What is Bridges?

Europe is undoubtedly going through extremely turbulent times. Security concerns, experiences of inequality, the rapid advances in technology and automation, the limits and meaning of citizenship, the crises that unfold daily on the borders and a challenging economic climate have conspired to create a particularly complex political and social moment for European nations and their allies.

Yet, at a time when policy-makers and politicians need to be able to plan creatively and for the long-term and to respond effectively to citizens’ growing concerns, low levels of trust on both sides hinder their progress. Decision-makers shy away from certain progressive policy options for fear of falling foul of a public that can appear unpredictable, contradictory or ‘unpleasable’.  Citizens pull away from politicians and policy-makers as the latter appear to be increasingly ineffective and disconnected from peoples’ preferences and attitudes.

A new political landscape needs new kinds of conversations that can help us think differently about politics and policy. Watch our short film to see how using different ‘lenses’ can shed light on crucial policy issues and shape innovative solutions to tackle deep political uncertainty.

Watch our latest Bridges film to find out more.

Goals and mission

The Bridges Project, a collaboration between Counterpoint and the Open Society European Policy Institute, explores the hidden drivers of key policy dilemmas and brings vital insights from research across many disciplines to the attention of European policy-makers and politicians.

Our team

Catherine Fieschi, Founder and Executive Director, Counterpoint

Catherine Fieschi is Counterpoint’s Founder and Executive Director. As a political scientist, Catherine believes that rigorous social and cultural analysis can help leaders make better decisions, in both the public and private sectors.

Read more

She advises business and political leaders around the world and serves regularly on government task-forces. Her organisation, Counterpoint, does this through a variety of different formats and events, such as workshops, roundtable conversations, publications and retreats.

Kristina Kazmi, Director for Research, Counterpoint

Kristina Kazmi is Director for Research at Counterpoint, overseeing the production of all publications, reports and briefings. 

Read more

Prior to this, she spent seven years with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, initially in the Policy Planning Department and then as a Senior Research Analyst covering Southeast Asia. During this time, she was also a core member of the London Crisis Response Team, assisting the British Government in responding to several high-profile international crises in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

She was subsequently posted to the British Embassy in Rangoon, where she worked on the peace process between the government and ethnic armed groups and the conflict in Rakhine State. She also served as the Embassy’s spokesperson and press officer.

Kristina is a highly experienced researcher and political risk analyst, and has advised government and business on managing risks and uncertainty in challenging environments. She holds a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from the University of Oxford and a Masters in International Security Studies from the University of St Andrews. She speaks English, German, French and Burmese.

Heather Grabbe, Director, Open Society European Policy Institute

Heather Grabbe, as both the director of the Open Society European Policy Institute and director of EU affairs, works to ensure that open society values are at the heart of EU policies and actions.

Read more

From 2004 to 2009 she was senior advisor to then European Commissioner for Enlargement Olli Rehn, responsible in his cabinet for the Balkans and Turkey. Before joining the commission, she was deputy director of the Centre for European Reform, the London-based think tank, where she published widely on EU enlargement and other European issues. Her writing has appeared in the Financial Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and The Guardian, among others.

Her academic career includes teaching at the London School of Economics, and research at Oxford and Birmingham universities, the Royal Institute for International Affairs (Chatham House, London), and the European University Institute (Florence). Heather has a PhD from Birmingham University and a BA and MA from Oxford University. She speaks French, Italian, and German.

Annalisa Buscaini, Advocacy Program Specialist

Annalisa Buscaini supports the development and coordination of the Open Society European Policy Institute’s research agenda, and coordinates the implementation of the Bridges Project.

Read more

Annalisa previously worked for the European Commission, the European Programme for Integration and Migration (a collaborative funding initiative of the Network of European Foundations), and UNHCR’s office in Brussels.

She has an MA in European studies from the Université Libre de Bruxelles, with a specialization in EU asylum and migration policies, and a BA in political science and international relations from the University of Rome Sapienza. Annalisa is fluent in English, French, and Italian, and has been studying Arabic for several years.

About Counterpoint and the Open Society European Policy Institute

Counterpoint is a research and advisory group that focuses on the social and cultural dynamics that drive politics and markets. Based in London, Counterpoint provides NGOs, businesses and governments with strategic insights on the new landscapes of risk and uncertainty.

The Open Society European Policy Institute – OSEPI – works to influence and inform decision-making on EU laws, policy and funding to ensure that open society values lie at the heart of what the EU does, both inside and outside its borders. OSEPI is part of the Open Society Foundations and is based in Brussels.

Our thematic focus

2018

The Bridges Project 2018: How is the digital transformation changing politics?

The overall aim of this phase of the Bridges Project is to explore how the effects of the digital transformation are changing politics and affecting open societies. The effects are double: digital tools are altering people’s expectations of politics, whilst digital politics are also posing challenges to societies’ continued openness and citizen capacity for tolerance. Furthermore, the political regulation of the digital space is a major source of complexity.

The project will explore how digital tools act as behaviour modification mechanisms: how they change the way people think, consume, make decisions, speak and interact with others, not just online, but also offline. Are the developments to which we are witness the direct result of the digital transformation, or is digital merely a catalyst and accelerator for existing behaviour? Do we need new tools and a new vocabulary to describe accurately the changes our society is undergoing and counteract their negative effects? And finally, how might we understand the new forms of links between the individual and collectives?

Questions that are of relevance to policy-makers, and which the project seeks to address through a multi-disciplinary perspective, include: How do public institutions ensure that people remain critical when they are online? Why do people freely give away their data, and are they becoming addicted to the forms of seamless interaction offered online? How do public institutions ensure that people stay safe online and do not exploit anonymity to spread lies or rumours? Importantly, how do they do this without encroaching on free speech?

Understanding how human behaviour is shaped and how one might answer these questions are necessary precursors to identifying what might benefit from regulation and in what ways, as well as the methods that can create resilience to propaganda or conspiracy theories. 

The Bridges method will bring together leading experts and researchers from a range of academic disciplines with policy-makers and politicians to explore the impact of digital transformations on human behaviour and therefore on politics in Europe. The aim is to raise awareness of these issues amongst decision-makers and to begin to explore possible policy responses.

Our next Bridges Project Retreat will be held in November 2018.

2018

January 2018: Tentacles of Circumstance - the political consequences of inequality

Our new publication is a collection of essays drawn from a seminar we held in Paris in September 2017.  We brought together historians, psychologists, sociologists, philosophers and economists to examine the multi-faceted nature of inequality and its experience and the manner in which these were seized upon by various political actors.  Click here to download the publication.

2018

January 2018: A Bridges workshop on the digital transformation and inequality: technology, institutions and the redistribution of agency

Earlier this month, Counterpoint and OSEPI convened a workshop in Berlin with a select group of policymakers from across Europe to consider and debate the ways in which the digital transformation is shaping and fuelling inequality in our societies. But the discussion went much further than this, as we examined what the psychological and sociological aspects of the digital transformation could look like in future, and how these would change human beings, as citizens and members of a society in a democratic political framework. We exchanged views on how citizens will connect with one another, and what they will expect of their politicians and the democratic institutions that govern them. Our workshop ended with a fascinating exploration of how public institutions and governments will need to change in order to meet these expectations and the many resulting challenges brought about by the digital revolution. 

2017

September 2017: Degrees of separation - expert seminar on understanding the relationship between economic and cultural aspects of inequality

The issue of inequality is dominating discussions about the causes of the current spike in support for populist parties. Political discussions of inequality tend to focus either on forms of economic inequality or feelings of social and cultural irrelevance – but neglect to explore the interplay between the two. Policy-makers tend to hear either explanations about money (income and wealth inequality) or explanations about culture (people from the middle and lower-middle classes feeling marginalised in their own countries and culturally irrelevant). As a result, the debate is reduced to choosing one or the other explanation.

The results are ineffective policy responses and a political climate that discourages the pursuit of progressive policy options that would tackle both issues. Even worse, populist parties are able to instrumentalise the issue of inequality because the economic and social experiences are usually separated in the political debate. They have successfully fused responses to economic inequality and cultural inequality in their political rhetoric, blaming migration for falling wages, job losses and also cultural change.

Expertise and research on both sets of issues are the only means of making sense of the interdependence between the dynamics and forms of inequality. Analysis of how they affect one another is vital to understanding this layered experience and how it fuels political narratives that claim a zero-sum competition between natives and non-natives.

We held an expert seminar that explored the relationship between economic inequality and perceptions of social and cultural marginalisation. We brought together experts from a range of scientific disciplines (from psychology and sociology to political science and economics) in order to better understand the links. 

2017

The Bridges Project 2017: Focus on inequality

This year, we are focusing on exploring the relationship between economic inequality and perceptions of social and cultural marginalisation.

In the context of recent elections in France, the Netherlands and Germany, the issue of inequality permeates many political discussions across Western Europe. Recent polls suggest that those who feel most disadvantaged are no longer turning to their traditional champions on the centre-left. Populist parties on both the extreme left and right are now perceived as stronger advocates for the redress of inequality, thereby capturing votes and blurring the traditional left/right lines.

Political discussions of inequality tend to focus either on forms of economic inequality or feelings of social and cultural irrelevance – but neglect to explore the interplay between the two. Policy-makers tend to hear either explanations about money (income and wealth inequality) or explanations about culture (people from the middle and lower-middle classes feeling marginalised in their own countries and culturally irrelevant). As a result, the debate is reduced to choosing one or the other explanation.

This year, we are bringing together experts from a range of scientific disciplines (from psychology and sociology to political science and economics) in order to better understand the links between those two forms of inequality. We will distil these findings and take them back into a round-table with European politicians and policy-makers to shift the debate and create space to explore new kinds of policies. We will harvest our analysis in an edited collection later this year.

2017

January 2017: An interview with Stephen Boucher on political creativity

The Bridges team spoke to Stephen Boucher, former program director at the European Climate Foundation and a longstanding member of our Bridges network. Stephen is about to publish a new book on creativity and politics and we were keen to find out more about this. Read our Interview with Stephen Boucher

2016

The Bridges Project 2015/2016: Focus on migration, integration, diversity

The debate on migration is dominated by alarmist polls and headlines: public opinion is perceived as hostile and resistant to the very idea of migration and integration. As a result, policy-makers tend to be paralysed, fearful of the public’s reactions to any new initiative in this field. But public opinion is neither uniform nor static—nor are its dynamics well-understood. This year the Bridges Project focuses on migration, integration and diversity and explores how policy-making can respond more effectively to the challenges European democracies are confronted with.

2016

December 2016: Our Bridges Film is here!

2016 will be remembered as a political turning point for Western democracies: Brexit further shattered a fragile Europe and Trump’s unlikely rise to power began to re-write the US’s role in the world. A new political landscape needs new kinds of conversations that can help us think differently about politics and policy. Watch our new short film to see how using different ‘lenses’ can shed light on crucial policy issues and shape new solutions to tackle deep political uncertainty.