Friday 12

Beyond citizen science: Public engagement in RRI

Posted by RRI Tools on 12 Aug 2016

Democracy is changing, and people are demanding more input into the things that affect their daily lives. Public engagement in RRI can help fill this demand but only if it goes beyond encouraging data collection to facilitating people’s ability to influence science. So said Lars Klüver, who has been involved with public engagement and technology assessment since the 1980s and is currently director of the Danish Board of Technology Foundation and coordinator for Engage 2020, CIMULACT and HBP Citizen Consultations. Klüver recently spoke at the RRI Tools’ second Train the Trainers workshop, which took place at CosmoCaixa Barcelona (July 4–6, 2016).

As RRI has developed, Klüver explained, what is considered good RRI has changed. Whereas legal compliance (such as meeting environmental standards) used to be enough, now good RRI is about social compliance: “It’s not necessarily about if you live up to the rules now. It’s about if you are going in the right direction” so that our children and grandchildren can have better lives.

Public engagement is necessary for determining the right direction. Indeed, Klüver claimed that “engagement is fundamental” to each of the four pillars of RRI (inclusive, anticipative, reflexive, responsive). However, he cautioned that engagement must go beyond the data collecting activities of citizen science.

Engagement should also give people opportunities to influence research. “I think it is very important that engagement in Responsible Research and Innovation is seen in this light,” he said. “It’s not only about implementing a little engagement here, a little engagement there, and then we have the windows looking fine. This is about taking part in a major change in our societies, and it will not stop.”

In a brief interview for the RRI Tools project, Klüver further explained how, “if we focus too much on citizen science and too little on the other aspects of science, which are more political, more defining people’s future, then we make an error.  We should . . . ensure that RRI engagements also are about the difficult things – the conflicts, the political things – in science.”

As Klüver described, engagement can and should take place anywhere along the path of technological development, from innovation to implementation, through regulation and social embedding, and on to reshaping technology to fit current cultural needs. And the Engage 2020 project’s Action Catalogue – a collection of engagement methods from around the world, organized by 90 specific criteria – can help people find the methods that will best facilitate real public engagement in their particular situation.

“It is often said that engagement is not mature. It’s something we have to develop. We will have it in the future — It’s not true. The methods are there. They’re there.” But they have to be used. If we focus only on citizen science, we will miss the goal of public engagement. “We will miss the democratic and the compliance aspects of RRI,” he said, “and that will be really sad.”

Find Lars Klüver's presentation on our SlideShare channel.

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