The shift from science communication to public engagement is not occurring in a vacuum. Rather, it is sustained by two different factors: the increasing presence of a pro-PE movement and the development of a favourable European policy framework.
A social movement for public engagement
PE is a social and political issue which even goes beyond the domain of science and technology. It actually concerns the governance of contemporary societies and the citizens’ rights in front of the crisis of the traditional mechanisms of representative democracy. For many scholars, a deliberative democracy is emerging precisely to cope with this crisis, which PE is part of. Science is one of the domains where the development of new forms of governance including public engagement practises are advancing the most. This advancement is promoted by many researchers, volunteers and NGOs, which, to a certain extent, comes to form a pro-PE social movement crossing institutional and national boundaries.
The european policy path toward public engagement
The shift toward public engagement is also largely sustained by the changing European policy framework. In fact, public engagement is not a new issue for Europe, but is part of the policy path that the European Union has been developing since at least 2000 in order to contrast the crisis of science as a social institution. In its last stages, PE came to institutionally and politically framed as a part of the Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) strategy, which is intended to how the European Research Area may function from now on.
The role that research organisations could play
However, this process is far from being concluded; and this toolkit is precisely aimed to contribute in this effort towards the diffusion and consolidation of PE in the European research systems. In particular, the Toolkit is intended to support research organisations to take a leadership position in this process, providing them with three sets of information and orientations, respectively aimed at helping them cope with three strategic questions:
- Developing public engagement initiatives (section B): in many cases, research organisations lack the knowledge and expertise needed to design and implement PE initiatives
- Embedding public engagement in research organisations (section C): the majority of research organisations are involved with PE only occasionally, while PE requires a strategic effort aiming at embedding it in the organisation’s strategies and current practices
- Supporting the societal anchorage of public engagement (section D): research organisations may play a key role in making public engagement a common social practice and in favouring the development of a real scientific citizenship.