Citizen input could make future EU research more relevant

The concerns and needs of society should be taken into account when deciding on future science and technology issues/policies, if Europe is to become the most advanced knowledge society in the world. Research agendas that are more relevant to society could strengthen the European economy in an era of global competition.

Citizens are the carriers of expectations and uncertainties about the future, and with the right facilitating methods, these concerns can be transformed into research agendas relevant to future European Framework Programmes.

Debate with a more engaged and informed public, and better conditions for collective choices on science issues are needed to achieve this goal. The CIVISTI research project has developed and piloted a cost-effective process of citizen engagement through a series of consultations in seven EU countries. This process could help EU decision makers define relevant and proactive research agendas for the next Eighth Framework Programme.

The main aims of the CIVISTI project are to:

  • Produce a list of new and emerging issues for European Science and Technology (S&T) research.
  • Produce a set of policy options of relevance to future European Framework research programmes.
  • Base these on a novel process of citizen participation in seven EU Member States, supported by the analytical capacity of recognised national and European experts.

Seven citizen panels of 25 people were established in Denmark, Finland, Belgium, Malta, Bulgaria, Hungary and Austria. Thousands of citizens were invited to participate in the panels. Participants were selected from a wide variety of socio-economic backgrounds, to ensure diversity, in terms of age, gender, employment and levels of education. Through a visioning exercise, informed by introduction material, each citizen panel formulated a long-term view of society’s needs, wishes, concerns and future challenges.

This resulted in a range of visions for the future on topics such as the environment, transport, the countryside, employment, scientific innovations, e.g. biotechnology and the human/machine interface, demographic change including ageing and immigration, and citizen participation.

These were then transformed by experts and stakeholders, such as scientists, policy analysts, NGOs, and representatives of governmental bodies involved in S&T research agendas, into policy options for European research. The experts were from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The transformation of visions into policy options occurred during a three-day intensive workshop in which the experts were involved in a process of evaluating the visions, extracting the S&T content, and formulating policy options. The outputs from this analysis were validated from the point of view of faithfulness to the related vision, effectiveness and desirability, and prioritised by a second meeting of the citizen panels.

The results will be presented and discussed at a policy workshop in Brussels on 24 January 2011. Some of the prioritised recommendations are:

  • Promote technical and social innovations to enhance use of public transportation - promote technical and social innovations towards access to transportation schemes through an intelligent and interactive network, covering and integrating both local and transnational travel, in a flexible, user-friendly and environmentally sound way.
  • Foresight and research to explore sustainable options for energy production – implement foresight studies and research into the governance challenges related to different scales and levels of energy production and distribution, in order to develop new options for decentralised, sustainable energy production.
  • Tools for disabled people – implement a policy which investigates the state of the art in the development of tools for disabled people. Policy should be based on the introduction of a balanced multidisciplinary approach to the issue by involving experts from technological and social sciences.
  • Go and re-appropriate the countryside! – foresight studies should be established to develop new visions of the future for attractive, contemporary life in the countryside. Foresight studies should include mobility, cultural and political life, employment and balance between production and recreation in the countryside.
  • Optimisation of urban space: towards European eco-cities - initiate a pilot project creating an eco-city in Europe with new methods of waste management, transportation, urban space use and energy usage. Eco-city development should be based on ‘bottom-up’ approaches and citizen participation.
  • Develop effective urban infrastructures supporting multigenerational lifestyle – support development of communication and mobile technologies that help multigenerational families. Support urban design and infrastructural development that provide a friendly environment for large families and their changing needs during family life cycles.
  • Social innovations for ageing societies are needed – research should be carried out to investigate the effect that a transition period between full-employment and full-retirement would have on the labour market. The aim of this would be to re-evaluate the rigid retirement age/pension system that currently characterises pension policy.

Citizens, experts and stakeholders involved in CIVISTI have a positive impression of the process and results. The CIVISTI project is considered as a good starting point towards a more citizen-based planning of European research programmes by many of the participating citizens. The majority wants to see more citizen panels like CIVISTI being organised to support the planning of public research programmes.

The researchers point out that ordinary citizens have a valid contribution to make to the process of defining relevant and proactive scientific research agendas, and that these agendas would benefit from such consultation. They believe they have established a new concept of cross-European citizen participation that could increase the EU’s foresight capacity in a very cost-effective way, compared with existing methods. The process is also relevant to fields other than science and technology, such as policy studies, democracy studies, ethics and philosophy.

CIVISTI - Citizen Visions on Science, Technology and Innovation (duration: 1/9/2008 – 28/2/2011) is a Specific Targeted Research Project, funded under the 7th Framework Programme for Research of the European Union, Thematic Priority 7 – Foresight activities.

See: http://www.civisti.org/

Contact: Lars Klüver, lk@tekno.dk; Anders Jacobi, aj@Tekno.dk