Strengthening public engagement in research

Wageningen UR Science Shop participates with 23 other partners from 16 countries in PERARES, a EU financed project (FP7) that aims to strengthen public engagement in research.

PERARES organises science debates to set the agenda for research and articulate research requests from civil society. Nine new science shop-like organisations throughout Europe are getting started. Institutes for higher education and funding partners are also involved in this project.

PERARES develops action plans, involving researchers and civil society organisations in formulating research agendas and processes. Science debates are used to actively articulate research requests of civil society. These plans are forwarded to research institutes, and results are used in a next phase of the debate. This way, these science debates move upstream into agenda setting. The partners link existing debate formats with the science shop network, which already links civil society and research institutes. They start a transnational web portal for debates. The pilot project involves nanotechnology, and subsequent – new - debates will start every few months. The debates are connected to the European reflection on the grand societal challenges for the future of the ERA (European Research Area).

Network of science shops

To be able to follow up research requests, it will be necessary to strengthen and enlarge the network of organisations doing research for or with civil society organisations. Nine new science shop-like facilities throughout Europe are being set up, all mentored by experienced partners, such as the Wageningen UR Science Shop. Science shop-like work is advanced by adding studies on best practices to the available knowledgebase and by organising workshops. Guidelines for evaluating the impact of engagement activities are currently being developed and tested.

The Social Value of Science Shops: A Cost-Benefit Analysis

Over the past decades, science shops have been set up, closed, rebuilt and developed. As part of PERARES, we evaluated the economic efficiency of science shops with the help of a cost-benefit analysis (CBA). Three cases were analysed; the science shops Wageningen, Brussels and Eindhoven. We compared the science shops according to two views on their next-best alternative:

  • firstly professional consultancy bureaus;
  • secondly, assuming that without science shops, students and clients would find each other via market demand and supply.

After investigation it appears that under the normal assumptions for the application of CBA the science shops concerned show positive net social benefits.

Science Shop activities embedded into curricula of Higher Education

PERARES seeks to strengthen the position of Science Shops, and community based research (CBR), in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). Wageningen UR contributed to a study to collect information which may help newly established Science Shops to embed its activities in the curriculum of HEIs.

From this study it can be concluded that Science Shops may help to improve the curriculum of HEIs. Nowadays we live in a globalized and rapidly changing world. The ability to work across knowledge, social and cultural boundaries becomes more important. For the learning process this means that inter- and/or transdisciplinary courses are gaining momentum. By cooperating with Science Shops, HEIs can offer a curriculum that is demand driven, authentic and exploratory in nature.

Unfortunately, it may be difficult for some HEIs to support those types of courses, due to their rigid disciplinary structures. Science Shops can have a proactive role trying to set a process of change in motion. Another point of concern is that not all research groups are eager to participate in Science Shop projects. In those cases it is best to look for individual research support. There are interesting examples of academics who have published Science Shop project research results in peer reviewed scientific publications. These examples may convince hesitating academics to participate in science shop research projects.

New methods for setting the agenda

The PERARES partners try and choose alternative forms of agenda-setting dialogue between researchers and civil society organisations. Long-term periodic meetings, and direct co-operations are examples of these forms. Both are currently being tried in two important social sciences fields: Roma/Traveller’s issues and domestic violence issues.

Increasing involvement

The PERARES partners are also investigating the potential role of institutes for higher education and funding councils in supporting co-operation with civil society organisations. PERARES currently discusses its activities with the wider community by organising two large conferences and through on-going dissemination of activities and results. With increased and structured co-operation more researchers and civil society organisations will be engaged in incorporating needs, concerns and knowledge of civil society in their research agendas.

The 5th Living Knowledge conference 'Re-imagining Research Relationships – Co-creating Knowledge in a Democratic Society' will take place from May 10-12 2012 in Bonn and Wageningen UR staff and students participate actively.
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Project term: May 1, 2010 - April 20, 2014
Total Budget: 3 Million Euro (EU contribution 2.7 Million Euro)