Many people are excluded from decision-making processes and do not participate in public debates. Urban planner Nanke Verloo aims to reach and understand these groups, help them to have their voices heard and make local and national governance more inclusive for all.
In her research, Verloo studies urban conflicts between citizens and policymakers, such as conflicts about the use of public space, community activities or social identities. She regards conflicts as opportunities to gain insights: people mobilise and express themselves, governments formulate actions and have an opportunity to engage citizens who are invested in the cause. Conflicts can lead to change.
For policymakers, it can be difficult to use the contestations, activities and opinions of citizens in moments of conflict. In addition to giving a voice to citizens, Verloo aims to support policymakers in making use of the opinions of citizens when formulating policy responses and developing new policies.
Verloo analyses the stories that are told by different groups in times of conflict. How do people see and frame an issue and their position in it? How can these relatively small stories be turned into public stories and be included in the public debate? Verloo observes and detects the public dimensions in these stories.
‘Stories teach us about life. Stories teach us about others and ourselves. What worlds can we discover if we dive deeper into the hidden parts of the cities we inhabit? What can everyday stories tell us about larger social issues?’
She has developed training methods in which she combines role-playing activities, critical moment reflection and her training in non-violent communication to gain insights into inclusion and exclusion in decision-making processes. During reflection sessions with policymakers, she looks back on failed or successful policy processes and focuses on the critical moments in these processes. It is exactly at these moments that the relationships between groups change, with a direct impact on the sequence of events and the outcome of, for example, a participation process.
By looking at what actually happened at these critical moments, practitioners develop a vocabulary to discuss how small stories told by different stakeholders can be misunderstood or overlooked. Verloo also observes interactions between policymakers and citizens and helps both sides reflect on the more subjective forms of exclusion in these street-level interactions.
Verloo writes practical policy advice based on her cases, publishes on the website Sociale Vraagstukken (Social Issues), writes popular articles and papers, participates in public debates and disseminates her work through her website/company ‘Small Stories to rethink Large Issues’.