How does a Science Shop work?

Science Shops are highly diverse in respect to organisational structure, focus and funding. Often, but not always, they are linked to or based in universities, where research is done by students as part of their curriculum – under the supervision of the Science Shop and other associated (university) staff. Science Shops are mediators between citizens or civil society organizations (CSOs) and research institutions. Physically they are access points for civil society in cases of problems and research requests (see graphic). These questions from CSOs are rephrased to scientific research projects. Students, under supervision of a professor then perform the research, or a researcher does it. Students usually obtain credit points for their research. The research usually leads to a report (or another type of product) which is made to be of use to the client. The student will have gained valuable skills (joint problem definition, project based working, communicating, planning). The professor and/or the researcher will have case material for either future publication or further theoretical analysis. Moreover, for the professor involved this supervision is part of the teaching obligation. So, in fact all actors are doing what they are supposed to do: teaching, learning and researching. This is why a Science Shop can be implemented at relatively low additional costs and why Science Shops can also serve the non-profit sector.

Science Shop staff usually performs the following tasks:

  1. Receive/solicit clients and (new) societally relevant questions
  2. Map the problem (articulation)
  3. Preliminary research: Refer, Refuse, Advice or Formulate (scientific) research question (and funds if required)
  4. Find a (co-) supervisor
  5. Find a student or researcher
  6. Maintain communication and process, from start to finish of research
  7. Facilitate useable presentation/publication of results
  8. Support client in implementing results and recommendations
  9. Make inventory of follow-up research or research-themes
  10. Evaluation (with student, supervisor and client)

However, many Science Shops and initiatives – such as community-based research centres – not linked to universities are similar to university based Science Shops and do the same type of work. Despite their different names and differences in operation and organisation, basic principles and goals are comparable. Through this type of extension and support activity, Science Shops attempt to create access to science, knowledge and technology for social groupings that would not or could not ordinarily interact with these disciplines.