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Name: Philippe Ternes
Country of residence: Luxembourg
On the web: Linkedin
Short bio: Philippe Ternes is an independent consultant and coach in the fields of active citizenship and participatory democracy, intercultural dialogue, human rights, social cohesion, culture and personal development. Philippe studied international relations and European affairs at the Vienna School of International Studies (Diplomatic Academy of Vienna), after graduating from the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna. He also completed additional training at the London School of Economics and the Marc Bloch University in Strasbourg. Philippe seeks to develop activities enabling citizens to understand the complexity and interconnectedness of current social, political and economic phenomena. He further helps to build tools and mechanisms allowing citizens to influence future developments in politics, technology, culture, and society at large. His main goal is to contribute to the upgrade of democratic governance. Philippe is the founder of the association Our Common Future which supports intercultural dialogue and the development of new participatory governance systems. In addition to his work as a consultant, Philippe‘s main interests are music and songwriting.
What brought citizenship and political participation to your attention, and how did you choose to pursue a career in this area?
I’ve always been interested in politics and the way we organise our societies; our ways of living together. From a young age, I understood that our current way of living politics is outdated. I’ve been longing for more public participation, exchange, deliberation, and a focus on common priorities which would allow us to achieve a higher quality of life, one that is more aligned with our fundamental human needs and talents.
I don’t think I consciously chose a career in this area. I was simply involved in projects which led to self-employment contracts, from which I developed the possibility of becoming a consultant and facilitator in public participation.
One of the areas you are active in is democratic innovation. How should these actions be designed? What is the greatest challenge/barrier in their implementation?
It’s hard to answer this question in one paragraph only. I am currently finalising a paper on a future governance model which I will soon be able to share. In short, a future democratic governance model could be characterised by the following elements:
· Ongoing participation: people need to be involved on an ongoing basis, as democratic participation needs continuous education and deliberation, so that knowledge, empathy, and the ability to make compromises are constantly developed.
· Unification of the political landscape into one coherent system: our current political landscape is stratified into many entities and is rather inefficient. Currently, responsibilities are evaded through the development of complex structures in which many have to fight for their own survival before they get the chance to deal with their initial social or environmental aim.
· Liquid representation: in a future governance model, representatives would be rotating on a regular basis between the local, regional, and global levels of decision making. Many more people would get the chance to act as representatives and politics wouldn’t need to be a full-time job anymore.
· Transparency: decision making would be much more transparent than today with the help of modern ICTs, and everyone would have the chance to participate to a much greater extent in actual decision-making processes instead of primarily electing politicians.
· Focus on issues: a future governance system needs to be organised in such a way that the actors can collectively focus on the challenges at hand, instead of needing to focus on their own legitimacy or personal influence in the first place.
· Floating/flexible borders: a future system will give citizens the chance to select flexible geographic areas of application based on the respective issue. National boundaries will become obsolete.
· Globally interconnected: in the future, all citizen councils on all levels will operate in one global system, fostering global cooperation, solidarity, and common priorities.
· A new division of competencies: a future governance system could introduce a Council of Humanity consisting of citizens who have proven their skills, knowledge, and capacity in a variety of fields. Instead of taking decisions, these individuals will publicly deliberate and mediate between topical policy communities dealing with specific challenges, providing guidance and fostering reflection.
· Digitally & AI empowered: some people say that, in the near future, AI may be able to know better what is in our interest than ourselves. AI may also be able to calculate a healthy balance between individual and collective interest. In any case, there is a strong possibility that AI will help individuals as well as societies take decisions.
· Project-focused: instead of focusing on power games or ideological elements which divert a focus from the tangible challenges at hand, future political participation will focus first and foremost on concrete projects which aim to respond to current and future challenges. At the same time, priority setting and deliberation on the application of values will be jointly shared on an ongoing basis, so that these elements won't need to be part of staged election campaigns, but will be dealt with collectively and continuously in more responsible ways.
What is the most pressing question about democracy/political participation that you are hoping to answer through your work?
I think in my work I am not primarily aiming to answer questions, but rather to contribute to the changes I would like to see. These changes involve strengthening and deepening democracy. The challenge is to create a globally interconnected governance system which is based on collective decision making. We need to reset our priorities and bring political power back to the citizen. A multitude of pathways can contribute to this aim, and we need to jointly apply a variety of approaches. Instead of answering questions, I believe we should contribute to the concrete implementation of our ideas.
How does education fit within the context of your work?
We seriously underestimate the effort and change of mindset it would need to make our societies and the whole planet more democratic. We need to seriously reconsider our way of life and our priorities. The challenges we have created by pursuing monetary profit and by constantly pushing the boundaries of technological innovation, which may not necessarily correspond to our human needs, now cannot be solved by a few elected individuals. They require citizens in general to become more aware of the effects and consequences of their actions in multiple domains, including economy, finance, technology, foreign policy, and others. Education, thus, needs to become part of the political system to a much greater extent.
In the future, citizens will participate in concrete decisions and there is a strong possibility that the participation in certain decisions will be based on merit. This is already the case, as the general public is currently not able to participate in many of the ground-breaking decisions made by individuals in powerful positions. In the future, these decisions will need to be shared among more individuals, but at the same time, it seems very likely that the aptitude of individual citizens to participate in specific decisions will need to be determined. With citizens being able to choose concrete issues they would like to participate in and getting the opportunity to directly apply their knowledge and experience and, thus to prove themselves, we will find a way to determine this merit. As we know, democracy is about giving individuals as much of a say as possible and an equal opportunity to participate at the onset. This will not be for free forever. It comes with responsibility: the responsibility to educate ourselves and to keep track of current developments, while collectively and continuously developing cooperation and solidarity in light of the challenges at hand.
You are the brains behind many interesting projects. What is the common characteristic among them?
The projects in which I am involved generally seek to increase public dialogue and participation, strengthening the public sphere and intercultural dialogue, so that we can move closer to a modern governance model, such as the one I shortly described earlier. In this vein, I founded the NGO Our Common Future to primarily help foster democratic innovation.
Projects also aim to raise awareness about social and environmental causes and human rights. They further encourage citizens to align their priorities to a greater extent with their values and fundamental long-term human needs.
You work between Europe and the MENA region – what are the opportunities/areas of potential for each region?
While the Mediterranean is currently mostly in the news as a place of horrifying tragedies, of striking contrasts, and numerous challenges, it also bears the potential of becoming a beacon of sharing, collaboration, and innovation through its rich cultural heritage, its resources, and its vibrant youth. In this sense, I work on a project aiming to set up a one-year innovation programme for entrepreneurs and artists, in which they experience around 10 places of the Mediterranean and share their knowledge, while developing joint projects for the region.
The topic of entrepreneurship and innovation can be a binding force between countries of different kinds of political leaderships and contribute to the creation of professional opportunities for young people on all shores of the Mediterranean.
Another project, “Be My Voice”, invites people from the countries around the Mediterranean to share their stories anonymously, which will then be represented by artists in another country. The project thus creates a transnational solidarity movement in support of freedom of speech.
In places where people have less access to independent media, they are more vulnerable to manipulation and instrumentalization. Transnational platforms can offer people alternative perspectives and help support the fundamental rights of citizens. Even in the countries which consider themselves as democratically more advanced, citizens are oftentimes not informed about actions or situations their own governments are responsible for in other countries. We need to scrutinize our own influence in other countries more and hold our leaders accountable.
What are the differences in approaches that you see among academics and professionals, countries and continents in these areas?
I think this question would require a very long answer. What I would like to say is that in regions or countries that are used to more authoritarianism, young people show a high level of energy, dynamism, and creativity. This gives me hope that our governance systems around the Mediterranean can be more aligned in the future, so that we will be able to focus on our common good and the fundamental needs and rights of citizens.
What intersections of democracy/political participation would be interesting? Arts, culture, science, etc?
Generally speaking, we need a governance system which is more coherent than the current one, in order to respond effectively to the upcoming challenges. Our current system is stratified into a large number of actors that each have diverging responsibilities and interests. Economists, politicians, scientists, and others all have their own ways of measuring success and perform well within their bubbles. When it comes to cooperation, however, results are often weak. What is more, in the end, democracy lives from the capacity of the individual to take up responsibility. Given that each of our actions has political effects, everyone needs to lead by example, in all areas of life, also in their professions. Instead of primarily looking for intersections between democracy and other specific fields, I would thus advocate for a more holistic understanding of democracy and highlight the responsibility that everyone can take up, no matter their field of activity.
One general principle I would like to mention, however, is that we need to adopt a more projects-oriented approach in politics rather than eternal discussions on ideologies or window dressing paroles.
Active citizenship and political participation should thus embrace social entrepreneurship and instead of producing recommendations, citizen councils could lead to the creation of concrete projects dealing with challenges in their surroundings. Local citizen councils can then team up regionally in order to implement projects on a larger scale. We thus need to embrace entrepreneurship in politics.
Disinformation is a big issue in your work. Is there any way to quickly tell facts from falsehoods?
The word “quickly” bears a danger. The quick way out is precisely not to proceed quickly. If we like to cultivate our aptitude of identifying fake news and manipulation, we need to be informed by multiple sources and acquire a broader view of the different perspectives and arguments which exist on a given topic. We need to include sources we do not necessarily agree with, so that we can compare and build up experience. We also need to do the necessary research about the authors, the sources, and the potential interests at play. The best strategy is thus to proceed slowly and with caution.
That being said, I think there is a bigger challenge which we need to address. Nowadays, sources which really try to analyse social or political phenomena independently and in an unbiased way, have become very rare. Even media sources which are considered to be of quality often have underlying political aims and only adopt a narrow or single perspective. Even more tragically, citizens have lost their ability to truly think for themselves and to build up the mental resources needed to question much of the realities that are presented to us. We live in an accelerated world in which technology tells us every minute what we need to do or consume. Jumping out of the loop in order to see the whole picture and reflect independently is becoming ever more difficult. This makes citizens very manipulable and dependent on outside forces guiding their lives. We, thus, need to learn and keep learning how to master the modern world, how to give meaning to our lives and develop our true talents, so that we can cultivate self-determination and long-term planning.
What are you currently working on and what are your future plans?
I am currently finalizing a written piece entitled “Principles and architecture of future governance”, which I would like to discuss with people active in the field of democratic innovation all over the globe.
Furthermore, I am developing an activity I call “Mindgames”, inviting people to explore and discuss potential scenarios of our common future. The more we try to imagine and try to predict our future, the better we are equipped to actually understand potential dangers and opportunities. We often hear that we are living in an age of uncertainties, in view of major challenges such as nuclear weapons, climate change, pandemics, technological disruption and others, and it seems that we are anxiously waiting for what will happen next. Instead, we should develop a sense of agency and strive to consciously and jointly shape the future we will live in.
Third, I am developing the project “Mediterranean Nomads” aiming to build hubs of innovation around the Mediterranean as mentioned earlier.
Finally, I am also working on my music, in particular songwriting with my band called “Elysiah”.
Images c/o Philippe Ternes
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