Science and Society: the New Frontier

The science-society relationship is a new frontier for science policy makers, says a new report from the European Science Foundation (ESF).

A special members’ forum commissioned by ESF in 2010 reached its conclusions this summer with an in depth report calling for far-reaching strategy changes and actions within the Science and Society field.

This report was presented as part of the VA session “How to motivate scientists to engage with the public” at ESOF 2012 by Camilla Modéer, vice-chair of the Forum.

One clear message is that a culture change is needed. Research funding bodies and universities need to commit to making public engagement a central part of their work. A key step to achieving this is by explicitly including the Science-Society relationship within strategies and mission statements.

Inclusivity is also essential, according to the report. Public engagement work should not be limited to certain fields or actors, but must involve all sciences and a variety of societal actors.

Individuals and institutions also need clear incentives and rewards for work in this area. Excellence in Science and Society work should be linked to funding, career progression and salaries, and should be a factor in research assessments.

Recognising and rewarding societal engagement requires a system of indicators to measure the quality, quantity and impact of activities. Significant progress has been made in several EU countries in this area, although more needs to be done. The report, which acknowledges that this is a long-term goal, has many details, recommendations and reflections on this matter.

A united approach both nationally and internationally is also vital. The report sets out recommendations establishing networks, joint initiatives and agreements. Putting public engagement at the heart of wider networks will also further cement the science-society relationship within European research culture.

As with most things in life, funding is essential. The report calls for sufficient funding to research new forms of public engagement as well as to support a change in culture and the development of indicators.

This study, carried out over two years, involved 29 member organisations of ESF. The 48 page report is a comprehensive and in-depth analysis of the current situation in Europe with many thought-provoking conclusions and recommendations for how to make sure European society can play its full role in the science-society dialogues of the future.

The report can be downloaded here.

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