In addition to an institutional anchorage, a societal anchorage of public engagement is needed. People’s participation in science and technology cannot be taken for granted. In fact, it is misleading to think that, once research institutions and authorities will be open to public participation (and so far the majority of them are not), this latter will automatically occur. Furthermore, the increasing fragmentation of contemporary societies makes it even more difficult to mobilise people.
Resistances and barriers to the engagement of the public
In this regard, some critical issues can be addressed. Primarily, a large part of Europeans are not engaged with science and technology and an important portion of them perceive the presence of many potential risks for people connected to scientific and technological developments. Moreover, there are many barriers to public engagement, of different nature, often due to the lack of PE strategies on the part of research organisations. The role of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) can be also problematic or ineffective in promoting PE with science and technology.
Building a scientific citizenship
Therefore, making public engagement a consolidated social practice is therefore a necessary step in order to truly promote public participation in science. However, this is a long and uncertain process, which requires long-term efforts and investments. This may be more easily done if any single action aimed at promoting PE is viewed not only for its immediate objectives and results, but also for its wider contribution to build a scientific citizenship, able to give continuity and a stable framework to any single participatory experiences. Undoubtedly, there are different views about what scientific citizenship means and which are its contents. All that makes an effort towards the construction of scientific citizenship quite uncertain and possibly exposed to failure. Nonetheless, embedding public engagement in society is as pivotal for science as embedding public engagement in research institutions. To a certain extent, the two processes are interconnected and they reinforce or weaken each other.
Research organisations and scientific citizenship
Although the construction of a scientific citizenship is a process involving multiple players, research organisations have many opportunities to play a key role in that. This section is devoted to explore such opportunities, in order to better understand in which way they may support the establishment of a new dimension of citizenship connected to the practice and the governance of science and technology. In particular, the following issues will be deepened:
- Communicating science and educating to public engagement: this is the basis for public engagement
- Engaging in boundary work and networking: this is a necessary step for enlarging the cooperation space between research organisations and other players on an equal basis
- Promoting the national policies on public engagement: research organisations may become an active player in local and national policies on science-society relationships.