To take public engagement seriously, research organisations should be willing to modify some of their procedures and activities (related to, e.g., making decisions, making research, teaching) so as to know the social environment they are immersed in and to allow other players to really participate on an equal basis with their own roles and responsibilities. Such changes should be aimed at establishing and consolidating new ways of interaction between those who are internal to the research environment (researchers, managers of research institution, policy-makers concerned with science policies, etc.) and those who are traditionally external to it (local authorities, civil society organisations, professional groups, local community, school teachers, up to the public at large).
To manage this process, two key processes could reveal to be particularly effective: networking and boundary work.
Enlarging and consolidating partnerships via networking
Networking in general refers to exchanging information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions. However, in the context of public engagement, it assumes a more specific meaning, i.e. a clear-cut strategy allowing a research institution to enlarge and stabilise over time its collaborative relations with other players, at different levels and with different aims. Multiple benefits can derive from networking strategies. A stakeholder and network analysis can be useful to understand with whom and why the research organisation is in contact with, so to devise well-targeted networking strategies. Evidently, networking strategies developed by research organisations may be very different from each other as well as different can be the techniques and tools adopted.
Developing and applying boundary practices
The expression “boundary work” may assume different meanings. However, it tends to refer to the process by which two or more players in mutual interaction re-establish the boundaries between them, such as those distinguishing experts from non-experts, decision-makers from those who are not, insiders from outsiders to an organisation, one disciplinary community from the others, and so on. Boundary work necessarily results in changes affecting, e.g., roles, tasks, duties, institutional arrangements, power relations, knowledge exchange, information flows or responsibilities. Only through boundary work, therefore, it is possible to really create new space for participation and to make scientific citizenship come true. Boundary work is not always easy to do, because of the different factors which may threaten public engagement in science and technology. However a set of boundary practices have been singled out in the last years, which can be fruitfully applied by research organisations. It also required “boundary leaders”, i.e., leaders able to deal with problems and opportunities related to the boundary work.