Participedia Inspires Doctoral Dissertation at University of Bologna

Interview with Professor Rodolfo Lewanski (University of Bologna) and doctoral student Nicola Pietropoli

This article is a condensed interview with Professor Rodolfo Lewanski and his student Nicola Pietropoli, who is writing his dissertation based on a topic he worked on for Participedia. Professor Lewanski has been assigning Participedia cases as assignments to his students. Lewanksi is a professor of Political Science at the University of Bologna in Italy where he teaches on numerous issues including decision-making processes, environmental policies, environmental conflict management, and Deliberative Democracy. 

Nicola Pietropoli is a doctoral student at the University of Bologna studying democratic innovation, specifically Law 69/2007 of the Tuscany Region and some twenty processes promoted by this reform that he first learned about through his involvement with Participedia. Interview conducted, condensed, and consolidated by Hollie Russon Gilman (HRG), a member of the Participedia team and Democracy Fellow at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation.

Interview with Professor Rodolfo Lewanski (RL):

HRG: How did you first hear about Participedia?

RL: I first met Mark Warren at a meeting of the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) in Sydney last year and he told me about Participedia. IAP2is an International federation based in North America and Australasia, and is currently spreading to other countries to promote public participation. After Mark Warren told me about Participedia, I looked it up on the website thought it was a great.

HRG: What students have you been assigning Participedia to?

RL: I am using it for three different courses, the first was a University of Bologna political science course called Urban Politics/Policy with primarily undergraduate students. Some students were Italians and some were European students of the European Union Erasmus exchange program. The second course was through Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania that has a Bologna center where undergrads come to study abroad. The third class was for a master’s level class in International Relations of the Buenos Aires campus of the University of Bologna. Students for this class come from all over South America; it also includes some Italian students. 

HRG: What has been your involvement with Participatory and Deliberative Democracy?

RL: In addition to being an associate professor of Political Science in Bologna, I am also a scholar of Deliberative Democracy. I have been working directly with the Regional government of Tuscany as independent authority entrusted with the implementation of the law no. 69/07 promoting citizen engagement and Deliberative Democracy. I have been involved in this practical implementation of deliberative democracy in Tuscany for the last four years. 

HRG: How do you see Participedia fitting in with both your work as both a scholar and practitioner of Deliberative Democracy?

RL: This is a topic I have devoted myself to for the last years and I am delighted to see a website like Participedia that can serve as a repository for the global innovations taking place right now. Participedia is also inspiring for my students to be able to create and author their own projects and be part of this global community online. Perhaps Participedia can inspire a new generation of scholars to think creatively about incorporating democratic and participatory mechanisms into our existing institutional frameworks. I am proud of my students who have contributed important cases for Participedia. I am excited for my student Nicola Pietropoli who will be doing his dissertation based from a case he wrote for Participedia. 

HRG: How do you think Participedia can be used as a tool in the classroom?

RL: It is important to integrate Participedia as a graded assignment and create standards for how cases should be done. It is helpful that there is a resource guide for professors on the website. I encourage other professors to think creatively about ways to use Participedia as a real-life way to engage students on what can be abstract and purely theoretical ideas. Participatory innovations are taking place throughout the world and by assigning Participedia in the classroom students can see first-hand where theory meets practice. 

Interview with Nicola Pietropoli (NP)

HRG: How did you first get involved with Participeida?

NP: I first wrote a case for Participedia thanks to Professor Lewanski. He made us discover Participedia and deliberative democracy during his lessons. Each attending student has collaborated with him to analyze a promoted process by the Regional Law 69/2007 and an experience among all the Italian cases.

HRG: What cases are you working on?

NP: I have analyzed the case of Agliana (Tuscany) because the motivations that are at the base of this case are very similar to the conditions in my hometown, and they haven’t been resolved. I have also analyzed a case of my Region (Trentino-Alto Adige) because it has been easier to find data and the tools, which are useful for the analysis. The two cases (Agliana and Nago-Torbole) are not yet posted on Participedia, but I will be adding them soon. 

HRG: What is your thesis on?

NP: In my thesis, I analyze the Regional Law no. 69/2007 and some twenty processes promoted by this reform. Based on questionnaires administered to the participants both at the beginning and at the end of these deliberative processes, I have tried to verify if there is a transformation between the beginning and the final opinions, attitudes and information of the participants. I am studying deliberative democracy in my thesis because I’ve been involved and interested in the subject. Deliberative democracy is a terrific example of applied theory and enables data to be visually understood.

HRG: Why do you think Participedia is important?

NP: I think that Participedia is important for the development of knowledge about deliberative democracy and its methods. The importance of this subject increases proportionally to the disinterestedness and to the disaffection that people feel for the representative system. Representative democracy has guaranteed and applied important innovations (equality of rights, equality in front of the law, etc.), but it is undoubtedly farraginous and inefficient to handle our contemporary issues and challenges. I think that deliberative democracy represents a possible response and a necessary integration to the current issues.

We thank Professor Lewanski and Nicola for their continued involvement with Participedia. As noted above, you can find instructions for assigning Participedia to your students here. Please contact Hollie Russon Gilman directly at if you have any questions about using Participedia or would like to get more involved with the project.