7. Science Shops and policy makers


7. Science Shops and policy makers

What does the European Commission do to support Science Shops?

The European Commission (EC), which initiates and implements EU policies and spends EU funds, has been an important factor behind the international interest and progress of the Science Shop movement. The EC has financed two studies on Science Shops and various projects e. g. to strengthen public engagement in research by involving researchers and civil society organisations (CSOs), to enhance Resposible Research an Innovation. See projects

How can Science Shops support the role of NGOs in societal governance?

NGOs are a part of governance in society; they give voice to citizen concerns and act as early warning systems for emergent problems in society. According to the White Paper on European Governance (COM, 2001/428) NGOs act to mobilise people and support, for instance, those suffering from social exclusion and discrimination and thereby put pressure on statutory authorities, institutional bodies and companies to take action. NGOs also themselves deliver services and solutions e.g. in providing welfare and in developing and promoting sustainable solutions to environmental problems.

The EC has also addressed the innovative role of civil society organisations in the discussions about science and society: “The involvement of patients’ associations, transport user groups or consumer organisations in defining and monitoring research activities and programmes brings research and society together and helps to ensure that results match need”. (SEC, 2000; pages 8f)

Science Shops can help bridge the structural, cultural and economic divide between science and civil society:

  • The structural divide – through providing access to “research capacity” for NGOs and access to the community for students and researchers.
  • The cultural divide – through user-oriented techniques which emphasise participatory dialogue and methods.
  • The economic divide – through providing research at little or no cost conducted by researchers and/or by students.
  • The EC project Interacts gives an extended overview of the the interactions between NGOs, universities and Science Shops.

How can Science Shops help make the research agenda more responsive to the needs and demands of civil society?

Scientific knowledge has created enormous gains for society and is seen as the key to economic development and international competitiveness. Yet industrial and commercial development has also given rise to massive social and environmental problems. The resolution of problems, such as environmental threats, or the evaluation of the impact of new technologies such as information technology and biotechnology requires further scientific knowledge and political and economic decisions. The scientific knowledge needed in problem solving is not neutral, but contested and negotiated within political frameworks. Further, economic and organisational resources for research and development are unequally distributed at the national and international level. Businesses and governmental authorities and institutions have more resources and easier access to and influence on research facilities than NGOs and citizen groups such as consumer organisations, environmental organisations, trade unions, social welfare organisations etc.

The growth of the knowledge economy and society creates pressure for universities to become more closely involved in civil society. The university can increasingly become a forum of reflection, as well as of debate and dialogue between scientists and people. Science Shops were found to provide a strategy for giving small and medium NGOs access to research capacity, which allowed them to influence the research agenda at the universities (and through this the wider societal agenda). In turn, Science Shop projects developed the perception of the NGOs about what is researchable through science and what are the potentials and limits of research.

By accumulating projects across different NGOs and over time, Science Shops can act as a knowledge repository, where knowledge about a certain topic is gradually built from project to project. In this way, the otherwise individual focus of small-scale research or student-conducted projects can be moved forward from what might otherwise be a project with limited scientific value.

Information can be found in the policy briefs of the PERARES project as well as the Engage2020 project.

How can Science Shops contribute to regional development?

European policy for the European Research Area (COM, 2001/549 and COM, 2002/565) places a particular emphasis on regions as drivers of research and innovation capacity and economic and technological development: “…regions are important because they form the spatial basis of groupings of research and innovation operators which have come to be known as “clusters”, often considered as the main drivers of regional development. Clusters are formed by groups of innovative enterprises, academic and research institutions, local development agencies and/or other supporting organisations. (…) In its most successful expression, clustering combines industry, government and nongovernmental organisations, together with a number of knowledge-specific players (universities, research centres, science and technology parks and technopoles, innovation agencies acting like service, competence and diffusion centres)”. (COM, 2001/549, page 8 )

Research on the impact of Science Shop projects in the SCIPAS project has shown examples of impact at regional and national level, where a Science Shop has coordinated the knowledge from a number of smaller projects and organised a dialogue among different stakeholders like NGOs, researchers, national authorities etc. (Hende & Jørgensen, SCIPAS report 6). The SCIPAS project (report no. 2) also showed that Science Shops in the Netherlands have a role in sharing and applying knowledge at regional and national levels. While most Science Shops make a contribution to the understanding and solution of issues at the local level, the existence of a coordinating network of Science Shops in the Netherlands is important for sharing information, for supporting the mediation activity of individual Science Shops, and for raising the visibility of Science Shops in regional and national policy.

The EC project Interacts gives an extended overview of interactions between NGOs, universities and Science Shops.

What is the advantage to university management of Science Shops?

The INTERACTS case study reports show that Science Shops can contribute to the role and the tasks of the universities in different ways. Science Shop projects and co-operation with civil society can have strategic benefits for universities – through an impact on curricula at postgraduate and undergraduate level e.g. in the Romanian case study report Science Shop activities have contributed to the ongoing modernisation of the curricula and research by providing flexible modules of learning and project based learning, post-graduate courses, inclusion of Science Shop project results into the regular teaching activity, multi-disciplinary research and formulation of new project proposals.

Experience from one of the cases in the Danish case study report shows that Science Shop projects can lead to the establishment of new research and teaching areas. For example, in the case of organic food, several requests from NGOs through the Science Shop at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) resulted in the establishment of ‘organic food’ as a research and teaching area at DTU.

Scientific publications were published in peer reviewed journals (national or international) or communicated at different conferences and seminars. Some of the project data were integrated into the regular teaching activity, and an interest in scientific follow-up topics and new project proposals were formulated based on the science shop projects. The Romanian case study report also showed that scientists came to acknowledge that problems cannot be solved without considering the social context in which the problem is to be solved (Romania).