Monday 29

Theatre, emoji, science centres and RRI – sharing experiences from the Ecsite Conference 2016

Posted by Ecsite on 29 Aug 2016

A report on the RRI-related workshops and sessions during the Ecsite Annual Conference 2016.

Now that the call for proposals for the next Ecsite Annual Conference 2017 just opened we think it is the right moment to sit down and reflect on the past Ecsite Conference 2016 in Graz and what exactly we learned from it.

Science centres, museums and other science engagement organisations are finding themselves in the middle of the transformation of the science&society relationship. With the concept of RRI (Responsible Research and Innovation), actively promoted by the European Commission, the ongoing process of aligning research and innovation with societal needs and expectations is one of the most important science policy trends in EU funding scheme Horizon 2020. Does it have any implications on the work of science engagement organisation? What kind of role are they ready to take up in this transformation? These and many other questions were the main themes of several sessions and workshops during the Ecsite Annual Conference 2016 in Graz, Austria. The conference offered a great platform to discuss and share concrete experiences with RRI that are relevant specifically for science engagement organisations.


What did we learn over the course of the whole conference?

  1. Emerging community: With several sessions and workshops related to RRI issues and from informal talks during numerous coffee breaks, it became evident that there is a growing interest in RRI among science engagement organisations. Although the concept might seem new to the scene, the key “ingredients” of RRI (Anticipation&Reflection, Diversity&Inclusion, Openness&Transparency, Responsiveness&Adaptive change) have found resonance within the community and many organisations are already working on implementing RRI-oriented activities. Sessions like "The confession session" and "Personal visions of science centres" were close related to the main set of values that are embedded in RRI and posed relevant questions of our relation to uncertainties and the future science development.
  2. Exploring potential: While RRI is gaining momentum, science centres, museums and other science engagement organisations also want to explore the opportunities arising from RRI in terms of funding, new collaborations, and innovative practices. Conference participants were interested in digging deeper and see what RRI can offer for their projects, activities and institutions and to explore the potential and relevance of RRI for their organisations.   
  3. Practice-oriented: The main challenge for RRI is to become more practice-oriented, which was a highly discussed issue during the conference sessions. Luckily, it is evident that science centres and museums are at the forefront of advancing RRI. Resources like the RRI Toolkit are also playing a role in facilitating the take-up of RRI by offering tailored information for certain target groups (Education Community and Civil society organisations) and issues (science education and public engagement).

It was also quite interesting to observe that while some sessions and workshops explicitly mention the concept of RRI, there were also sessions dedicated to the RRI-related issues like without necessarily mentioning RRI itself.

Let’s take a closer look. Below you will find snapshots from several RRI-related sessions and workshops.

Photo by Mehmet Bulut


Pre-conference Workshop “Putting RRI into practice

The Ecsite (Belgium) team, in collaboration with the La Caixa Foundation (Spain), UCL (United Kingdom), Experimentarium (Denmark), EUN (Belgium), Ciencia Viva (Portugal), and ZSI (Austria) organised a one-day training workshop on 7 June in Graz as a part of the RRI Tools project. The workshop aimed to address the needs of professionals who are working in science communication/education, contributing to improve their interactions with researchers, policy makers, business and industries, civil society, as well as to professionals who are interested in leading their institutions into engaging in RRI. The workshop included a theatre sketch illustrating a real-life situation in a day of a science communicator where RRI can be applied.


Session “Responsible Public Engagement

Since RRI is changing science and innovation in Europe, does it also require a new way of doing science engagement?  As Sarah Davies put it: “Is it [RRI] something that communicators do, or something they communicate (or both)? These were the guiding questions of the session. Wiktor Gajewski from the Copernicus Science Centre in Poland in his emoji-powered presentation shared his experience with RRI. To convince some target groups still remains a challenge for a community. Jane Chadwick presented the Ethical Committee at a Science Gallery in Dublin as one of the practical examples of RRI. The discussion during the session, after a "dot voting" focused on science education, gender and public engagement. It was evident that these issues have so many discussion points and we agreed that the framework given by RRI was certainly a useful common ground.


Session “Towards Responsible Research and Innovation: practical experiences

Representatives of several EU-funded projects (RRI Tools, NUCLEUS, SPARKS, IRRESISTIBLE) shared their experiences. Participants discussed on the main successful experiences on translating a science-governance concept into an approach and a new way of thinking and doing things. All of the projects shared some common tags: practical, education oriented and focused on settling a legacy from where the build-up would be evident and reachable.


Session “Forum for Dialogue

The session was organised by Marjoleine van der Meij (VU Amsterdam, the Netherlands) and Giovanni Stijnen (NEMO, the Netherlands). Several science and technology centres and museums (STCMs) in the EU, including NEMO Science Museum in Amsterdam, Netherlands, are currently developing new strategies aimed at implementing RRI into their activities (new or existing). A development that is particularly interesting in this regard, is the connection that STCMs can make with regional partners and activities that already involve citizens (participation, co-creation) in designing solutions to societal issues by means of innovation in technologies and science, such as Living Labs. Such connections make STCMs a potential ‘spider in the RRI web’. This feedback paper gives an overview of the ideas on the role of STCMs in RRI contexts, based on the Ecsite session in Graz.


Next steps

Ecsite together with the RRI Tools project team and several Ecsite members including Science Animation (France), AHHAA (Estonia), Experimentarium, MUSE (Italy) is currently working on compiling some of the inspiring practices of RRI incorporated in the activities of science engagement organisation and will make the guide

Find out more about the next Ecsite Annual Conference 2017 and submit your proposal here.

Antonina Khodzhaeva and Andrea Troncoso

Antonina Khodzhaeva and Andrea Troncoso work on RRI Tools at Ecsite, in Brussels, which is responsible for the mapping of stakeholders in the RRI Tools project

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