Science Shops are not ‘shops’ in the traditional sense of the word. They are small entities that carry out scientific research in a wide range of disciplines – usually free of charge – and on behalf of citizens and local civil society. The fact that Science Shops respond to civil society’s needs for expertise and knowledge is a key element that distinguishes them from other knowledge transfer mechanisms. Science Shops are often, but not always, linked to universities, where students either conduct the research as part of the curriculum, or other researchers become involved.
Established Science Shops are increasingly being asked to support the development of structures, procedures and materials for organisations that are planning to start a Science Shop. However, the Science Shop concept can’t be just copied from one location to another. Rather, this format needs to be adapted to local contexts, the requirements of local citizens, hosts organisations, and research funding structures. But there are ways of communicating and sharing information about Science Shops with interested parties.
With the financial support of the European Commission (EC), Europe-wide Science Shops have organised themselves into an international network called Living Knowledge. Online information, training material, empirical reports, meetings and conferences have been produced and posted on this site (www.livingknowledge.org).
The Living Knowledge network is open for all organisations that are interested in community based research and the concept of Science Shops. The free Living Knowledge newsletter and the discussion group are the main communication tools for sharing community-based research experiences around the world.
In the early 1970s there were few direct links between universities and daily problems in society, where at the same time some of the side effects of technological development were becoming visible. Part of the solution involved universities acknowledging the need to increase the role of citizens in research and to foster contacts between a wider publics and science and scientists.
The efforts of critical students as well as some university staff to increase civil society groups’ knowledge coincided with a growing environmental awareness. On the waves of this movement Science Shops (a direct translation form the Dutch word for these organizations Wetenschapswinkels, where wetenschap means science, and winkels means shops) emerged. The word ‘science’ in the name Science Shop is used in its broadest sense, so it includes different forms of knowledge, ranging from the social sciences, natural sciences, humanities, engineering, technology, mathematics and computer science.
The first Science Shops were grounded on the idea that universities had to play a more prominent role in the solution of social and environmental problems. Within universities Science Shops started to build partnerships with civil society. By the end of the 1970s, almost all Dutch universities had a Science Shop. Science Shops became recognized intermediaries between science (the universities) and society, working in an open and interaction-oriented way (Farkas, 2002).
In recent years Science Shops have consolidated their bridging function between university and society. Science Shops offer students the opportunity to do community based research and enable community groups to get access to university research resources, or get support in scientific methodology or processes in all areas of science such as nature, environment, health, art and culture, law, social aid and communication. From a modest extension of a university service on a voluntary basis, Science Shops developed to become professional organizations. The idea spread to many countries across the world (e.g. Videnskapsbutikken in Denmark, Wissenschaftsladen in Germany and Austria, Intermediu in Romania, Science Shops in the UK, Community Based Research Centers in the USA, or Shopfront at the University of Technology, Sydney).
In France and Belgium, the Science and Society Action Plan of the European Commission (EC, 2001) led to a revival of the Science Shop concept, while in Spain the very first Science Shops were started for the first time. Some of the most recent Science Shop-like initiatives are the emerging of Italian Science Shops in 2006, the start of the first Science Shop in Hungary (summer 2006) and China (Shanghai) in November 2006 and the opening of the Office of Community Based Research at the University of Victoria (British Colombia, Canada), early 2007. And yet these actors of the ‘new generation’ differ from those of the founding generation: they tend to be more heterogeneous regarding their organizational structure as well as their fields of work, orientating themselves to the approach of community-based research. They also benefit, potentially, from the experiences that scientists and citizens have made with numerous new forms of dialogue and participation.
Demand driven approach
Although there is not one standard model for Science Shops, because they function within different socio-political, cultural and organizational contexts (Mulder, et al., 2001), they all follow a demand-driven approach. There are, therefore, some important parallels among the many different types of Science Shops. By focusing on these parallels an international group of organizations defined Science Shops as follows:
A Science Shop provides independent, participatory research support in response to concerns experienced by civil society.
Science Shops appear all over the world but operate in many different ways. What they have in common is their demand driven and ‘bottom up’ approach, responding to the needs of local citizens and community groups. A participant of the Science Shop summer school 2006 in Utrecht compared Science Shops with goulash soup. The taste is different anywhere you cook it, but most of the ingredients are similar. Although there are many differences in the way Science Shops meet the definition they all share a general mission statement. They all seek to:
- provide civil society with knowledge and skills through research and education;
- provide their services on an affordable basis;
- promote and support public access to and influence on science and technology;
- create equitable and supportive partnerships with civil society organizations;
- enhance understanding among policymakers and education and research institutions of the research and education needs of civil society;
- enhance the transferable skills and knowledge of students, community representatives and researchers.
Thus, Science Shops work for the not-for-profit sector such as community organizations, neighborhood and patients associations, environmental, consumer and worker groups, churches, etc. Work for the profit sector is usually funded through other university departments or arranged through governmental institutes (Mulder and De Bok, 2006).
Science Shops in practice
Science Shops' budgets come from a number of sources. University-budgeted Science Shops in the end mainly get their money from their national government. Funds in the non-governmental organistation (NGO) type Science Shops come from memberships, grants, subsidies or charities. (Mulder, et al., 2006).
Science Shop work in general starts with a first contact between a civil society organization and a Science Shop on a specific problem. Then in a cooperative search for a solution questions from civil organizations are rephrased to scientific research projects which are performed either by students – under supervision of a professor, or experienced researcher – or by a Science Shop researcher. The research will lead to a report (or another type of product) which is made to be of use to the client.
Getting access to free or low cost and independent research through a Science Shop is an important instrument for NGOs and local communities to participate in decision-making procedures. The fact that Science Shops respond to civil society’s needs for expertise and knowledge is a key element that distinguishes them from more traditional forms of knowledge transfer mechanisms, such as press releases, popular presentations, or scientific papers. In contemporary society a straightforward publication of scientific results may provide a partial solution to the challenges of communicating science. But it is only one strategy within a much wider set of possible communication strategies, many of which (including Science Shops) facilitate more engaged knowledge exchanges around relevant and useful information.
An example of Science Shop research in action is the Wind Farm Perception project. This project focused on sustainable energy and the levels of support for plans to build wind farms. The project came about as a result of local opposition to the planned location of these technologies. A recent study of a Science Shop from Groningen, Netherlands, in collaboration with Public Health centres and departments tried to gain insight into the perception of the planned wind farm involving affected local residents. The results help to understand to what degree a wind farm affects local residents and what characteristics might determine their views and opinions. The results also help to determine what mitigation measures may be effective in addressing these issues.
Another project has dealt with New Communities and Mental Health. This project was performed on behalf an NGO committed to reducing health inequalities amongst ethnic minorities in the Republic of Ireland. It studied mental health needs amongst migrants, including the identification of needs, use and up-take of services, as well as patterns of service use, and perceived barriers to access. It provided a community-driven perspective that could be used to inform the development and implementation of policy and practice in the field of mental health. The Science Shop at Queen’s University, Belfast provided mentoring and support.
Impact of Science Shops on higher education and research
Universities have many relations with society. Towards individuals, there is a supply of existing information. Regarding service to organisations, Science Shops generally take care of non-commercial contract-research, whereas transfer offices or business service centres cover commercial research. Science Shops have a special place in linking the three university missions: education, research, and knowledge transfer to society.
Science Shops develop useful skills for students, not only by teaching them how to ‘acquire relevant and useful knowledge’, but also by teaching the competence ‘to apply knowledge in context, in a rapidly changing society’. In Science Shop projects, students learn valuable skills, such as communicating with a range of stakeholders, citizens and types of expertise, and solving a problem in context. Students can earn credits for their work which count towards their degree. Further impact is created by using Science Shop cases as examples in ‘regular’ courses. There are examples of Science Shops developing methodological courses and even helping to restructure curricula (Fokkink and Mulder (2004). The analyses of Science Shop case studies in the Interacts project show that through co-operation with civil society students may enhance or develop the following (employable) skills and competences (see for example Teodosiu and Teleman, 2003).
- Social competences (Real life experiences)
- Communication and co-operation skills, also with non-scientists
- New knowledge and perspectives
- Knowledge and expertise within transdisciplinary research
- Skills to connect and bring together the various needs and demands of different groups, even with their rather theoretical scientific background
Science Shops also have the potential to shift research agendas, introducing new themes, and developing existing ones. Science Shops can change or add to the focus of a given research agenda and can create collaborative dialogues that did not previously exist, potentially involving greater opportunities for long-term, routine, stakeholder engagement. They can introduce participatory research methods and some may even develop into participatory research centres (Hende and Jørgensen, 2001). An example from the Science Shop for pharmaceutics in Groningen illustrates this function of the Science Shop, in which emerging themes have lead to focused scientific attention. As a result of work conducted at this Science Shop several small questions on the uses of medicine in the tropics, posed by an NGO, led to two larger PhD projects. Both resulting publications were best sellers at the bookshop of the Royal Dutch Tropical Institute (Mulder, et al., 2006). In Denmark several requests from NGOs through the Science Shop at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) resulted in the establishment of organic food as a research and teaching area that university (Hende and Jørgensen, 2001).
In the UK, as in the Netherlands and other countries, Science Shops can be seen as relating to a third mission (knowledge transfer) activity in higher education. As contributors to the Interacts project case studies, UK-based Science shop managers recognised that these issues were now on the agenda of this government. These managers expressed a personal interest in progressing this agenda, and publicising staff expertise visibly to external bodies. University managers increasingly accept that teaching and learning can effectively be combined with community engagement in order to justify public funding (Jørgensen, et al., 2004).
Impact of Science Shops on society
Science Shops are perceived by NGO representatives as an efficient way to connect universities and communities. Through mediation by Science Shops NGOs gain access to science and research, which they would not have had if Science Shops had not existed. As in the Interacts cases from Innsbruck (a non-university based Science Shop) Science Shops are perceived as more accessible and less bureaucratic than a university department owing to their explicit openness to the public.
In general, the impact of Science Shop projects on civil society can be labelled as empowerment. Citizens feel empowered to analyse their own living environment and they are able to implement some of the results in their own local communities. By involving a Science Shop in the solving of a problem it can generate news media and public attention. Its results can influence policy or lead to legal success in a discussion. It might also contribute to new products, services or organisational capability. There are also examples in which the clients may not achieve their pre-conceived goal, but at least they are glad that their voice was heard in the discussion.
- European Commission (EC) (2003). Science Shops: knowledge for the community. EUR 208776, ISBN 92-894-6245-0.
- European Commission (EC) (2002). Science and Society - Action Plan. ISBN 92-894-3025-7.
- Farkas, N. (2002). Bread, cheese, and expertise – Dutch Science Shops and democratic institutions. Ph.D. Thesis, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy NY, USA.
- Felt, U. (ed.) (2003). OPUS: Optimising Public Understanding of Science and Technology. Final report. University of Vienna.
- Fokkink, A., Henk, A. and Mulder, J. (2004). Curriculum development through Science Shops, Environmental Management and Engineering Journal, 3(3), pp. 549-60.
- Gnaiger, A. and Martin, E. (2001). Science Shops Operational Options, SCIPAS Report nr. 1, University of Utrecht
- Hende, M. and Jørgensen M.S. (2001). The Impact of Science Shops on University Curricula and Research. SCIPAS Report No. 6, Utrecht University.
- Jørgensen M.S., Hall, I., Hall, D., Gnaiger, A., Schroffenegger, G., Brodersen, S., von der Heiden, K., Reimer, R., Strähle, M., Urban, C., Endler, W., Teodosiu, C., Rojo, T. and Leydesdorff, L. (2004). Democratic Governance through Interaction between NGO's, Universities and Science Shops: Experiences, Expectations, Recommendations. Final report of Interacts. ISBN 87-91035-26-0.
- Mulder Henk, A.J. and Caspar, F.M. De Bok (2006). Science Shops as university-community interfaces: an interactive approach in science communication, in Cheng, D., Metcalfe, J. and B. Schiele (eds.) At the human scale: international practices in science communication. Science Press Beijng. ISBN 7-03-017069-5. pp. 285-304.
- Mulder, H., Michael, S., Jørgensen, L., Steinhaus, N. and A. Valentin (2006). Science Shops as Science - Society Interfaces, in Pereira, A.G. Guedes, S. and S. Tognetti (eds.) Interfaces between Science and Society, Greenleaf Publishing, Sheffield, UK
- Mulder H., Auf Der Heyde T, Goffer R and Teodosiu C (2001). Success and Failure in Starting Science Shops. SCIPAS Report No. 2, Utrecht University.
- Henk A.J. Mulder, Michael S. Jørgensen, Laura Pricope, Norbert Steinhaus and Anke Valentin (2006). Science Shops as Science - Society Interfaces.
- Teodosiu, C. and Teleman, D. (2003). Interacts, Improving Interaction between NGO’s, Universities and Science Shops: Experiences and Expectations. Romanian case studies report, Intermediu, Gh. Asachi University, Iasi.