Science shops inspire better research and innovation
Poor communication can have dire consequences in vital areas like the environment and health. Innovative 'science shop' projects, which translate society's questions into a language that scientists understand, are making a difference in remote Bolivian communities learning about Chagas disease, among Hepatitis C patients in Tunisia, and in projects closer to Europe's shores, too.
© ruslanita #226351620, source: stock.adobe.com 2019
The EU-funded InSPIRES initiative brings together civil society organisations (CSO) from Europe and international partners to co-design, pilot, implement and roll out smart ideas and examples of science shops for more effective and responsible research and innovation (R&I), and open science models that better respond to civil society’s needs and concerns.
To make the most of the resources available, InSPIRES is focusing on R&I in the health and environmental sectors, with special attention on gender parity and vulnerable groups like women, the elderly, adolescents, migrants and refugees. Science shops, as bottom-up ‘intermediation platforms’, can reach these groups both in urban and rural settings.
“Building on the existing experience and knowledge, we set out to review and push forward the science shop models through a culturally inclusive and socially responsible approach,” explains the project coordinator Maria Jesus Pinazo of ISGlobal in Spain. “Thanks to EU support, researchers from Europe, Latin America and Africa work together to design, implement and deploy various R&I models needed and co-created by civil society.”
Tackling global challenges, together
Indeed, international cooperation is integral to InSPIRES’ mission and its community-based work, which includes setting up four international schools two in Europe, one in North Africa and one in Latin America and developing e-learning modules featuring new Science Shops 2.0. models and methodologies.
Approaching its half-way mark, InSPIRES teams have conducted a systematic literature review and surveyed experts responsible for innovative science shop structures and related science communication initiatives. This informed the framework within which dozens of projects involving local CSOs in participating regions have since been launched. An on-line collaborative design ‘thinking exercise’ was carried out and InSPIRES has organised numerous webinars, as well as produced a card-game, training films and other communications tools.
All these activities would not have been possible without constructive contributions from its international partners. “Thanks to the InSPIRES project, the CEADES Foundation has had the opportunity to open its field of research to civil society, starting with Chagas disease, which represents one of the biggest public health concerns in Bolivia,” says Faustino Torrico, project coordinator in Bolivia.
Training and mutual learning around the models and tools developed in InSPIRES has helped the Bolivians deliver their first workshop involving CSOs and Chagas patients in remote parts of Punata. This infectious disease, caused by a parasite found in the faeces of the triatomine or ‘kissing’ bug, is endemic in South America and affects some 6-7 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation, with symptoms ranging from mild fever and swelling to long-term heart failure.
InSPIRES has also paved the way for a science shop in Tunisia called ‘Science Together’ co-created by the Tunisian Association for Information and Orientation on HIV/AIDS and Toxicomania and the laboratory of virology at the Institut Pasteur de Tunis which focuses on Hepatitis C, drug users, and vulnerable communities. The project, the first of its kind in North Africa, gave labs access to affected populations, to raise awareness about the disease’s spread and engage policy-makers on the importance of involving CSOs in Tunisia’s national strategy to eradicate it. More than 100 patients received free diagnosis and treatment while participating in the study.
According to the Institut Pasteur de Tunis, its teams are learning from different partners’ expertise in responsible research and innovation principles. “It’s a very rich experience to work with experienced European partners who also understand the necessity of adapting their methodology to our specific context.”
In Europe, partners at Hungary’s Environmental Social Science Research Group are running a series of science cafés on nature-inspired therapeutic approaches to health and social care, or green care, which the team says is definitely “on the move” thanks in large part to support and inspiration from the project.
Successes like these are proof that science shops work, and they help InSPIRES spread the word and build momentum around ‘science for society’ ideas based on participatory and transnational collaborative projects.