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1.3 Dialogue with citizens

The acquisition of a basic grounding in science and technology by the European public and a regular flow of information to the public from experts are not in themselves enough to enable people to form an opinion. A true dialogue must therefore be instituted between science and society. There have been a great many initiatives in this area over the last few years: consensus conferences (1), citizens' juries (2), national and regional consultations, on-line forums, participative foresight programmes, etc. have emerged to satisfy this need for mutual understanding. Member States and the Commission must foster this type of dialogue at all levels: European, national, regional and local.

Towards the establishment of a dialogue at European level

Establishing a dialogue at the European level involves close cooperation between a wide range of stakeholders from research organisations, public authorities, media, citizens, civil society, enterprises, etc. The scientific and technological community will play an essential role by presenting issues of interest to the public at large, and by contributing to the debate.

Action 19

The Commission will examine, with representatives of the European scientific community interested in the promotion of science, the feasibility of holding regular events of high visibility and quality ("A European Convention for Science"). The Commission would assist in holding a major inaugural event in 2004 involving the widest possible range of stakeholders interested in science and technology (3) at European level.

Local and regional dialogues on "Science and Society"

The local and regional levels are well suited to the "science and society" dialogue when the issues raised are of direct interest to citizens (environment, sustainable development, health, safety, urban transport, etc.). It would be desirable to promote participation by scientists in forums and hearings organised at local, regional and inter-regional (particularly cross-border) level, where the issues are also of pan-European interest.

Action 20

The organisation of local and regional "science and society" forums will be encouraged, inter alia through the development of a database listing scientists with communication skills.

Developing the European network of Science Shops (4)

There are in Europe various types of Science Shops close to the citizen in which science is placed at the service of local communities and non-profitmaking associations (the SCIPAS project, financed under the 5th Framework Programme, enabled an open European network of Science Shops to be established). Hosted by universities or independent, their common feature is that they answer questions from the public, citizens' associations or NGOs on a wide variety of scientific issues. The first Science Shops were opened in the Netherlands in the 1970s and the idea was then taken up by about 10 other countries throughout the world. There are now over 60 Science Shops in Europe, mainly in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, the United Kingdom and France.

The diversity and scope of questions is such that the most successful centres are having difficulty in satisfying demand. The Science Shops would gain from getting together, with the aid of the Commission, to pool their resources, their work and their experience.

Action 21

The networking of Science Shops in the regions of the Union and the candidate countries will be encouraged in particular through the creation of a permanent inventory and of a structure for the dissemination of work carried out on behalf of citizens and associations (e.g. database), and by the development of promotional tools.

(1) Consensus conferences, contrary to the name, usually spark a debate between experts and citizens on new subjects where regulation does not,as yet, exist.

(2) Citizens' juries usually seek to guide the decision-making process for which the form of "end solution" has already been defined (e.g. locationof waste disposal site)

(3) The convention could be inspired by the long-established and well-renowned yearly events of the American Association for the Advancementof Science.

(4) The English term is used generally.

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