In the last years, the decline in the abundance and diversity of European wild insect pollinators has drawn much scientific and public attention. The trend constitutes a dramatic issue for both biodiversity protection and food security due to the crucial role of pollination in the propagation of many plant species. To provide a framework for a coherent tackling of pollinators decline across the European Union, in 2018 the European Commission adopted the EU Pollinators Initiative, which has been revised in 2023 (COM(2023) 35) as A New Deal for Pollinators. This Communication set up an EU-wide framework for short- to long-term actions to reverse the decline and ultimately support the recovery of insects. The third priority of the Initiative focuses on ‘Mobilising the society and promoting strategic planning and cooperation at all levels’.
The Science and Technology for Pollinating Insects (STING) project is developed under the framework of the European Initiative on Pollinators, with one of its work packages focusing on exploring innovative forms of engaging different groups of citizens in addressing this issue using the principles of co-creation. In this context the Competence centre on participatory and Deliberative Democracy has coordinated a project for exploring and testing how to build capacity among young citizens on various aspects of pollinator conservation.
The overarching project
The main rationale for targeting youth is the realisation that the full impact of pollinator decline will be felt in the future. The solution, consequently, requires the empowerment of today’s youth to contribute to the development and implementation of actions to secure a better future, as well as their engagement in current decision making processes. At the same time, through initiatives like Fridays for Future, young citizens have shown their determination to play and active part in environmental debates and decision making, yet to be fully involved they need knowledge and skills they sometimes lack.
As part of this project, three young experts, who were already members of youth organisations engaged in environmental activities, were contracted to design and implement a series of capacity building workshops. Each process had a specific focus, which was developed in close collaboration with each individual expert, taking into consideration their profile, interest and capacities. As a result, the three projects focused, distinctively, on support for youth advocacy actions, youth participation in citizen science, and training beekeepers to become wild pollinator ambassadors. In each case, the ultimate aim of the capacity building workshop was to equip participants with knowledge, skills and understanding of pollinators’ decline and conservation as well as methods of citizen engagement so as to enable them to carry out their own activities.
While the focus and aims of each of the three projects differed, there were also some overarching aspects. In methodological terms, all three projects provided a peer-to-peer learning environment, focused on interactive methods and left much space for the participants to bring in their own knowledge and skills. Particularly the last aspect was important, as the workshops were to avoid the top-down educational and awareness-raising approaches and work under the frame of co-creation. In practice this meant that to the largest extent possible the participants were bringing their own knowledge and skills. Finally, it was important to find close connections between the focus on pollinators protection and the already existing meaningful attachments or activities of the participants.
The Spreading Pollen project provided capacity building trainings for youth focused on developing skills and knowledge in environmental advocacy and community engagement. Within this project two online workshops were offered. The first aimed at empowering youth to become pollinator ambassadors within their own communities through training in methods for strategic thinking, project development and mobilising community action. The second training focused more specifically on environmental advocacy, i.e., the ways that young people can influence decision making processes. Both courses also equipped participants with the necessary knowledge on pollinators and their decline, introduced key policy frameworks, presented real-life case studies and aimed to initiate a network of young citizens interested in pollinators’ conservation, which could provide its members with an ongoing support for their future work. Both trainings took place online, allowing to test multiple digital tools and resources.
The Pollinator Palette project aimed to address the problem of the diminishing number of experts in insect taxonomy. The project consisted of several workshops offering capacity building in the areas of taxonomic knowledge and skills required by citizen scientists. Young people were targeted specifically as the average age of expert taxonomists is very high, and consequently there is a need to promote this interest – and possibly even a career path – among youth. The workshops focused in particular on overlooked and underrated groups of pollinators, i.e. non-honeybee pollinators. Their content consisted of theoretical and practical instructions in identification of insects, the ecology of selected species and guidelines for specimen collection. In as much as possible, the already existing knowledge of the young participants was brought in. The scientific dimension of training was complemented with the more personal one, which explored the connections participants already have with insects in terms of meanings, attitudes and attachments. Discussions also included ways for youth to get involved in species conservation, citizen science and advocacy. Throughout the workshops, the underlying strategy was to connect the topic of pollinator conservation to the everyday life of participants and their already existing interests, thus making it more accessible and relatable. Overall five workshops were carried out in three countries (Germany, Slovenia, Spain), which made it possible to pilot the methods across different local contexts, collaborators and audiences.
Pollinating Projects focused on equipping local youth organisations and beekeepers with additional knowledge and skills on pollinator conservation in order to build their capacity at both organisational and individual level in engaging their constituency in the promotion of pollinator conservation. Beekeepers were targeted based on the fact that honeybees face many of the same problems as wild pollinators – given this similarity beekeepers could become ambassadors also for wild species. However, as they often focus exclusively on honeybees, beekeepers needed to be sensitized to the issue, provided with additional knowledge and trained in citizen engagement methods. Youth organisations were targeted as they are often very active and successful in reaching out to wide publics; however, pollinator conservation remains for them a niche topic. Thus, the objectives of the project were to: a) build capacity among beekeepers and youth organisations to engage citizens by training them in methods and approaches through hands-on demonstrations; b) develop possible local interventions; c) increase the knowledge on pollinators and their decline as well as structure the existing knowledge already held by the participants. Overall ten on-site workshops were carried out across Austria, Slovenia, Italy and Croatia, with at least one youth and one beekeeper workshop per country. One online workshop was also carried out, which was open to beekeepers as well as to citizens with interest in beekeeping from all EU countries. Carrying out workshops in several countries allowed for the engagement with different beekeeping and youth cultures and so the collection of very diverse observations and better understanding of the conditions under which the designed activities can be successful.
When and Where
- The EU Pollinators Initiative, especially the 3rd priority on the engagement of the society-at-large: https://environment.ec.europa.eu/topics/nature-and-biodiversity/pollinators_en
- Nature Restoration Law includes a legally binding target on reversing the decline of pollinators: https://environment.ec.europa.eu/topics/nature-and-biodiversity/nature-restoration-law_en
- Local context is extremely important and differs substantially between countries and even regions, both in terms of pollinators status and youth participation, hence participatory processes need to be very well locally embedded. For large scale projects this can include a local expert or reference person.
- For projects where large policymaking institution (like the Commission) collaborates with young experts, youth organisations or young people more generally, power relations need to be very carefully considered. Additional support likely needs to be offered to young people not on the content of the projects (necessary knowledge, skills in project management, development of ideas, communication) but with respect to formal issues, like administrative procedures or contracting.
- Projects aiming to have a multiplier effect should reserve time and financial resources to follow-up with the participants and support their initial steps in implementing developed ideas.
- Even projects that have a strong educational component should not treat participants as passive recipients for information and should instead leave a lot of space for identifying, recognizing and bringing in the already existing knowledge of participants.