What is DISI?
Mapping social divisions
In times of disruption, citizens retrench to their own social group and tend to emphasise identity differences. This leads to misunderstanding and further polarization. We map such social division, identity polarizing labels and discover identity characteristics that bring people together. As a graduated nationalism expert from the University of Edinburgh, Luuc has experience in researching the dynamics of group identities and why people feel divided or connected as a result of these identities. Read his chapter in Political Science and Changing Politics and check out our session at the Innocracy conference.
Analyzing trust dynamics
Trust is the glue that holds our societies together. We need some degree of trust in government, institutions and each other to function and find agreements on controversial issues. Problematically, recent trust barometers show historically low numbers. To understand and counter distrust, we first need to know how trust dynamics work in a specific context. As an academic researcher at the University of Amsterdam, Larissa analyses trust developments in negotiation settings, on the crossroads of social psychology and politics.
Responsive policy design
Policy changes, disconnected from the public, risk causing a high degree of uncertainty, face low acceptance and severe dissatisfaction in society. We see that mainstream public participation programmes are not effective. What is needed is a real rapprochement between the government and the governed. DISI created an innovative five-step process for policy design that involves agile, educational and mediative elements. We provide guidelines and helpful correctives to overcome social divisions. They are case-proven and academically published, as in Anatol's article in the Harvard-based Negotiation Journal.
Understanding the others’ point of view starts with talking about it in an accessible way. Podcasts are an excellent tool to start a conversation between different groups, reaching a broad audience and thus having a big impact. By organising so-called ‘neighbourhood radio’ we facilitate the production of a series of podcasts about (social, economic, public) issues in a certain neighbourhood. Discussions between community groups takes central stage while recording. Publishing these podcasts online enables us to extend public outreach to a wider audience. DISI’s qualifications are grounded in Luuc’s extensive experience producing podcasts for Radio Swammerdam.
States, regions and neighbourhoods are increasingly segregated into smaller ‘bubbles’. These fault lines make it more and more difficult to create effective policies and tackle pressing issues. DISI works with a #reconnectingpeople approach, to dampen the shock of potential societal changes, breaking bubbles and facilitating encounters in a safe environment. Accordingly, Anatol helped reducing the impasse and polarization surrounding Germany’s energy transition. He contributed to connecting more than twenty distrusting and fragmented stakeholders that now work together collaboratively towards a functioning future energy system.
We are not pretending that we can simply ‘build’ trust. However, we are convinced that we can create awareness about the distrust – and trust – that exists in a certain environment. Through workshops and role playing with concerned stakeholders, we can find out where trust exists and where it doesn't exist: trust between citizens might be strong, while trust in the local government may be lacking. In our trust workshops, participants learn to recognize and understand dynamics of trust and distrust. Larissa’s expertise about this topic is grounded in her academic research, just as is Anatol’s practical experience reconnecting local communities and government to build trust during the UN’s climate conference in Bonn.
Dr Anatol Itten completed a PhD at the University of Lucerne on public conflict resolution. He was a research fellow at the Public Mediation Program at the University of Amsterdam and worked at the German Ministry for the Environment for the UN Climate Conference. In addition, Anatol has more than eight years of professional experience in public policy advocacy. His work has been published in international peer-reviewed journals and books. Anatol’s focal points at DISI are resolving public conflicts, strategies to tackle democratic disconnection and improving civic participation in times of social division.
Larissa Versloot, MSc. is a political scientist, communication scientist and historian. Her area of expertise lies in International Relations, which is the main focus of her current work at the University of Copenhagen, and previously also at the University of Amsterdam and Leiden University. Currently she is doing PhD research on trust practices in international negotiations, which was in part inspired by her previous work experience at the United Nations in New York. At DISI, Larissa specializes in the changing character of trust and distrust. In particular, she focuses on (dis-)trust interaction between individuals, groups and (democratic) institutions.
Luuc Brans, MSc. is a political sociologist working as a lecturer in Political Science at the University of Amsterdam. Specialized in nationalism in times of political upheaval, he is currently starting his PhD on the topic of German national identity after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In addition, Luuc produces podcasts on academic research and current affairs, to make the fruits of academic research available to a wider audience. Luuc’s work at DISI is targeted at the relation between identity and social inclusion and the creative dissemination of research results through podcasting and other platforms.
Pictures by Jacob & Alex