Imagining the future of a village together with citizens
by Christophe Gouache

How can you build and plan the future development of a village if you don’t involve citizens in the process? How can you ensure that what is planned also fits with the inhabitants’ desires and needs? How can you give voice to those we rarely hear and meet? How to go beyond the usual suspects?

Aware of these challenges, the city of Marcoussis in France has designed a process that relies on a multitude of methods for participatory agenda setting (of their Agenda 21). Following a creative approach, the city of Marcoussis has successfully set – and voted –, after a 2 years long process, their local agenda for the future together with its inhabitants, civil servants and elected officials. Marcoussis has engaged around 600 people (out of a population of 8000) in 25 events, using very diverse methods and techniques (forum-theatre, philosophy talks, market of ideas for the future, collective distillation) and setting the process in unusual and non-administrative contexts (entering into schools, hacking the local Wheat Festival) to touch a very diverse set of citizens and contributions.

Strategic Design Scenarios was called upon towards the end of the process to distillate everything that was produced during 2 years. We developed, together with the city civil servants and elected officials, 3 activities :

  • A large market of ideas for the future
  • A distillation process
  • A participatory short film

The Market of Ideas for the Future took place during the Fête du Blé (Wheat Festival) as a way to catch the attention of unusual suspects. People came to see tractors and talk about agriculture while drinking beers and enjoying their time in a convivial and family event. Unexpectedly, the Market of Ideas was welcoming people at the entrance of the Festival in order to capture visitors at random and invite them to enter the Market. Visitors then received 200 Marcoussous, a fictionnal local complementary currency, which would allow them to “buy” the ideas which for them were the most crucial, important, key for the future in Marcoussis. Ideas were touching all domains: social, cultural, economy, environmental, education, etc. Citizens were then invited to browse the 107 ideas and make their choice… but their budget wasn’t unlimited… and like any elected official they needed to arbitrate and take decisions as the 107 ideas can’t all be implemented anyway. What shall be the priorities? This was, in the end, the questiona asked to the citizens.

Setting up the Market during a fair allowed touching over a hundred citizens who had absolutely no link or relation to the Agenda 21, from elderly people to youngsters, from parents and kids to single persons, etc. from very heterogeneous social backgrounds. Elected officials played their role and were standing behind the Ideas stalls, presenting the ideas and welcoming the citizens. After the market, key and most chosen ideas came out. A local group of stakeholders including the elected officials but also civil servants and local NGOs also made their choices to complement the one made by citizens (even though their voices were equal to the ones of citizens, 1 to 1). The distillation process allowed the building of a vision with key strategic pillars setting the base for the new Agenda 21 plan.

In order to share the vision, it has been decided to turn some of the key elements into a narrative in the form of a short film. Keeping the participatory principle, the script of the film was co-written between the mayor himself, his team of civil servants and us and the actors were chosen from volunteer citizens. The film was shot in one weekend with the participation of a dozen citizens. Even elected officials accepted to play some small roles in the film. The film was then showed during the Strawberry festival (Fête de la Fraise) at the municipal cinema. During the French Public Innovation Week, the film was displayed every night in place of the ads before the films as a way to spread it to a wider range of citizens.

Marcoussis 2038 case is inspiring not only by its scale and limited resources but because of its originality in the way it has built its participatory agenda setting and foresight process. Backed up with a strong political will and “faith” in democracy and participation, a motivated group of civil servants and elected officials, Marcoussis has been able to set up an original citizen-based process following an experimental logic and pragmatic approach, building upon the agility of the city’s administration to seize opportunities as they occur.

To watch the short film :

Partners :

Ville de Marcoussis

Links :

To find more about Marcoussis’ Agenda 21 :