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PE2020 – Public Engagement Innovations for Horizon 2020

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Tools for public engagement will make European research more effective

Engaging with the public when developing research strategies is an increasingly important aspect of academic and applied research. EU researchers have developed a toolkit that provides insight and advice to help research organisations integrate public engagement (PE) into their research strategy.

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For research to have real impact in modern society, it needs to address real-world needs and answer pertinent questions. Research organisations need tools so they can be aware of public sentiment and public needs. The recently completed EU-funded initiative PE2020 (Public engagement innovations for Horizon 2020) delved into more than 250 PE projects across Europe to understand the innovative ways that researchers and organisations can engage with the public to guide their research. The team categorised and scrutinised these projects to come up with mechanisms and best practices. ‘The average university or research organisation has very limited capacity to promote and embed PE into their current organisational practices,’ says Adjunct Professor Mikko Rask, who headed up the three-year study. ‘We found that one of the main challenges in PE is that it is rarely discussed by scientific researchers, heads of HR departments or university leaders.’ To address this, Prof. Rask and his team created resources that provide guidance for those looking to improve PE practice within their organisation. These resources were organised into a freely available digital PE toolkit. Prof. Rask hopes that the toolkit will encourage organisations and universities to developed PE-centred research policies. ‘This toolkit explains why, how and when PE could be useful and highlights the complexity of doing PE well. The toolkit also addresses two issues which usually are neglected – why and how to permanently embed PE in research organisations, and why and how to foster public participation in science.’ The PE2020 team took a methodical approach to developing the resources they have now made widely available. They began by identifying 254 examples of PE in European research projects, and selecting the 50 most innovative processes. Researchers used an ‘innovativeness index’ based on criteria like new ways of representation, methodological and institutional hybridity, and bearing on political impacts and societal challenges. From this list, they chose 38 projects to use as case studies, which have been published in a free ebook. PE2020 also identified and collected an inventory of 77 mechanisms for PE, grouped into five categories, and published a conceptual model of PE. All these resources are available through the project website. Following, the researchers tested their ideas and findings in practice through six pilots. These were undertaken in collaboration with project partners in Italy and Finland, and represented different methods for meaningful PE within real-world research projects. Importantly, these pilots cover all seven societal challenges identified by the EU’s Horizon 2020 research programme. In some of the pilots, PE2020 has encouraged the introduction of ‘societal interaction plans’. This is a way to ensure that future research proposals consider the PE elements of their research from the very beginning. In collaboration with the Future Earth research programme, PE2020 has tested out new and improved living lab strategies. This led to research strategies developed through discussions with wide-ranging groups of political, social and academic parties. ‘The toolkit was conceived to be read by people who are not experts in this field and who are not informed about PE,’ says Prof. Rask. ‘We want to help universities and research organisations plan and implement PE initiatives, embed PE in their current strategies and practices, and establish sustained PE policies for science and innovation at local and national level.’ Ultimately, Prof. Rask hopes that the tools developed by PE2020 will initiate a change towards more responsive and responsible research and innovation, for and with society.


Public engagement, research organisations, PE2020, Horizon 2020, research projects

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