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Organisational public engagement with science and society (OPEST)

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - OPEST (Organisational public engagement with science and society (OPEST))

Reporting period: 2016-04-01 to 2018-03-31

There is a widely entertained, societal obligation on the part of scientific institutions to serve society with social impact and to engage citizens in research policy. While research on Public Engagement (PE) has mainly focused on scientists' engagement with the public, little attention has been paid to the institutional context in which public engagement occurs. OPEST – Organisational Public Engagement with Science and Technology examines how research institutions are engaging society in Portugal, the UK, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the US, China, Brasil and Japan. This project produced for the first time national representative studies of institutional responses to demands for public engagement in science and technology and mapped the activities performed and resources mobilised for engagement. We produced for the first time comparable data on institutional PE across countries with different academic, economic and social systems, as well as practices and traditions of public engagement with a view of understanding patterns and factors that mobilise engagement. The study addresses the gap in the literature on organisational PE and provides evidence on which research institutions can base workable systems to actively involve society, support policy makers in the development of policy actions to foster PE at national and international levels, and in the medium-term, contribute to engaging citizens in research and policy.
During the duration of this project, we run national representative surveys in nine countries around the world including Portugal, Italy, the UK, the US, Netherlands, Germany, Brazil, Japan and China to investigate public engagement practices of research institutes (RIs) and resources mobilised for it. We used a harmonised methodology to maximise comparability of the data across countries. Probability samples with n=1200 RIs in all areas of research in each country was used for n total of more than 10.000 RIs. Data collection has recently been finalised and comparative analysis of RIs’ practices of public engagement across countries is ongoing. Preliminary findings show that public engagement is emerging at the meso-level, i.e. at the level of research institutes/centres/units in all the studied countries. There are indications that the infrastructure for PE is set up at institutions and a range of activities is being undertaken. We find signs of institutional commitment to PE, which is seen by the allocation of resources including staff dedicated to communication tasks, funding and institutional policies. We also find variations in the intensity and types of engagement across areas of research with the social sciences being more active and performing two-way civic engagement types of communication and the natural sciences, performing educational one-way communication activities. Our ongoing comparative analysis will allow concluding on whether such commitment vary across countries and what factors mediate this mobilisation.
The project represents a breakthrough in the literature because of its novelty, type of data collected, scale and comparability. This is the first time that national studies and comparable data on institutional public engagement is being produced. The study is contributing to address the gap in the literature on organisational public engagement, and providing evidence on which RIs and management can base workable systems to actively involve society, support policy makers in the development of policy actions to foster PE at the national and international levels, and in the medium-term, contribute to engaging citizens in research and policy.
Institutional Public Engagement with Science