Knowledge, information and trust after the COVID pandemic

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© Rita Hornok Knowledge, information and trust after the COVID pandemic


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Bonjour Rita Hornok!

You are Research Assistant at the Institute of European Studies at the Jagiellonian University, in Krakow, working with professor Natasza Styczyńska, whom we had the pleasure to welcome several times. And you use an original research method: so-called “mini-publics”. Tell us more about it.

The mini-publics are an innovative method we used with the transnational REGROUP project. REGROUP stands for “Rebuilding governance and resilience out of the pandemic”. The project is based on the assumption that involving citizens in decision-making enhances transparency and trust in governance, as well as ensures that policies reflect the diverse needs and perspectives of the community. Especially in times of crisis, such as the Covid-19 pandemic. Our project team in Poland focused on evaluating citizens’ confidence in identifying disinformation and assessing the extent of trust citizens place in specific actors or organizations, such as experts and politicians.


So how did you go about it?

Mini-publics constitute a group of randomly selected citizens who meet to discuss societal issues. Following the model of citizens’ conventions, mini-publics require participants to deliberate on selected topics and identify urgent issues that need to be addressed by the authorities. As an outcome participants formulate a series of policy recommendations.

The mini-publics also have another core function, which is to generate insight into people’s reasoning, considerations, and judgments on a range of issues. This is particularly relevant for complex subjects such as the scientific information disorder or technocratic decision-making, which are explored within the REGROUP project. The project also included an attitudinal survey to gain a deeper insight into how deliberative democracy formats like citizens’ conventions influence participants’ attitudes.


How were the mini-publics set up concretely?

We adopted a multi-level approach. Mini-publics were set up in all five participant countries (Germany, France, Netherlands, Italy, and Poland) on a national level, and a transnational citizen convention took place in Brussels with the participation of national delegates. Each national mini-public had around 15-20 participants, while the international one was composed of 20 participants.

During the meetings, participants were tasked to share their opinions and form policy recommendations regarding four topics, within the context of the Covid-19 pandemic:

– Scientific communication

– Disinformation

– The role of experts in policy-making

– Political trust at the domestic and European levels

– Participants discussed these issues with invited experts (so-called resource persons).

In Poland, the mini-publics took place on three Saturdays in September and October 2023 here in Krakow. During the meetings, three experts were involved: a psychologist, an internet security specialist, and a communication specialist.


And what came out of it? Were you satisfied with the method?

Yes, we had a very positive experience with the mini-public method, especially as the participants turned out to be very engaged. As the results show, participants considered that there has been an information disorder during the Covid-19 pandemic and finding credible information had been a challenge. They also expect more transparency from decision-makers about how they form decisions during a crisis, such as lockdowns or movement restrictions. Participants argued more transparency and citizens involvement in decision-making would increase trust towards policy-makers on the local, national, and EU level.

Among the main challenges identified was the spread of disinformation. Policy recommendations formed by the participants highlighted the need to raise public awareness about fact-checking and increase the population’s critical thinking skills through education. For this, education must be free, independent, and accessible. Participants argued the EU should take a more proactive role in fighting disinformation, for example, by forming a commission composed of competent experts from each member state, who are responsible for verifying information. Furthermore, trainings and resources in fact-checking should be made available to journalists and the public.


I’m not surprised, we are well placed at Euradio to know what the fight against disinformation is about!

I’m sure you are! And you will not be surprised either to learn that citizens want their voices to be heard by decision-makers. However, our mini-publics also shared concerns about potential misuses of referendums. They suggested that the EU should provide clear guidelines for when referenda should be held, on what topics, how the questions should be formulated. Among the recommendations were that the EU should hold regular public polls on topics that are of EU-wide relevance, for example, education, climate change, health issues, immigration, which results should be made public and inform decision-makers.


Thank you very much, Rita Hornok, for sharing this original research with us. I recall you are Research Assistant at the Institute of European Studies at the Jagiellonian University, in Krakow.