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Vienna launches initiatives to fix societal problems highlighted by COVID-19

Vienna launches initiatives to fix societal problems highlighted by COVID-19

The two new initiatives focus on educating the public and promoting solidarity as the basis for a democratic society

Yesterday, authorities in Vienna launched two initiatives to promote science and the multifaceted nature of the democratic institutions throughout the city’s districts. Both initiatives aim to respond to issues brought up by the response to the pandemic in some demographics in Austria.

The first initiative, ‘On the knowledge of the many’ (Vom Wissen der Vielen), has a biennial budget of 1.1 million euros and is supposed to help communicate science and innovation to the general public, in both STEM and humanitarian fields.

The second one is called ‘Democracy in progress - contributions to strengthening trust in democratic institutions’ (Democracy in Progress - Beiträge zur Stärkung des Vertrauens in demokratische Institutionen). Here, Vienna’s city authorities are calling for projects that will facilitate a discussion on the democratic process and forms of citizen participation in the decision-making process.

‘Democracy in Progress’ has a one-year budget, totalling 600,000 euros, with 150,000 available per project.

Breaching the gap of understanding

Ulrike Felt, Head of the Institute for Science and Technology Studies at the University of Vienna, was quoted in a press release saying: "One of the many lessons we can learn from the Corona crisis is that the general public has little clarity about the actual complexities of science, about processes of knowledge production, the stability of knowledge, about terms like evidence and expertise and much more.”

This is why, when attempting to address the problem, Vienna commissioned research called "City as a knowledge space" („Stadt als Wissensraum“). It outlines the pronounced lack of scientific understanding in the city and is the basis of the targeted ‘On the knowledge of the many’ initiative.

The research goes beyond identifying subjects where there is a lack of understanding, by trying to find both demographic and geographic correlations between knowledge gaps. According to its findings, some of the groups that need the most help include socio-economically disadvantaged groups with little affinity for education. Young people, as well as old people, seem to be particularly neglected in scientific communication.

In terms of academic fields, proper communication in the humanities is hardly visible. This, the research stipulates, can be addressed by extra educational low-threshold offers throughout the city. At the same time, innovation seems to be a space where there is ample communication and is considered as a strength, especially in urban areas close to centres of education.

At the same time, the STEM fields seem to be focusing their communication efforts on children and young people, and they have a limited reach outside the demographic.

Democracy in Progress

The ‘Democracy in Progress’ initiative has been described by Vienna's City Councillor for Science, Veronica Kaup-Hasler as an integral part of the administration’s ambitious Smart City goals. According to her, society needs to have a good understanding of basic scientific principles and basic democratic principles.

She aims to use this opportunity to promote democratic rights and the democratic process in the city, to strengthen a sort of grassroots civil conscience. Some of the main principles of said civil conscience, in turn, would be solidarity and strong democratic institutions as a basis for cooperation.



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