Science and Governance in Europe
We live in a time of ever-increasing opportunities and challenges associated with new science and
As a result, there is growing interest and attention to the relationships between research, innovation and society.
Nowhere is this more true, than in discussions over the organisation and prioritisation of the scientific research and technological innovation activities themselves.
Charged with the management of a total annual research and technology development budget of nearly € 5 billion 1 (and set to rise significantly 2) and with a role in levering and catalysing much wider national and private sector investments, the European Commission’s Directorate General for Research (DG RTD) is an important focus of discussion in this regard. Accordingly, over the course of the Sixth Framework Programme since 2002, a large and growing range of activities have been undertaken by DG RTD in the field of ‘science and society’ 3.
The aim of this programme of work has been to embed ‘science and society’ considerations into EU research 4. The result has been to provide valuable information, generate rich insights and raise many questions.
In particular, a series of pressing issues arise in relation to the links between ‘science and governance’.
This refers both to the role of ‘science in governance’ of wider European society and to the more
specific processes for the ‘governance of science’ itself.
Both aspects of the relationship between ‘science and society’ are central to the realisation of primary policy objectives for the European Union.
Under the ‘Lisbon Strategic Goal’ 5, for instance, the European Union is seeking to establish a ‘European Research Area’ 6 as a means to achieving global competitiveness as a ‘knowledge-based society’ 7.
The governance of science, and the use of science in governance, are both crucial in this regard. Both areas are also subject to wider policy priorities, as set out, for instance, in the European Commission’s White Papers on Governance 8 and Precaution 9 – which (among other elements) include imperatives for accountability to, and participation by, all interested parties as part of the scientific research and technological innovation processes.
Taken together, it is clear that the science and society agenda addresses some of the most high profile and demanding of the challenges currently faced in the governance of the European Union.
In this light, it is with the purpose of taking stock of what we have learned from activities in the field of ‘science and governance’ funded under the Sixth Framework Programme (2002-2006), that DG RTD organised a “Gover’Science Seminar” for some of the leading figures in the field.
A particular aim of this initiative was to look forward to the consequent possibilities and implications for the Seventh Framework Programme (2007-2013). The present report presents a summary of the key issues and conclusions that arose.
1.1.2 From ‘Science and Society’ to ‘Science in Society’
Amidst the daunting complexity and scale of the issues raised in considering ‘science and governance’, it is easy to miss the practical substance.
Scientific knowledge and technological innovation are produced by people. People’s creativity and intelligence is conditioned by their relationships, motivations and values. And people work in institutions, each with their own agendas, priorities and interests.
As a result, the direction and emphasis of science and innovation are in important ways driven and shaped by the wider society.
The process of ‘science and governance’, is therefore not just one of linking separate arenas of ‘science and society’. It is much more one of governing ‘science in society’ – recognising that research and innovation are not autonomous, but are contained within, and subject to wider economic, cultural and political processes.
This does not mean that science and technology are free to take any form, according to subjective
A prominent feature of science and technology when compared with other fields of human endeavour, is the rigorous grounding in the realities of Nature.
It is an important theme in European governance that scientific activity should remain independent and unconstrained 10.
But within the bounds imposed by these natural realities and governance principles, there is ample scope for profound social influence on the structure, substance and direction of science.
The priorities that are emphasised in research funding, the questions that are asked in science advice and the issues that are identified around technological risk – all are shaped and interpreted by wider social forces.
It is here that there arise the principal challenges and opportunities for science and governance in Europe. These issues are hotly contested.
As discussed in the opening session of the “Gover’Science Seminar” 11 (see Annex A), policy debates on these matters experience a persistent tendency to polarisation.
Some aspire to reinstate a mythical ‘golden age’, under which the institutions and disciplines of science are charged entirely with their own governance and are trusted as superior authorities in the wider governance of society.
For others, this vision raises animated fears of antidemocratic ‘technocracy’ and ‘scientism’, with particular concerns that health and environmental consequences will be subordinated to commercial or political interests.
The ‘GM debate’ provides an example of one particular focus for these kinds of debate. Is recent European experience in this area an indication of failure to harness an opportunity for technology-driven competitiveness?
Or is it more a sign of success in the realisation of a ‘knowledge-based society’, in at least attempting (if not achieving) a deeper, and more precautionary, level of deliberate social reflection over the appropriate directions for science and innovation?
Whatever position is taken on this, a practical starting point lies in recognising the undeniable policy imperatives for greater public engagement in the governance of science and technology 12.
Wider social engagement in science and technology is variously argued to help foster public ‘trust’; improve the quality of the resulting decisions and enhance democracy itself.
There are dangers on all sides of cynical manipulation or romantic exaggeration. Either way, questions arise over the appropriate form, scale, depth and extent of public engagement in different contexts.
How to manage the relationships between participatory and representative forms of democracy? What does this mean for the role of ‘evidence’ in policy making? Which are the best ways to articulate political power, specialist knowledge, stakeholder interests and public values?
How can we strike a balance between precaution and anticipation on the one hand, and efficiency, proportionality and competitiveness on the other?
Although the political arguments continue to rage, it is possible to discern a few concrete lessons and some emerging common ground. However it is conceived, it is clear that a shared aim lies in achieving greater maturity in our debates over science and governance.
We must go beyond polarised notions of unquestioning social acceptance or irrational public obstruction of innovation. In the transition to a ‘knowledge-based society’, the crucial challenge lies in articulating different forms of knowledge.
To this end, there is a clear role for a ‘third sector’, to complement and mediate the creative genius of science and to harness and orient the dynamic drive of industry.
Although the details remain ambiguous, the common agenda of sustainability helps provide some direction and substance.
Precisely what form should be taken by this ‘third sector’, it was a key purpose of the ‘Gover’Science’ Seminar – and an aim of this report – to explore.
1.2 European ‘Science and Society’ Activities
1.2.1 The Diversity of Initiatives
In addition to the European Commission itself, the 37 participants in the ‘Gover’Science Seminar’ were drawn from 27 different projects, involving a total of 148 different organizations and institutes in 24 countries throughout Europe and beyond.
This represents a diverse array of initiatives undertaken under the auspices of the ‘Science and Society’ theme of the Sixth Framework Programme, as well as some independent but associated activities.
A list of these projects, together with the websites from which further information can be gained is provided at
These projects were at various stages of development, ranging from the early stages of start-up, through peak activity to writing-up and post-completion.
Their empirical foci extend across a large part of the waterfront of scientific and technological activities. Some projects dealt at a high level of generalization with encompassing challenges faced by industry and sustainable development.
Others address broad sectoral issues arising in the fields of agriculture, biotechnology, energy, fisheries, health, urban transport, information and nano-technologies. Another group of projects focus on particular risks of biodiversity loss, genetic modification, ozone depletion, eugenics and terrorism.
Finally, some initiatives tackle quite specific questions over ageing, brain disease, e-learning, HIV/AIDS, privacy, reproductive therapies, stem cell research and xenotransplantation.
The disciplinary interests and perspectives represented in this portfolio of projects are also highly varied. They include liberal studies of the media and communication as well as political science specialisms in ‘multi-level governance’ and risk regulation.
Representatives of policy analysis fields such as science advice, technology assessment and technology foresight were mixed with social scientists interested in participatory deliberation.
Whilst the majority of participants were drawn from academic institutions, some came from government executive agencies, grant-funded educational bodies and museums, private industry, commercial consultancies and civil society organizations.
Taken together, it is clear that participation in the ‘Gover’Science Seminar’ reflects a broad and deep range of knowledges, perspectives and experience, spanning a large part of the total scope of the field of science and governance.
1.2.2 Expectations of the ‘Gover’Science Seminar’
With such a diversity of backgrounds, it is not surprising that the 37 participants brought contrasting aspirations and expectations to the ‘Gover’Science Seminar’.
Some participants looked simply for a space in which to reflect and clarify ideas, and in particular to learn more from colleagues and their projects. Others sought in the encounter with like-minded initiatives a strengthening of a sense of community and shared dynamism.
There was also a desire to learn not only from the substance of discussion, but also from the innovative process of the ‘Gover’Science Seminar’ itself.
Other quite localized expectations concerned the specific roles of participant’s own disciplines (risk communication, policy analysis, science and technology studies and social science) and home institutions in museums, universities and scientific research establishments.
Looking outwards from the community of researchers involved, many highlighted a collection of more ambitious aims concerned with influencing wider processes of science and governance themselves.
Attention focused here on a variety of particular contexts and processes, including: tensions between the competitiveness and participation imperatives; conflicts between representative and deliberative forms of democracy; best practice in methods for the direct involvement of citizens; clarification of the roles of different modes for the communication of science and strategies to gain the attention of policy makers to public engagement.
For their part, the staff of DG Research as the organizers made clear right from the outset the nature of their own aspirations and expectations, which informed the design of the meeting.
These were to go beyond the exchange of information and experience between different projects. This was partly achieved through the circulation of background documents in advance, and partly addressed as an inevitable corollary of the formal and informal discussions.
As was made clear in advance, however, the primary aims for the organizers were to focus on cross-cutting themes that pervade and span the entire field of activities represented across the portfolio of projects taken as a whole.
More demanding still, a particular priority was attached to the transcending of purely analytic or descriptive understandings, in order to address more concrete normative implications for those engaged in policy making and governance on science and technology.
What are the particular key opportunities and challenges in learning from the array of work represented at the Seminar? Above all, there was an emphasis on the practical questions of “how to ‘make it happen?”.
As discussions unfolded at the Seminar, each of these areas of expectation were addressed in some way. However, the self-organised nature of the process meant that not all could be systematically explored to the same extent.
It is against this summary of the participant’s own diverse and ambitious expectations, as well as their own interests, that readers may exercise various judgments over the success of the Seminar itself.