The Bridges Project 2015/16

Bringing top researchers and public intellectuals into a dialogue with high-level policy-makers and politicians to work through some of the most sensitive and complex policy dilemmas facing open societies in Europe.

New policy in an age of uncertainty

European policy-makers are dealing with increasing pressures to manage sensitive policy issues, consider rapidly changing opinions and re-connect with seemingly unpredictable publics.

Security concerns, the limits and meaning of citizenship and citizenship law, the crises that unfold daily on the borders of Europe, and a challenging economic climate all of these have conspired to create a particularly complex political moment for European nations and their allies.  Yet at time when policy-makers and politicians need to be able to plan long-term and creatively, as well as find effective ways of accounting for their actions to citizens who bear the brunt of these multiple crises, low levels of trust (on both sides) hinder their progress and undermine their capacity to deal with crises.

Decision-makers shy away from certain policy options for fear of falling foul of a public that can appear to be unpredictable, contradictory or ‘unpleasable’.  Citizens pull away from politicians and policy-makers as the latter appear to be increasingly ineffective and disconnected from national preferences and attitudes.  Our research suggests that policies fail, or are not undertaken because of this deep deeply harmful vicious circle: a lack of sound knowledge about how people think and come to hold opinions and make choices on the one hand. And a perception of, at best, inefficiency, and at worse cowardliness on the other.

How can citizens, politicians and policy-makers find new ways of trusting each other at this critical time? What tools could lay the foundations for a new political and social contract that holds policy-makers and politicians accountable, while allowing them the leeway to be entrepreneurial and effective? Counterpoint is keen to tackle these questions.

The Bridges Project, in partnership with the Open Society European Policy Institute, explores the dynamics of human choice, of collective thinking and sentiment and of political behaviour by bringing together ground-breaking researchers and intellectuals into a dialogue with high-level policy-makers and politicians.

Watch the Bridges Project in action at Schloss Elmau here

Our diagnosis is that these problems were manifest long before the crisis in Europe, and that their causes run deeper: policies fail because of a lack of sound knowledge about how people think and come to hold opinions and make choices.

The Bridges project has addressed policy issues related to transparency and accountability, xenophobia, extremism, climate change, lessons from the euro crisis, and long-term issues related to inequalities. But this year we are focusing on migration.We set an optimistic vision of how policy-making can respond more effectively to the challenges posed by the population movements with which European democracies must deal.  And we focus on re-invigorating the functioning of democratic institutions. Read about this our Bridges Project publication: “New expertise for policy in a world of uncertainty”

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This year we are focusing on migration, integration, diversity and related issues.

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. As a result, policy makers tend to be paralysed, fearful of the public’s reactions to any new initiative on migration. But public opinion is neither uniform nor static—nor are its dynamics well-understood.

How to talk about migration? In early December, we hosted a workshop on framing the migration discourse and changing public attitudes. Watch out for our case study coming up here.


See a number of insights from our retreat 2015 here:





Project news

Retreat 2016

Who is “we”? The Bridges Retreat 2016

The question of “who belongs”–and to what? Of who ‘we’ consider to be ‘one of us’–and what ‘us’?  poses itself in ever more urgent...


Models of the mind and de-radicalisation

Our understanding of how ‘radicalisation’ works – or indeed what it is, how it affects individuals and group is rooted in a number of...


Understanding public reactions to home-­grown terrorism – a one day event

Recent events in Paris and Copenhagen have reinforced the importance of understanding and responding to public reactions to home-grown terrorism. How is the public...


Strategic advice to manage new forms of cultural and social risks

Decoding cultures and making sense of context

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Interpreting public behaviour and emotions

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Crafting the right conversations

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News & events


After Paris: Cosmopolitix

“To the extent that risk is experienced as omnipresent, there are only three possible reactions: denial, apathy or transformation.  (…) The third is the...


Models of the mind and de-radicalisation

Our understanding of how ‘radicalisation’ works – or indeed what it is, how it affects individuals and group is rooted in a number of...

Corrie fans on the Manchester studio set, Sept. 2000

Small Worlds – Riffing off Peter Foster’s Facing Facts

Is Britain becoming a small nation? This is the question that Peter Foster, the Daily Telegraph’s new Europe Editor tries to answer in a...