The many initiatives promoted so far in Europe on Public Engagement have had many impacts on science and technology. However, public engagement still meets some resistances in research organisations. For example, getting involved in PE is not recognised for career advancement and it can even damage the career of those who promote PE initiatives. There are no incentives for PE. In general, leaderships and heads of department consider PE as a marginal aspect in the life of the organisation and sometimes they see it simply as a waste of time. Not by chance, according to a survey carried out in the UK , only 13% of scientists participated in public dialogue events at least once and only 7% more than once.
Making public engagement a permanent function of the organisation
In this framework, the need to embed public engagement in research institutions clearly emerges, so as to make it a permanent function of the organisation, strongly affecting the other functions (teaching, research, science communication, third mission, etc.). In this way, PE may also become a means for enhancing the overall management of the organisation, making its governance more dynamic. Hence the need to go beyond an event-based approach so as to understand it as a general approach to the management and governance of science and technology.
The best way to activate this process is likely that of developing an Action Plan specifically pursuing the objective of embedding PE in the research organisation, necessarily inducing, to some extent, structural changes processes within the institution. This is the way followed by the EC in order to promote Responsible Research and Innovation. Similarly, EC financed projects aimed at implementing action plans for promoting gender equality in research institutions.
What is an Action Plan
In general, an Action Plan can be understood as any co-ordinated set of actions for pursuing objectives involving the organisation or part of it. In our case, the Action Plans should be aimed at identifying, testing and progressively stabilising new practices and new institutional arrangements in research organisations so as to allow them embed PE in their research activities and decision making processes. Evidently, an Action Plan should be based on a set of resources, should be managed by a team and should have a clear scope (single department, various departments, the research organisation as a whole).
What are the main steps of an Action Plan
Four main steps of an Action Plan can be identified:
- Activating the process: shaping and launching the Action Plan trough participatory processes
- involving leaderships and staff: devising appropriate strategies to get the support from top and middle managers and to attract the research and teaching staff
- Tools and strategies: testing practices and arrangements for embedding PE in the organisation
- Evaluation and sustainability: evaluating progress at organisational level and ensuring long-term sustainability of the new institutional arrangements activated through the Action Plan.