Improving civic participation through citizen labs

Novi Sad, Serbia

Challenge team: Novi Sad City Library and Kulturis

Population of Novi Sad: 341,625

Summary: Working together with a local community partner, Kulturis, the Novi Sad City Library is creating labs to encourage civic participation and dialogue as key principles of democratic societies particularly among disadvantaged communities.

Serbia’s second largest city – Novi Sad – suffers from low participation rates in democratic and institutional decision making, which is hampering democratic progress, according to this challenge team. 

The Novi Sad City Library, working with a local community partner, Kulturis, wants to tackle this challenge head on by making public libraries into city spaces where people can discuss important local issues in the format of civic participation labs. Through this initiative, the challenge team wants to help create change by breaking down the polarisation between civil society and the public sector. The challenge team is prototyping the model of an ‘express citizen lab’ in public libraries, which will act as a bridge between local community initiatives and cultural institutions. The aim is to motivate citizens, particularly those from disadvantaged communities, to take a more active role in the most pressing questions facing their local communities.

“We see a public library as a local community agora,” the challenge team said, referring to the Greek marketplace where citizens gathered to exchange ideas. “A place that fosters dialogue and civic participation as key principles of democratic societies.”

The local community is very much involved as a co-creator of a prototype for the initiative. The ‘challenge journey’ started with a survey among the citizens of Novi Sad to prioritise the topics that they wanted to discuss in greater detail. Based on that data, the challenge team then created a list of themes.

They are using traditional communication channels as well as social media to reach out to a wider community, as well as establishing partnerships with other organisations and public institutions, depending on the lab’s topic, to target different users and audiences.

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