Friday 17

When a Science Center incorporates RRI processes into its DNA

Posted by Science Animation on 17 Jun 2016

As part of our commitment to supply the RRI Toolkit with new tools, a group of RRI practitioners and enthusiasts from science engagement organisations decided to gather a selection of good practices. Is there a better way to share what is known but from the first-hand experts?

Experimentarium, Muse, AHHAA, Science Animation, Ciência Viva and Ecsite introduce you to an exciting field: by reading these stories, you will get a clear sense of how RRI can enrich your work, your performance and sense of belonging to a community.

As a starter, enjoy this interview with Bruno Dosseur, director of the Dome, in Normandy, France. Expand your views on how a science centre can reshape its mission by being open, transparent and inclusive. It will really open your eyes. Promised.

(The guide will be launched at the end of summer and of course it will be showcased here!)

When a Science Center becomes a Co-working space the difference between partners and publics tends to disappear.

When a Science Center becomes a Co-working space the difference between partners and publics tends to disappear.

Credit: © Relais d’Sciences/G.Dupuy (2015)

Bruno, you are the director of Relais d’Sciences the Science Center of the Normandie region, and of the Dôme. But, what is the “Dome” exactly? 

It’s a third place dedicated to open research and innovation. Even if the Dome belongs administratively to Relais d’Sciences, it is actually fully shared with a community. The Dome’s programming is made by this community. We, at Relais d’Sciences, want to participate in empowering people to take actions in today’s world. We have something to say about research discoveries of course, but also about the digital revolution we are experiencing, or new working organizations which are emerging here and there, and we don’t want to do it alone because it wouldn’t make much sense would it?

Whenever someone comes to us with a project, before engaging we ask ourselves if all ingredients are there : research - openness - sharing with other ecosystems and accessibility. Lately we’ve added the economical value for the territory criterion, it’s not a “must have”, but it raises interesting questions. 

But aren’t you diverging too much from what a Science center is supposed to do?

Actually, we don’t need to claim for the “science center” designation, we are what we are, and I’m confident that people will figure it out by seeing what can be done here. For instance, there is the Hope & Bike project. It started from the meeting of our FabLab and the “Maison du Vélo” (bicycle group). Then, with other partners, they started to build an open source device which can transform your regular bike into a fancy Electrically Assisted Cycle (EAC). Now we have dedicated workshops where people train each other to make the device. By doing so they are sharing their knowledge both technical (building a motor and battery) and digital (sharing relevant information on open source platforms). My feeling is, when this is happening, we are doing the job.

Is it economically sustainable?

Because the project was making sense socially and economically to our ecosystems and had an innovative value, we have been able to build the Dome and buy the equipment we needed to get started. Now, because people have experienced that they have something to gain from working with us (in term of opportunities, new ideas, networks, changes of mindset) we are able to sell our expertise in organizing and facilitating workshops for instance. But for us to do so, it needs to have an identified purpose, something real that will come out of it. And we are a small team (9 people all together), so we are a rather frugal organization.

What makes the Dome RRI orientated

  • Diversity & Inclusion: For each project the Dome’s team decide to support they question the type of community it addresses, and if this community is relevant to the Dome’s project : i.e. are those people already sensitized  or would they normally not feel concerned by what’s going on there? A “yes” to the second option will give a better chance for the project to benefit from a greater investment from the team. The idea is to solicit a community from their center of interest to foster their reflexivity. Whether it’s appealing to sports addicts (with the eminence of the European Football cup) with a footballer bot’s workshop or to Handwriting lovers with the Paper 2.0 project, it mixes communities of competencies (developers, engineers, designers, business, researchers etc.)  with any given community of interest.
  • Openness and transparency: Both aspects are taken into account to any project brought the Dome. Whatever decisions are made regarding openness and transparency are the result of a discussion between all partners prior to even starting a project. By this discussion, partners (even business and industry) realize the benefit they can gain from openness. Then the expertise in science communication of the team will help making any content not only open, but really accessible.
  • Anticipation and reflexion: As B. Dosseur puts it “The whole Dome’s challenge is to question the evolving world around us”. Each project is therefore fully projected toward this aim, whether talking about connected textile, smart cities or experimental music, the team is careful about convening all currents of reflexion on the topic and document the results.
  • Responsiveness and adaptive change: The Dome is strongly tied to its ecosystem and the team is made of people with very different back grounds and networks, therefore there is an intrinsic diversity which is what the rest of nature has found to best cope with unexpected changes. Whether it will be sufficient enough, it’s too soon to tell. But as Bruno Dosseur puts it : “The Dome will probably slip from our grasp, it’s going to become something else, to evolve with other social mutation”

Malvina Artheau

Malvina Artheau works on the RRI Tools project at Science Animationthe RRI Tools Hub coordinator for France.

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