Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS


PROSO Report Summary

Project ID: 665947
Funded under: H2020-EU.5.f.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - PROSO (Promoting societal engagement under the terms of RRI)

Reporting period: 2016-01-01 to 2016-12-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

Societal engagement is an essential element of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI), the EU’s emerging approach to good governance in research and innovation (R&I). However, it is unclear what qualifies societal engagement as complying with RRI. There is also insufficient insight into what policy makers, research funders and other actors involved in governing or performing research can do to encourage and facilitate societal engagement that meets with the expectation of RRI. In addressing these questions, PROSO focuses on two types of actors that are only marginally engaged in R&I so far: interest groups of citizens (referred to as Third Sector Organizations, TSO) and (non-organized) citizens. PROSO is exploring the barriers and incentives of these two types of actors to engage with R&I, by using three example research fields: food and health; nanotechnology; and the bio-economy (in particular, synthetic biology).

The main objective of PROSO is to foster engagement of these two types of actors in the R&I systems in Europe. To this end, it is developing innovative and robust options for how research policy makers and research funding organizations can actively promote and practitioners can successfully carry out (in accordance with RRI) TSO and citizen engagement in R&I at national and European levels. These options will be disseminated in a policy and practice guide for advancing the use of inclusive participatory approaches in R&I processes.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

First, through operationalization of the main aspects of RRI with a view to societal engagement PROSO (WP2) has identified a number of key requirements and challenges concerning the implementation of RRI. All measures and activities aiming at an institutionalization of societal engagement in R&I processes need to:
• Ensure a broad diversity and balance of views represented by the participants (dimension actors);
• Mobilise (potentially) relevant stakeholders early on (dimension timing);
• Provide ample room for deliberation and two-way communication, and interlink top-down organized (‘invited’) participation with bottom-up (‘uninvited’) activities (dimensions intensity/modes);
• Avoid a narrow issue-framing (dimension objects/issues); and
• Ensure that societal engagement is effectively linked to R&I decision-making processes (dimension purpose/impacts).
The main sources of the underlying analysis are a comprehensive review of RRI-related literature and a workshop with RRI-experts in Vienna, Austria.

Second, PROSO (WP4) has achieved initial insights into the views of European citizens on their role in public research and what motivates or prevents them from engaging in research-related activities. National citizen panels were organized for the first time in each of the following countries: Bulgaria, Portugal, Germany, Austria and the UK. Citizens were encouraged to discuss different involvement/engagement opportunities through the use of fictitious invitation letters. These opportunities corresponded to distinct forms of involvement requiring different degrees of engaging with research-related activities, i.e. ‘informing’, ‘consulting’, and ‘collaborating’. The panels have demonstrated that citizens across Europe prefer those formats that give them a more active and potentially influential role in research-related debates. Formats that focus on information and one-way communication were less favored. Challenges for engagement highlighted across the panels include, among others:
• The (perceived) lack of knowledge to participate in discussions on science and technologies;
• The perception that engagement activities do not have any impact on STI decision-making processes;
• Questions of representativeness;
• Lack of time for participating in engagement activities.

Third, initial ideas on policy and practice options to address identified barriers to citizen engagement were developed at an expert workshop (WP4) at which the citizen panel results were presented and discussed. Examples of these include:
• Systematically include information provision into two-ways-engagement procedures;
• Communicate important information about sampling during recruiting already;
• Include story-telling in the design of engagement processes on emerging technologies;
• As an essential follow-up procedure inform publics about the impact of their input;
• Encourage participants to promote discussion on R&I issues in their own circles (become “ambassadors” of R&I and engagement);
• Establish/improve reward structures in the R&I systems for acquiring skills to communicate with citizens;
• At national and European levels, develop policies of appreciation/remuneration of citizen engagement as part of developing a civic culture of societal engagement in R&I.

Fourth, PROSO (WP3) has carried out interviews with TSOs and other RRI-related stakeholders in relation to nine selected case studies across three research fields of food and health, nanotechnology, and bio-economy (synthetic biology). The interview schedule was designed to explore stakeholders’ perspectives on barriers and incentives to Third Sector engagement with R&I.

Fifth, for informing the analysis of the empirical data generated under WPs 3 and 4 and discussions in the WP4 expert workshop two literature-based categorizations were generated: a categorization of barriers and incentives to societal engagement (1); and a categorization of policy and practice options for fostering societal engagement (2). They build on WP2 work and other EU-projects in the RRI domain, most prominently ENGAGE2020, Res-AGorA and PE2020.

Sixth, various PROSO publications, including an animated video have been produced (WP7), and a draft concept of the multi-stakeholder conference “Engaging society for responsible research and innovation: New options to move forward” has been developed. The Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts has agreed to co-organize the conference.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

Multi-actor cooperation in R&I, in terms of an inclusive and deliberative process of stakeholder involvement and public engagement is a demanding endeavor for all actors involved and requires appropriate framework conditions. There are some pioneers in advancing societal engagement under the terms of RRI. However, there are also many actors that seek information and guidance on how to realize this ‘reform project’. The main PROSO product, the policy and practice guide, is being designed to provide practical guidance: it will assist science/technology policy makers, research funders and Third Sector actors in Europe in: analyzing the conditions for societal engagement for RRI in their country or R&I domain (1); and in (co-)developing, adapting or choosing context-sensitive and innovative practice and policy mechanisms or governance instruments for strengthening societal engagement with R&I (2).
One requirement for broad mobilization for RRI is that European society at the level of individuals feels concerned by activities aiming to embed RRI in society. PROSO in the first project year has raised the awareness of RRI (also) among individual citizens across a broad section of society and has highlighted ways for citizens to engage with R&I.

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