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ASSET Report Summary

Project ID: 612236
Funded under: FP7-SIS
Country: France


Project Context and Objectives:
Nowadays, the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic has been recognised as the first pandemic for which many western countries prepared extensive and well-structured response plans, including relevant communication strategies. Worldwide, following the recommendations of international organizations, manufacturers raced against time to produce vaccines, and governments, policy makers and researchers underwent initiatives to prevent alarming societal effects.
Despite this global resources mobilization, the European citizens were affected by a climate of general distrust on official information sources such as health professionals, national health authorities, European authorities, media – TV, radio and newspapers, internet and, consequently, a condition of societal vulnerability was occurring in matter of threatening emergencies like pandemics.
Such this situation is still current and common all over the Europe: the actual risk is represented by a jeopardising initiatives aimed at building preparedness and response capacity in the European society to the next pandemic or to what the World Health Organization (WHO) identifies as public health emergencies of international concern (PHEIC). To build a more resilient society that is able to tackle such emergencies, the crucial need is about creating conditions for co-operation between stakeholders, decision makers, health professionals, scientists on one hand and citizens on the other.

It is the reason why in recent years the European Commission has been promoting and operating different approaches, particularly the so called “Science in Society - SiS” (FP7) of which “greatest impact has been to raise the political importance of science in society [...], raising awareness of the problems and the need for all actors to work together- but also- enhancing the understanding of the nature of problems” . Furthermore, with the framework of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI), two-way communication channels were promoted aiming to the ‘scientific citizenship’, consisting of “the active and knowledge-driven participation of citizens to democratic processes, including agenda setting, information gathering, co-creation and evaluation” . Consequently, a particular project approach named Mobilization and Mutual Learning Action Plan (MMLAP), was promoted to create potentially useful co-operation conditions between the scientific community, policymakers, citizens and their stakeholders. Finally, “the MML provides an effective model for enhanced integration of stakeholders in European research” .

As it is shown at Figure 1, the first phase focused on the constitution of a sound partnership and, given the elevated number of consortium partners, of an effective approach to the internal communication and mutual understanding (WP1).
The second stage (WP2) provided the baseline knowledge according to the six main components of RRI concerning pandemics and global emergencies crisis management (governance, unsolved scientific questions and open access to scientific outcome, participatory governance and science education, ethics, law and fundamental rights. gender issues and inclusiveness, intentionally caused outbreaks) and focused on the creation of common approaches and languages in a cooperative, multi-actor, environment. ASSET is building on previous projects, notably from earlier and concurrent MMLAPs.
Fed by the previous phases, the third one (WP3) defined and designed strategic and action plans: needs, gaps, objectives, indicators and impacts have been defined with the performances needed. It has been polarized on the development of citizens’ awareness, empowerment and action, by implementing instruments and tools typical of the mobilization and mutual learning approach. The RRI perspective, including citizen-driven innovation, has been revealed central to this project moment.
If the fourth phase (essentially the WP4) has then been fully devoted to public consultation, the fifth project part (WP5, and partially the WPs 6 and 7) concentrated onto stakeholders’ and social media mobilization, mutual learning exercises, policy watch, and external communication. This objective is to be achieved by carrying out face-to-face and online initiatives as well as events developed at European, national and local levels.
Where the last phase (WP9) will concentrate on legacy, WP8 and 10 (monitoring and evaluation) are constantly encompassing all the other WP activities since the beginning of the project till its completion.
Project Results:
The initial six-month delay, that was reported in the first periodic report, impacted mostly on the first year and a half of the ASSET lifecycle and only some tasks were further delayed (in particular, it is the case of WP3 actions, e.g. the Strategic Plan supposed to be delivered at month 18 and then effectively released in September 2015). Given the ‘communication’ nature of the ASSET project, a relevant issue is the maximisation, in terms of efficiency and effectiveness, of internal communication among the partners that is fully supported by a web based Community of Practice (CoP). It is revealing to be a reliable tool ensuring a good circulation and sharing of information, data, documents, etc. on general and specific topics –per WP and even per single task– as well as guaranteeing long discussions and articulated interactions among consortium members, which are daily reported in messages which all partners receive in their private mailboxes. To complete this toolbox that serves as forging a partnership and promoting the consortium capacity building, beside the ‘Glossary of terms’ built for a common language to be used, the ‘Virtual Cluster for MMLAP’ is also hosted on the same web platform, that includes other groups’ spaces, like the ‘External Advisory Board’ place could be an example.
After the broad recognition on the existing research and studies about pandemics that has been carried out within WP2 according to the 6 main components of RRI (governance, unsolved scientific questions; crisis participatory governance; ethical, legal and societal implications; gender pattern; risk of intentionally caused outbreaks), the main critical aspects that emerged have been considered as priority starting points for the Strategic Plan and the RRI Roadmap as well as for other prominent MML activities’ milestones (Action Plan and Toolkit).
The core of the time interval July 2015-December 2016 was represented by the citizen consultation that was carried out in eight countries (Denmark, France, Switzerland, Ireland, Norway, Italy, Bulgaria, Romania) to gather opinions, feelings and thoughts of lay public on five selected questions of interest to the ASSET project. Beside this key action, other highly characterizing activities started: mobilizing people and fostering mutual learning accordingly. They are made of three fundamental vectors: social media coverage, implementation of a best/promising practices platform and a related stakeholders’ portal, development of twelve local initiatives in just as many cities.
In terms of policy watch, the High Level Policy Forum promoted its second physical meeting in Copenhagen and planned the third one in Brussels bringing together European policy and decision makers and letting them reasoning on EU strategic priorities about pandemics. Furthermore, the Pandemic Preparedness and Response Bulletin is being periodically sent out to the ASSET wider stakeholder community and to relevant public health authorities, and published on the website.
The ASSET web portal, a multilayer open web infrastructure, hosts several ‘soft’ materials (beside the mentioned Bulletin, also the Research and Innovation Newsletter, scientific papers, interviews, science pillows, data visualisation and other more) and ‘hard’ structures such as results from the public consultations, the practice platform and stakeholder portal, the sex & gender platform, press releases and reviews, and pages on Summer School editions.

Potential Impact:
After 36 months of activities, the ASSET actors mainly focused on three out of the four foreseen objectives: i) run a participatory and inclusive strategy to improve dialogical communication to succeed with crisis management, ii) recognise SiS-related issues in global emergencies, iii) once identified critical aspects, propose and bring them to the attention of stakeholders, scientific community, decision makers and citizens for improving preparedness and response in pandemics or public health crisis emergencies.

Potential impact and use of outcomes
ASSET is based on the study and implementation of MML strategies in order to improve participatory governance of research and technological applications so as to promote more sustainable and effective approaches to key challenges for pandemics and global emergencies management in different European countries.
Furthermore, ASSET is developing a pathway to further incorporate SiS issues and to make aware European citizens of those both by creating channels to enable them to realise concepts correctly and accredited sources and by opening discussions with the scientific community and main stakeholders at different levels to highlight the best options that can support such processes.
A large amount of tools and products are being created and made available progressively on the web portal to witness and substantiate societal implications, research and innovation related to pandemics. As well as the Action Plan and public consultations’ packages have been developed, all MML actions (social networks’ monitoring and analysis, practices and stakeholders’ portals, local initiatives) are going on.
Beyond specific tasks’ implementation, much effort has been dedicated to identify and categorise a wide mailing list of over 7,000 international stakeholders who are considered relevant in the field of interest. For the sake of an improved effectiveness, a tailored activity is addressed to share specific communication outputs according to the role of recipients.

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