The role of science is more important to our lives than ever before. Increasingly, we look to science to provide answers to the many and varied concerns we, as citizens, share across the globe; concerns about the changes taking place on our planet, the food we eat, the environment we live in, and our health and well-being. We can no longer continue to see ourselves as passive spectators of scientific achievements but rather as active participants that help set and drive the EU's research agenda. The Science in Society (SIS) Programme refers to this concept as public engagement in science and research, where citizens and the scientific community work together to generate a stronger public voice in science.
How do people relate to science and technology (S&T)? How do scientists view their relationship with the general public? The publication, Public Engagement in Science – Report of the Science in Society Session of the European Conference on the Future of ERA (1.95MB), represents the outcomes of a consultation and conference conducted in 2007 on these and other questions.
The report sets out four recommendations to improve the science and society relationship. Firstly, Europe should continue to develop its 'recipe for innovation', which combines scientific excellence with good governance and public engagement. Secondly, the contribution of lay knowledge to research should be acknowledged. Thirdly, researchers should be trained to engage with the general public. Finally, more systematic approaches to the issue should be explored.
'For public engagement to make a difference, it must become part of the routine practice of good science,' the report reads. 'We need to generate new approaches to governance ethics and public participation that can learn from past mistakes, cope more readily with complexity and uncertainty, and harness the drivers of scientific and technological progress for the common good.'
The EU has clearly articulated its commitment to public engagement in science and research. Some of the key strategy documents and overarching targets are highlighted below.
The SIS Programme is part of the Seventh Framework Programme's 'Capacities' Specific Programme. Its aim is to facilitate public engagement with science and research and vice versa. It does so by mobilising stakeholders to form new partnerships (such as partnerships with non-governmental organisations and civil society organisations ), encouraging two-way dialogue between these and other stakeholders, promoting an 'ERA of ethics' and by providing better access to research results.
The featured projects are examples of activities funded under the Sixth and Seventh Framework Programmes (FP6 and FP7) to achieve SIS objectives.