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Public Engagement in Science and Research

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.'

Strategy and vision

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.

  • As a response to the aftermath of the global financial crisis 'Europe 2020: A European strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth' (COM(2010) 2020) sets out five measurable EU targets for 2020 related to (1) employment; (2) research and innovation; (3) climate change and energy; (4) education; and (5) combating poverty. The themes were widely welcomed in the public consultation carried out by the Commission between November 2009 and January 2010. In his opening address, President José Barroso highlights the necessity for leaders and institutions to work together with civil society to achieve these targets.
  • Released in July 2009, the Lund Declaration asserts that Europe must focus on the 'Grand Challenges' of our time such as global warming, the tightening of food, water and energy supplies, and public health. The declaration calls for bottom-up and top-down initiated research that involves all stakeholders.
  • Following the Ljubljana Process, in December 2008 the EU adopted the European Research Area (ERA) Vision 2020 , with the overall target of free circulation for researchers, knowledge and society by 2020. The strategy clearly states that the ERA is firmly rooted in society and responsive to its needs, and that it builds on mutual trust and continuous dialogue between society and the science community.

Engagement in action

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.

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