The Bridges Project

Through The Bridges Project, Counterpoint and the Open Society Foundations are bringing top researchers and intellectuals into a dialogue with receptive policy-makers, politicians and activists to work through some of the most sensitive and complex policy dilemmas facing open societies in Europe.

How can voters, politicians and policy-makers find new ways of trusting each other to address our societies’ most complex issues? What tools can help us craft a new political and social contract? Read about this in the latest of our Bridges Project publications.

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 addresses policy issues related to transparency and accountability, xenophobia, climate change, lessons from the euro crisis, and long-term issues related to inequalities.

It sets out an optimistic vision of how policy-making can respond more effectively to the challenges that underlie the growth of populism and re-invigorate the functioning of democratic institutions.

New expertise for policy in a world of uncertainty

Catherine Fieschi, Director, Counterpoint
Heather Grabbe, Director, Open Society European Policy Institute

The economic and political crisis in Europe presents huge challenges to public policy at every level of government. Policy-makers are struggling to respond to the dual test of budget cuts and angry publics. Their range of policy options is narrowing as politics turns ugly in many parts of Europe. Populists claim that self-serving elites and immigrants are responsible for the suffering caused by austerity, making it harder to maintain policies that support social cohesion. The rise in support for populist politics (particularly xenophobic populism) in turn undermines the values of open and tolerant societies, as well as the capacity and effectiveness of their institutions to protect the weakest and most vulnerable members of those societies.

The Open Society European Policy Institute and Counterpoint have teamed up to find new ways to preserve open societies in Europe that are suffering from the political fall-out of the crisis. We have collaborated on a series of studies on the nature and extent of populist influence in 12 EU countries and in the European Parliament. We are now embarking on the Bridges Project, an ambitious effort to improve policy responses to the crisis and safeguard the institutions and policies protecting core values such as tolerance, justice, pluralism and inclusivity.

Our starting-point is to draw out new insights from recent research from a variety of academic disciplines that, although having direct policy applications, have not generally been applied to policy making. Policy-makers tend to listen to economists and statisticians for advice, but they rarely benefit from research in disciplines such as neuroscience, psychoanalysis, anthropology or architecture. The project aims to foster a deeper understanding of the ‘hidden wiring’ of the European crisis in terms of how citizens feel and behave. The ultimate objective of the project is to bridge the gap between new insights from the social and behavioural sciences and policy-making, which would enable policy-makers to respond more effectively to the public’s demands.

This essay sketches out the new battlegrounds for politics and policy. It takes recent populist surges as a sign of much deeper shifts in the tectonic plates underlying European politics. Populist politics is characterised by anxiety, pessimism, cynicism and anger at the seeming exhaustion of democratic institutions at a time of radical uncertainty. The renewed strength of populism shows how deep shifts relating to globalisation are being experienced by the public. Our aim is to encourage those in power to use these insights to formulate more effective responses to the challenges underpinning the growth of populism and, by doing so, re-invigorate the functioning of democratic institutions.

To continue reading please see our brochure.

Project news


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The Bridges Project: New expertise for policy in an age of uncertainty

Read our most recent publication from the Bridges Project


Strategic advice to manage new forms of cultural and social risks

Decoding cultures and making sense of context

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Interpreting behaviour and emotions

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Designing relationships and crafting narratives

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News & events


Bridges Retreat 2015

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