Public Engagement and responsible research and innovation

Public engagement is about cocreating the future with the public and civil society organisations, and also bringing on board the widest possible diversity of people that would not normally interact on matters of science and technology.

What is public engagement in research and innovation?

Public engagement in Horizon 2020 implies establishing participatory multi-actor dialogues and exchanges to foster mutual understanding, co-create research and innovation outcomes, and provide input to policy agendas.

It is about bringing together researchers, policy makers, industry and civil society organisations and NGOs, and citizens, to deliberate on matters of science and technology.

Public engagement also creates the space for ethical value-laden issues to be explored, while bringing inclusiveness, transparency, diversity, and creativity into the research and innovation process.

Public engagement processes allow different groups to establish a common language, arrive at joint understandings, learn from each other, explore controversies, and co-create ideas, knowledge or solutions. To have the greatest impact, public engagement needs to be designed as a two-way process with feedback loops, so that the outcomes of the engagement processes are usefully fed back into the research and innovation process.

Public engagement and responsible research and innovation (RRI)

RRI is an inclusive approach to research and innovation to ensure that societal actors work together during the whole research and innovation process. It aims to better align both the process and outcomes of research and innovation, with the values, needs and expectations of European society.

In general terms, RRI implies anticipating and assessing potential implications and societal expectations with regard to research and innovation. In practice, RRI consists of designing and implementing R&I policy that will:

  • engage society more broadly in its research and innovation activities,
  • increase access to scientific results,
  • ensure gender equality, in both the research process and research content,
  • take into account the ethical dimension, and
  • promote formal and informal science education.

Why is public engagement important?

The benefits of involving the broadest possible range of actors in research and innovation include: the uptake of new and alternative forms of knowledge, as well as the consideration of a broader range of societal needs and perspectives, all of which are key towards helping us tackle the complex and interconnected societal challenges that lie upon us.

Public engagement in research and innovation further contribute to:

  • Enhancing creativity in research and innovation design process and results
  • The likelihood that research and innovation outcomes are more societally relevant and desirable
  • Achieving shorter time to market and greater consumer acceptability of research and innovation outcomes
  • Providing a breeding ground to foster a more scientifically literate society of knowledge-driven and empowered citizens, able and interested to participate in and support democratic processes, including on decisions of Research and Innovation financing, and evidence-based policy making

Integrating public engagement in Horizon 2020

Public engagement in Horizon 2020 can either be called for directly by the European Commission to help feed into its own policy agenda-setting processes, or alternatively may promoted through calls for proposals, so that it may be taken-up by project consortia, and external actors, including researchers, universities, research funding agencies, public authorities, business and research-intensive industry, etc.

In Horizon 2020 a call topic may be specifically designed to solicit public engagement in research and innovation. Depending on the focus, such a dedicated call may take on the form of either a Research and Innovation Action (RIA) or a Coordination and Support Action (CSA). In Horizon2020 there exists a type of CSA called a Mutual Learning Action Plan (MML), which is particularly suited towards fostering multi-actor and public engagement in research and innovation. A number of such MML are outlined in the table below.

Alternatively, public engagement may be plugged-in to a much larger initiative (eg: Joint Programming Initiative (JPI), Joint Technology Initiative (JTI), European Innovation Platform (EIP), Knowledge Innovation Community (KIC), or a larger RIA, etc.), in which it should then at least be dealt with as a separate work-package, or sub-project.


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