'Level Up' to reconnect European society for a higher level of democracy
Level Up is a non-profit project led by a multi-disciplinary team of doctoral researchers in the framework of the Europaeum Network was founded by the University of Oxford University. Sophie Vériter explains the importance of Level Up, the development of the ‘Level Up Toolkit’, why this project is founded and how students can interact.
What is the purpose and mission?
Sophie: 'Our core mission is to reconnect European society for a higher level of democracy. Building on one year of research, we have developed a unique democratic participation model based on gamification. It can be used for joint decision-making and public consultation processes, improving mutual trust, policy effectiveness, and inclusive communication. We hope to contribute to participatory democracy, social justice, and civic awareness by using research-based methods of engagement that optimize policies for long-term benefits.'
Who founded Level Up?
Sophie: 'Our team of nine doctoral researchers from the Europaeum Scholars Programme was put together based on our shared interest to enhance democracy in Europe:
- Sašo Gorjanc, University of St Andrews
- Johanna Jaschik, University of Luxembourg
- Iris Jugo Nuñez-Hoyo, Universidad Complutense de Madrid
- Marie Martine, Oxford University
- Jens Meijen, KU Leuven
- Toine Paulissen, KU Leuven
- Savannah-Rivka Powell, University of Tartu
- Lena Riecke, Leiden University
- Sophie Vériter, Leiden University'
'Whilst we firmly believe democracy is the best form of governance there is to support freedom, peace, and prosperity, we also are convinced that democracy as it is today is not cutting it. We urgently need new means of participation that are adapted to contemporary society.' - Sophie Vériter
Why did you and the other researchers found Level Up?
Sophie: 'Our journey started from dissatisfaction with existing means of democratic engagement in Europe. Being privileged enough to meet with high-level decision-makers such as politicians, CEOs, and institutional leaders, we were shocked to see how disconnected they seemed from the reality of Europeans' everyday life. In parallel, we realised that most members of the public and communities were disillusioned with politics and struggled to make their voices heard.
Whilst we firmly believe democracy is the best form of governance there is to support freedom, peace, and prosperity, we also are convinced that democracy as it is today is not cutting it. We urgently need new means of participation that are adapted to contemporary society. This is the reason why we decided to create Level Up, to make democracy fun and inclusive.
In September 2023, our project will be assessed by a jury and compete against three other teams for a prize.'
Why did you feel the need for a collaboration with other universities on this topic?
Sophie: 'As part of the Europaeum Scholars Programme, we have learned to embrace multi-disciplinarity and cognitive diversity as sources of incredible creativity and innovation. To tackle such a vast subject as democracy in Europe, it was essential for us to collaborate and harness the variety of our skills and experiences. It is also very important for our team to gather and represent diverse viewpoints and perspectives, hence why we consider our international background to be a big asset.'
What is the ‘toolkit’ and for whom did you designed this?
Sophie: 'The Level Up Toolkit is our original democratic participation model. We developed it over one year of research and we are currently implementing it in pilot projects across Europe. Our Toolkit can be used at various levels (e.g. local, regional, international) to connect policy-makers and the public through joint decision-making and public consultation processes. For each use, our team designs a custom-made process emphasizing (1) gamification, (2) physical encounters, and (3) equity of understanding.
Structurally, we see potential for our model to be integrated into European democratic participation frameworks such as the next Conference on the Future of Europe and the new Citizens’ Panel proposed in a report commissioned by the European Parliament, whose author is on our Advisory Board.'
How can students interact with Level Up and why should they?
Sophie: 'Students who struggle to have a say in existing policies (it could be government policies or university policies, for example) can get in touch with us to use the Level Up Toolkit. In a world with deepening inequalities, digitalisation of social life, and rising global challenges, it’s increasingly hard to make our voices heard. Students may feel like decision-makers don’t speak the same language, don’t exist in the same spaces, or seem to live a different reality. Level Up provides a tailor-made solution to their needs. Our approach creates a level playing field for all actors involved, so that policy-makers and stakeholders strive to understand and listen to students as much as they do.
Students, and others, who support our mission or who are curious to know more about our project can visit our website and follow us on social media.'