Launch of Science in Society: caring for our futures in turbulent times

Launch of Science in Society: caring for our futures in turbulent times

Vilnius also saw the launch of a new science-society report ‘Science in Society: caring for our futures in turbulent times‘ drawing extensively on knowledge from the Science and Technology Studies community. Authored by Ulrike Felt, Daniel Barben, Pierre-Benoit Joly, Alan Irwin, Arie Rip, Andy Stirling & Teresa Stockolova the report argues that ‘plurality matters’ and we need to create ‘new spaces’ for science-society interactions. Its recommendations are listed below. Launching the report Ulrike Felt stressed the importance of reflecting on science-society issues ‘explicitly in the set-up and pursuit of programmes and projects’ and how we require ‘inspirational space for reflexive work’. In response Helga Nowotny (President of ERC) stressed the timeliness of the report for the challenges of the emerging Horizon 2020 programme and the need to counteract the ‘performativity effect’ of overly narrow sets of indicators. Paul Boyle (President of Science Europe & Chief Executive of ESRC, UK) welcomed the report and suggested that we should address the practical steps needed for a new framing of ‘society in science’.

The following summary is taken from the Report (pages 4-5) website:

Key recommendations in the report touch upon five broad areas:

1. Linking excellence to relevance and responsibility.

At a time when the policy discourse strongly embraces excellence as one, if not the guiding principle, careful consideration is needed as to how this commitment relates to questions of societal relevance and responsibility. While caring for quality in research is definitely a central issue, we simultaneously urge:

• opening up the notions of relevance beyond economic criteria and of excellence beyond classical research indicators, thus also creating the necessary conditions for responsible research;

• better research-based understanding of how excellence and societal relevance relate to each other;

• explicitly integrating science-society issues into the programmes and institutional settings dedicated to research excellence.


2. ‘Science-society activities’ – integration and separation from research

With regard to Horizon 2020 as well as national research programmes, the question of whether and how science-society activities/research projects are integrated or separated from the research they are meant to accompany (or reflect upon) has been raised anew. In this context we suggest that institutions:

• do not pose this question in the form of an either/ or, but search for a balance between these two approaches since they serve different purposes: including analysis of broader issues at stake beyond the borders of project(line)s, capacity-building in the community of researchers, and conducting concrete engagement activities;

• avoid what we call the ‘ritualisation trap’, i.e., delegating reflexivity solely to the social sciences and humanities, to perform it ‘by the book’ – following standardised models – or to limit it to specific moments, mostly towards the end of projects;

• reflect (and demand reflection upon) science-society issues explicitly in the set-up and pursuit of programmes and projects.


3. Plurality matters

It is widely acknowledged that contemporary societies have become more diverse and that transnational mobility will further increase this. Aiming to make this plurality matter in a positive way and turning it into a unique opportunity for Europe, our recommendations stress the need to:

• explicitly acknowledge European diversity in histories, values and traditions, as well as in different anticipation practices and ways of imagining sociotechnical futures. This demands both in-depth comparative research and closer consideration of diversity in policy making;

• address science-society issues in ways adapted to the concrete local settings; learning from each other not so much in terms of transferring ‘best practices’ as in carefully situating and re-locating experiences across cultural contexts;

• give space to a variety of understandings of progress and futures, thus opening up a variety of pathways;

• broaden the notion of innovation to the social sciences, humanities and arts and acknowledge a wider range of knowledge available in different sectors of society.


4. Expanding and creating new spaces for science-society interactions

While science-society issues have been under consideration for some time and a broad range of actions established, it seems important to generate new ideas in this area. This requires:

• critical reflection on the ways in which notions of ‘science’ and ‘society’ are implied or made explicit in diverse activities; it seems essential to move away from a narrow understanding of science and society issues to activities that portray more open and flexible understanding;

• more attention to the spaces organised bottom-up where science and society issues are negotiated in different ways and multiple alternative practices of engagement developed; this includes supporting and acknowledging the activities of researchers in engaging with these practices and creating such alternative spaces;

• the courage to abandon the idea of controlling science-society relations and embark instead on the venture of exploring and engaging with those relations in creative ways.


5. Making time-space for reflexive work

We end this report with a call for the active creation of more time and space for reflexive work within research. Accordingly, we stress the need to:

• develop visible incentive structures in order to make it possible for researchers to engage in these activities without damaging their career opportunities;

• re-connect broader societal values with approaches to evaluating research and innovation;

• do research to create a better understanding of the reflexive work happening in different fields, institutions, cultural contexts;

• transform science-society activities into an inspirational space which may help unleash previously neglected creative energies encapsulated in research and innovation – thus also contributing to a thriving culture of scientific research and knowledge-based innovation in a society appreciative of their beneficial outcomes.