Why is Public Engagement (PE) important? What good examples exist and how can PE be embedded in the work of policy officers from the European Commission? These were some of the key questions during a workshop in Brussels organized by the Engage2020 consortium
On January 27th-28th the Engage2020 consortium in collaboration with SWAFS hosted a training workshop for Policy Officers, Heads of operational units and other EC staff in Brussels. The objective was to mainstream the understanding of Public Engagement (PE). Most participants arrived with a diffuse or limited understanding of what PE is and how it can match the current needs in RRI. To mainstream the understanding of PE for participants with less experience within the field was pivotal but it was furthermore important to ensure a concrete impact. The workshop was therefore conducted just in time to let the participants responsible for work programs, include what they had learned, in the 2016-2017calls for proposals during this spring.
Different approaches to PE in different Societal Challenges
The workshop was held as a mix of plenary and breakout sessions – one per Societal Challenge. During the plenary sessions the participants gained theoretical and practical perspectives on PE and were introduced to the wide range of PE methods that exists and are being used globally. Ortwin Renn (DIA) provided the theoretical perspectives and Lars Kluver (DBT) some methods on how the citizen participation can happen through lots of different engagement methods (link to deliverables). Several speakers provided examples building on the introduced theory and among them the GAP2, CIVIC University, CIVISTI and Science shops (more about science shops in the Fact Sheets deliverable – available for download in Publications)
It was important for the consortium to create a space for reflection within each of the Societal Challenges. The participants therefor choose a Societal Challenge to follow, where a team of facilitators and experts had co-created sessions that explored the specific needs the Societal Challenges is facing. An important part of each break out session was to introduce the Vademecum and the different typologies of PE which were also mirrored in the plenary presentations. The Vademecum is a “living” document that supports the mainstreaming and commonly agreed upon use of PE terminology. After the introduction of the document, the participants worked in groups on how the different PE typologies can contribute to specific issues in their Societal Challenge. At the end of the day everyone met in plenary to wrap up the lessons learned in the different groups during the day.
Day two was put together a bit different. Here anyone with specific questions or needs could meet up, pitch the topic in an open space session whereafter consortium experts and participants with interests in similar issues could go with them to discuss it further. 5 rooms all hosting several 30 minutes sessions, such as “PE in policy making processes”, “How to incentivise CSO involvement in Horizon 2020” and “How to reach marginal social groups”, framed many interesting discussions that in the end of day again were summed up by Edward Andersson
A small but important step forward
The workshop created a room for co-creation, reflection and communication that gave the participants an understanding of what PE is and how to embed it in Horizon2020. The enthusiasm and number of participants during both days showed an obvious demand for similar PE events that invites the European Commission into dialogue on how to fulfill the potential of PE in each Societal Challenge. The support shows that the participatory turn towards a wider and more inclusive praxis where the public and other stakeholders get a role and a say is in demand. It is a pivotal element for the EC in improving its legitimacy and particularly in trying to tackle the Societal Challenge with a more societally relevant and desirable research and innovation approach.
The engage2020 consortium is thankful for everyone showing interest in the event and considers the workshop as a milestone in mainstreaming the understanding of PE to qualify its use in the future.
End notes:  Science with and for Society group in DG Research
Anton Svane Olesen
Project Asistant, Danish Board of Technology