regulators have been unable or unwilling to effectively harness new technologies to foster participatory and inclusive governance. As a result, the legitimacy of public regulators has been politically and legally challenged by dissatisfied communities and stakeholders.
The chapter focuses on the EU, which is often accused of not being inclusive or democratic. As EU institutional responsibilities have expanded over time, calls for greater openness have increased. Conventional narratives of the EU’s democratic deficit paint a picture of a dysfunctional decision-making system run by elites located in Brussels. In reality, we claim in this chapter, EU institutions continually seek to enhance and increase interactions with stakeholders, with experimental efforts having intensified over the last decade.
This Chapter makes two contributions toward improving our understanding of experimental approaches to the democratisation of EU policy-making. First, it identifies and critically examines two models of experimentalism of EU policy-making. “Exploratory experimentalism” focuses on exploration and discovery. Over the last two decades, most of the EU’s efforts to foster participation have been this type. “Evaluative experimentalism”, instead, explores the feasibility and potential of a new policy intervention. We argue that design-thinking – i.e. the approach to policy-making from a design perspective – is one promising form of evaluative experimentalism currently tested in EU policy-making. We maintain that design-thinking might deliver the right solutions for building more inclusive, engaging, and interactive channels of cooperation between citizens and EU institutions.
Second, this Chapter develops a new regulatory model, which it calls the “regulatory gaming” model. Regulatory gaming makes use of design-thinking, and more precisely of playful design, to foster civic engagement. A few examples are discussed in this Chapter. These include prize challenges, scenario simulations, and online serious games. The outcomes of regulatory gaming are still uncertain. Some observers believe fun-design enables EU administrations to adapt to contemporary societal, political and legal challenges. Critics, however, describe playful policy-making as a mere institutional make-up, incapable of successfully addressing the challenge of democracy. They raise ethical, legal, and political concerns, The conclusive section of this Chapter will discuss five challenges for regulatory-gaming, and will speculate on possible solutions from EU decision-makers.
Keywords: democracy, EU, design, policy-making, gamification, nudge, civic engagement, participation, digital, technology, public sector, innovation
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