Social Labs as participatory method – A recap of the two-day Workshop

May 2, 2023News

The fourth Regional Workshop of the PARTICIPATION project took place on April 27th-28th, 2023 in Catania (Italy). The workshop was a hybrid event that combined online and in-person participation. It aimed to highlight the importance of Social Labs as a participatory method to investigate sensitive and complex issues such as radicalisation and polarisation.

The workshop focused on presenting the results achieved so far in Work Package 3 of the PARTICIPATION project, which analysed the policies and practices of prevention and contrast of violent extremism. It also introduced the Social Labs approach as a participatory method to design strategies and tools for preventing radicalisation processes.

The workshop discussed the implementation of Social Labs in three strategic contexts: municipalities, schools, and religious communities. It was an opportunity to share the results and methods of the PARTICIPATION project, as well as to co-create solutions with different stakeholders.

On the first day, Loredana Cardullo, Department of Education Chair at the University of Catania, welcomed the participants and introduced the objectives and agenda of the workshop. Francesco Antonelli, Roma Tre University project coordinator, introduced the PARTICIPATION project and its co-creative research solutions that involve civil society actors in addressing the challenges of radicalisation, extremism and polarisation.

Robert Gianni (University of Maastricht) opened the session on Social Labs as a participatory methodology to democratically address issues of social concern, from ethics to politics. He explained the principles and features of Social Labs, as well as their potential for fostering social innovation and transformation.

Markos Shangoyan (KMOP) shared the experiences and challenges of implementing Social Labs in different contexts and countries, such as Belgium, France, Germany and Italy. He presented some strategies and concrete solutions that were put into practice by NGOs and municipal representatives dealing with radicalisation issues in their local communities.

Michele Marzulli (University of Venice) and Giuliana Gianino (Talita Kum) highlighted how Social Labs can be useful for researching social problems such as radicalisation because they require participatory discussion and deliberation among diverse stakeholders. They also emphasised how working on social problems with participatory methodologies can generate impact on the cultural system and social change.

Daiva Lepaité (Vilnius University) presented another project related to cybersecurity competence mapping. She explained how they used a participatory approach to develop a Lithuanian cybersecurity competence map for professionals working in the field. She also shared some lessons learned and best practices from this project.

Dana Dolghin (PATRIR) talked about the implementation of Social Labs on divisive and sensitive topics such as radicalisation and polarisation. She discussed some of the challenges and opportunities of using Social Labs to engage with different actors and perspectives on these issues, as well as some of the outcomes and recommendations that emerged from this process.

On the second day, Anna Maria Leonora (University of Catania) welcomed the participants and introduced the focus of the day’s sessions: prevention in schools and religious communities. Davide Lauretta (EFD) presented the results of an online survey on the challenges related to polarisation and radicalisation issues that teachers face in their daily work. He analysed some of the main findings and implications of this survey, such as teachers’ perceptions, attitudes, needs and expectations regarding these issues. He also discussed some possible ways to support teachers in dealing with these issues in their classrooms.

Rosa Anna Cristaldi (Polo Catanese di Educazione Interculturale) discussed the value and limitations of Social Labs as a methodology for schools. She argued that Social Labs are an extremely valuable methodology for schools because they can foster intercultural education, relationships and prevention of radicalisation among students. However, she also pointed out that resources are needed to implement Social Labs effectively in schools, such as time, space, materials and training. Dana Dolghin also contributed to this session by sharing her perspective on how participatory research can be useful for teachers to confront with issues like polarisation. She suggested that school curricula should be modified to allow students to have a safe space to share their opinions and learn from each other’s experiences. She also presented some examples of participatory research projects that involved students in exploring issues related to identity, diversity and citizenship.

Alessandra Scieri (University of Catania) reported the practical experience of conducting Social Lab work in Catania secondary schools within the PARTICIPATION project. She explained how they engaged with students and teachers in co-researching their experiences, needs and aspirations regarding radicalisation and polarisation issues. She also presented some of the results and outputs of this process, such as maps, stories and videos produced by the students themselves. Augusto Gamuzza, Anna Maria Leonora, and Giorgia Mavica (University of Catania) reported the experience of involving religious communities in Social Labs within the PARTICIPATION project. They presented the work with different religious groups in Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands, such as Muslims, Christians, Jews and Buddhists. They explained how they established trust and dialogue with the community leaders and members, and how they co-researched their experiences, views and challenges regarding radicalisation and extremism. They also presented some of the results and outputs of this process, such as guidelines, recommendations and narratives produced by the religious communities themselves.

Rita Bichi (Catholic University of the Sacred Heart) explained that analysing the large differences between the countries surveyed was one of the most interesting topics of PARTICIPATION from a methodological point of view.
Riccardo Rodano (Coordinamento “Religioni in Dialogo”) shared his experience of using social labs as a helpful tool for co-creating solutions. He emphasised that religions that want to be part of the prevention and countering of violent extremism (PCVE) process must start from old wounds and the need for healing.
Jeanne Abdulla, from Human Security Collective, discussed the challenges and opportunities of stepping into religious communities and talking about PCVE in the Netherlands. She highlighted the importance of setting a trust relationship with the community leaders.
Pina Sodano (Roma Tre University) reported that religious communities felt really engaged in the research even if they were involved online. She said that they created a safe space where they felt free to express themselves.
At the end of the day, Liana Daher (University of Catania) thanked all the participants and stressed the importance of participatory approaches in research to activate strategies to support prevention of radicalisation together with civil society.