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Positive Environment in Public Participation and Engagement for Responsible Research and Innovation

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - PEPPER (Positive Environment in Public Participation and Engagement for Responsible Research and Innovation)

Reporting period: 2018-09-03 to 2020-09-02

Past exercises on public engagement in Europe have been repeatedly questioned about legitimating the process and result, contributing to policy decisions and facilitating social learning. They are also faced with barriers such as passivity and fatigue of lay people to get engaged. Despite the growing interest in engagement with the wider public in science, the majority of the practice appeals a narrower type of audience who already pays attention to and is supportive of science.

Engaging the wider public with science and innovation and creating a public space for citizen dialogue and collaboration becomes more important in the digitalised and globalised society, which creates an ever-widening chasm between post-truth movement supporters and upholders of the March for Science and evidence-based policymaking.

The overall objectives of this project are:
1. To identify methodologies by which less engaged individuals, hackers and citizen scientists and their communities positively and continuously participate to bring substantive benefits of scientific knowledge and innovation and to undertake distributed responsibility in the governance of research and innovation.
2. To establish a theoretical and practical framework for incorporating future generations’ values into the design and implementation of positive engagement.
3. To indicate organisational and societal conditions under which participants can actively design, conduct, facilitate or participate in positive engagement.
1. Methodologies
This project identified and developed a number of methodologies to engage wider public in a positive, continuous and responsible manner. There are three key factors for positive engagement. (1) Value elicitation. ‘Q mapping’ is a novel visualisation tool for the hybridity of qualitative and quantitative methods derived from Q methodology. As another value elicitation method, ‘interactive public comments’ are based on broad segments of people who expressed their opinions in a dialogue-based activity on a specific issue related to science and innovation. (2) Art and design. To reach and involve more diverse audiences, recent public engagement and science communication methodologies have focused more on entertainment and emotion by using artistic languages, visual narratives, and cultural events. We created a mobile, tangible, and approachable design product to speculate on and explore uncertain futures, with gene drives as one of the genome editing technologies. (3) Place and mobility. This project identified the vital role of islands as spaces for engagement and mobility by taking art festivals, citizen science workshops and art appreciation tours as priming events and developing a psychogeographic approach and walking methods.

2. Theoretical and practical framework
Whereas many scholars have already provided significant insight into public views, relatively few studies have conducted in-depth analysis of the contingent nature of public views on emerging technologies. As a part of this project, our study examined ambiguity in public perception about emerging biotechnologies through the use of several intermediate response options in a survey. To understand the relationship between respondents’ thoughts and attitudes, we also examined how respondents’ indecision is related to their cognitive concept of “self” as well as their interpretation of “future generations”. The results revealed that respondents who have a narrow self-concept tend to postpone decisions about the application of emerging technologies. In parallel, I identified different types and perceptions of ‘the public’ in the historical context of science policy in developed countries and explicated how and why a future-oriented ‘public’ can be positively engaged in science and innovation. Looking into the Norwegian governmental and societal response to the coronavirus outbreak, this project additionally studied how invisible assets are valued in public communication with authorities with a high degree of public trust.

In practical terms, we created a new mobile, tangible, and approachable design product to speculate and explore uncertain futures as well as ambiguous ethical issues related to biotechnologies, and organised a couple of participatory workshops applying a local variation of the visual thinking strategies (VTS) in concert with art festivals on islands. This project also contributed to the design and analysis of a participatory ‘future workshop’ in real-time technology assessment activities on molecular robotics.

3. Organisational and societal conditions
This project could not find by extensive literature review any suitable organisations or cases for positive engagement in Europe, but we discussed that community-based civic activities on radioactivity monitoring in Japan as the third type of citizen science and showed how general citizens actively and positively engage with the negative impacts of scientific development. I also found that one of the societal conditions under which people can positively engage with science is traceability. The overemphasis of identifiability in EU GDPR and other legislation undervalues the origin, process and utility of the data and prevents a sense of sharing in the spirit of open science between donors and users. Traceability is a probably a more appropriate openness-related function than transparency and accessibility and elicits a more positive attitude from research participants.

- Exploitation and dissemination
While organising two OsloMet Workshops, this project was associated with a number of international and interdisciplinary workshops and meetings, including Norway-Japan alumni and researcher gathering, Belgium-Japan citizen science workshop, Molecular Robotics annual meeting, UK-Japan RRI workshop, STIG PoP seminar, Belgium-Japan STS workshop, and International biotech and AI Workshop. In addition to a number of academic articles and presentations, I also contributed to policy reports for National Diet Library and Cabinet Office in Japan, an island magazine, JSPS Stockholm Newsletter and a book on incertitude of science.
First, this project explicitly draws useful lessons of how to identify, approach and engage a diversity of publics – marginalised publics in particular – by stressing the idea of place and mobility in the theory and practice of public engagement. It will give profound implications about wider and more positive public engagement in the divided world. Second, this project suggests to reframe responsible research and innovation (RRI) and open science and innovation (OSI) by examining the concept and practice of openness. Particularly in the context of Horizon Europe, which is likely to dilute the idea of RRI by highlighting OSI, I have repeatedly given the warning that the emphasis on openness may downplay the role of diversity and directionality which the idea of RRI implies. Underlining traceability as an openness-related function in a high-impact science journal can also be regarded as a part of our public awareness activities. Third, as public engagement is still regarded often as non-essential and demanding for the scientific development, we have been developing a transdisciplinary, problem-based, and community-oriented approach to future academic research and higher education. This local activity will produce a new synergetic movement of research, education and community development for the academy of the future.
Positive engagement