Public Engagement Methods and Tools

In October 2014, the Engage2020 consortium released a compendium of descriptions of currently used methods and tools for engaging the public in Research and Innovation (R&I) processes. The methods and tools are described in separate factsheets that include diverse information about the methods’ objectives of application, level of stakeholder involvement, strengths and weaknesses, examples of application of the method, etc.

A new approach of engaging the public in the research and innovation process

Societal actors can be involved at all levels of the research and innovation (R&I) processes and R&I policy making which brings benefits to researchers, policy makers and the public at large. Firstly, public engagement improves the democratic governance of science as citizens have a say on research agendas and policy frameworks in the field of R&I. Secondly, it improves the research results and the relevance of policies by including societal knowledge, ideas and capacities in research and increasing the knowledge base for policy making. Finally, it raises citizens’ awareness of science and technology development.

The European Commission (EC) has developed the framework for Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) in order to improve the relevance of science in the EU to the societal challenges lying ahead of the European societies. A key ambition of the RRI framework is to include societal actors throughout the whole process of research and innovation in order to deal with these key issues. Thus, to meet the goals of Horizon 2020 with regard to the societal challenges identified by the EC, which stand at the core of Horizon 2020 Programme, any proposed action will need to play an intermediate role with regard to three societal arenas: science, policy making, and the public sphere.

The compendium

In the light of the above mentioned, the Engage2020 consortium embarked on the challenging task to scan and map currently used engagement methods and tools. These were included in a compendium, which, it is believed, will be of benefit to individual researchers and research institutes, policy-makers, civil-society organisations from different fields, businesses. The compendium can be particularly helpful to organisations which intend to submit proposals for the current and future Framework Programmes of the EU for Research and Innovation. It is intended to help these actors take informed decisions in terms of which engagement methods/tools they can use in different contexts and how these have already been applied.

The process of identifying the listed methods and tools was based both on the expertise of the experienced partners in the project, as well as on gathering external knowledge via an online survey, which was distributed to experts in the field. The identified methods and tools were then described in factsheets that contain information concerning specificity of the individual methods, e.g. the objectives of methods/tools application, results and products of methods’ application, level of stakeholder involvement, participants in the process, strengths and weaknesses and others. The completed factsheets will be used to feed into a databank/Action Catalogue of engagement methods and tools which will be developed at the later stages of the project.

Mapping of engagement methods and tools

The methods and tools listed in the report are mapped against the following set of criteria:

  • The levels of application of the method/tool (i.e. policy formulation, programme development, project definition, research activity)

The four levels of method’s application, namely policy formulation, programme development, project definition, and research activity, cover the whole span of activities connected to science, research and innovation. Mapping the existing engagement practices against the four levels of engagement aims to contribute to the wider and more inclusive engagement on all levels, in order to strengthen the collaborative governance and democratic elements of research and innovation.

  • The societal groups involved in the application of the method/tool (i.e. CSOs, policy-makers, researchers, citizens, affected citizens, consumers, employees, users, industry)

In Engage2020 a special emphasis is put on groups which are usually not considered in the research and innovation process, such as CSOs, affected citizens, consumers, employees and users.

  • The level of public involvement of the societal groups listed above (i.e. dialogue, consulting, involving, collaborating, empowering, direct decision)

The Engage2020 project goes beyond the one-way communication of scientific findings. Therefore, the project partners identified and described forms of public engagement, which go beyond “informing” the public and range from dialogue to direct decision[1].

  • Grand Societal Challenge addressed (i.e. Health, demographic change and wellbeing; Food security, sustainable agriculture and forestry, marine and maritime and inland water research, and the bioeconomy; Climate action, environment, resource efficiency and raw materials; Inclusive, innovative and reflective societies; Secure, clean and efficient energy; Secure societies – protecting freedom and security of Europe and its citizens; Smart, green and integrated transport)

In order to better visualise the context in which different methods and tools of engagement can be used, six two-dimensional tables were produced based on the four above mentioned criteria.



[1] For more details on the definitions of terms used in this post, please, see the report.