From Science and Society to Science in Society

Towards a framework for Cooperative Research Foreword Science and Society activities developed in the 6th Framework programme have the very specific role of questioning mainstream research and research-based policies.

Towards a framework for Cooperative Research


Science and Society activities developed in the 6th Framework programme have the very specific role of questioning mainstream research and research-based policies.

This is indeed a very useful role. It is important to bear in mind, especially when preparing the next Framework Programme, that the European Research Area vision is not only about contributing to European Industry competitiveness; it is not only about fostering coordination of European research; it is not only about underpinning other Community policies in their efforts towards more and better Europe.

It is also, and probably more so, about better understanding what science is in today’s society and about stimulating a continuous and fruitful societal debate on the big scientific issues ahead of us.

Questioning our own activities, fostering change, adaptation and improvement is a sine qua non condition to avoid complacency and self-replicating structures. Such questioning is an essential feature of a renewed research policy at the dawn of this new century.

Considering this “raison d’être”, it would have been odd to stick to a classical approach while reflecting on new forms of European governance.

Acts and words had to be put together, creating a space where people could build their own agenda with their own words and reflect together: this is how Gover’s Science was born! Its aim was twofold.

On one hand, to enrich current activities, both in terms of project activities and policy making, and on the other hand, to increase the robustness and efficiency of future strategies on how to articulate the interface between science, policies and society: how to really foster institutional and social change?

How to identify future research issues and to revisit strategies in the field of Gover’Science? And, above all, how to translate words into action?

The report does not, at this stage, contain ready-made solutions. Nevertheless, clear messages have emerged, confirming that the shift of the Science AND Society paradigm into one of Science IN Society does require a transformation of the way research and research-based policies are developed.

As evidenced by the seminar, building a truly democratic knowledge-based society requires recognition of the collective right to question the societal choices behind scientific and technological ones: a collective questioning capacity which goes hand-in-hand with a research-friendly environment. May the story between Science, Governance and Citizens be a happy and unending one!

Executive Summary Introduction

We live in a time of ever-increasing opportunities and challenges associated with new science and technology. As a result, there is growing interest and attention to the relationships between research, innovation and society.

Nowhere is this more true, than in the organization and prioritization of scientific research and technological innovation themselves and in the use of science as an input to wider policy making.

Real contrasts and tensions emerge between high level policy agendas concerned with the ‘knowledge based society’, with the stewardship of ‘democratic governance’ and with the pursuit of ‘sustainability’ and ‘precaution’ in science and technology.

These are key areas of interest and responsibility for the European Commission’s Directorate General for Research (DG RTD).

This report arises from intensive discussions at an innovative two-day ‘Gover’Science’ Seminar
organised by the Governance and Scientific Advice Unit of DG RTD in November 2005.

The Seminar focused on a variety of complex and hotly contested questions that are central to current efforts to move Europe towards a ‘knowledge based society’. What is the appropriate role for science in the governance of modern society? How should research itself be governed? What is the function of public engagement?

Attention focused on a variety of detailed topical areas: including the communication of risk, the provision of science advice, relations between government, industry and civil society and the best ways to balance involvement by experts, stakeholders and citizens.

As leading figures in the European research community in this area, the 37 participants brought deep specialist expertise and broad practical experience covering a range of relevant disciplines, national contexts and sectoral backgrounds.

The event itself took the form of a novel form of ‘open space’ participatory workshop. This allowed participants to raise and pursue their own interests in discussion and draw their own conclusions.

The self-organized process gave a high degree of autonomy from the organizer’s own agenda. Although there was no requirement for consensus, there emerged a clear and coherent central message, with a series of practical implications.

As the process unfolded, this focused most intensively on the role of ‘public engagement’ in the governance of research and in the science advice process.

In one sentence, the bottom line recommendation was that European activities in these areas should be informed by, and should themselves incorporate, more effective forms of symmetrical two-way deliberation, empowering inputs from a wide diversity of social actors.

In short, this might be thought of as a move towards a new style of ‘co-operative research’. The present innovative ‘Gover’Science’ Seminar itself offers an example of just this kind of process. Drawing on a wide diversity of freely-expressed viewpoints, the present report and executive summary has been produced by an independent Rapporteur, with the aim of highlighting the main lessons that can be drawn from the Seminar discussions for policy making and further research.

The main body of the report synthesizes the key themes in the Seminar discussion, in three principal sections.

• Section One examines the background to science governance activities in Europe.

• Section Two looks at the strengths and weaknesses of emerging developments – including areas of agreement and disagreement in discussion at the Seminar and the identification of key current challenges for policy making.

• Section Three looks to the future: drawing lessons, identifying opportunities and pointing towards this new paradigm of ‘co-operative research’.

The whole account is closely cross-referenced to a series of detailed Annexes. Using hyperlinks (in the electronic version of this report), these fully document the findings from each session of the seminar and show how each underpins the discussion and conclusions in the main report.

The principal elements in the argument are outlined in the ensuing passages of this executive summary. Both here and in the main body of the report, key points are indicated in bold italicised font. A shorter bullet-point summary is provided in the Conclusion.

Shared Understandings

The governance of European science and the role of science in European governance take an enormous variety of different forms and play out in an even greater diversity of contexts.

The baroque institutional environments, widely distributed consequences, strong vested interests and sometimes hotly contested values serve further to compound the complexity. Against this background, it is difficult to make clear generalisations, let alone draw concrete practical conclusions.

Despite this, there emerges a clear picture of growing stated commitments on the part of government, industry, civil society and the research community itself, to different forms ‘public engagement’.

This rising interest and proliferating activity is understood in contrasting ways under different perspectives. To some, it is about enhancing equity and democracy in the ‘knowledge society’.

Elsewhere, it is about fostering trust and credibility in order to further competitiveness. For others, it is about informing more ‘sustainable’ or ‘precautionary’ decisions and policies.

Each view holds contrasting implications for the design, implementation and evaluation of public engagement in science. What seems clear, however, is a consistent pressure away from minimal ‘instrumental’ tinkering with established procedures for policy ‘consultation’ and public reassurance – and towards more ‘substantive’ commitments to genuine stakeholder involvement and citizen participation.

Although they can take a multitude of equally legitimate forms in different contexts, these more robust forms of public engagement display a number of identifiable qualities:

• They emphasise engaging with a wider diversity of social actors (rather than just the usual directly affected ‘users’ or ‘customers’).

• They involve symmetrical two-way dialogue (rather than the pro forma elicitation of ‘responses’ to pre-formed proposals).

• They embody open in-depth deliberation (minimising constraints on the issues or options introduced for consideration or the styles in which they can be discussed).

• They prioritise empowerment and agency on the part of the participants’ themselves (rather than the sponsors – including a say in the design, scope and focus of the engagement process itself).

Examples of the different concrete approaches to public engagement mentioned or implicit at the
Seminar include: consensus conferences, participatory modeling, science shops, citizen’s panels, stakeholder commissions, transdisciplinary collaboration, focus groups and deliberative polls. Each of these different approaches may variously be applied to different contexts, stages or issues in science governance, including: risk regulation, technology policy, expert advice and science communication.

Beyond this, public engagement refers to an over-arching continuous aspect of the governance process, in which these kinds of approaches form elements and inputs. Seen in this way, increased public engagement holds out the prospect for a series of different benefits.

It is emphatically not about second-guessing the technical expertise of scientists and engineers.

Rather, it is about acknowledging the fact that science and innovation are social, cultural and institutional – as well as technical and specialist – activities.

As such, public engagement offers a wayto be more accountable for the particular values and interests, which underpin both the governance of science and the general use of science in governance.

What are the priorities and purposes, which justify the allocation of resources to different areas of innovation or lines of enquiry? What are the assumptions that inform the interpretation of scientific advice, concerning the behaviour of institutions or technologies in the real world?

In short, public engagement is about the ‘framing’ of scientific evidence and technological projects, not about the details of specialist methods or technical analysis. It is about being as rigorous and careful in validating the questions, as science itself is rightly respected for being in approaching the answers.

One especially important implication of this emerging shared understanding is that public engagement holds greatest value when it occurs ‘upstream’ – at the earliest stages in the process of research or science-informed policy making. It is at this stage when the ‘framing’ of the research or policy developments remains relatively flexible and open to influence.

If engagement is undertaken too late, then it is more likely to be constrained by commitments that have already been made – being less about ‘deciding what to do’ and more about ‘deciding how to do it’.

The resulting political pressures to either limit or ignore the role of public engagement can be highly corrosive of the credibility of the organizations involved, and of wider public trust.