Shaping participatory futures: what can funders do to facilitate meaningful participation in and with science & innovation? Looking back at the Connect.Collaborate.Create conference. Looking back at the Connect.Collaborate.Create conference.
In October I attended the final joint conference from two EU projects: PRO-Ethics and COESO, called Connect.Collaborate.Create (CCC). I was there in my current role of program leader for citizen science/societal engagement at Open Science NL, part of the Dutch Research Council (NWO). The PRO-Ethics project is dedicated to ‘working with research and innovation funding organizations across Europe to test new, ethical ways to involve citizens in decision-making processes.’ Conversely, the COESO project focuses on ‘fostering the growth of citizen science/participatory research in the social sciences and humanities.’ What is participatory research and/or citizen science? Participatory research, or the participation of non-professional scientists in research can take place in different forms. It can range from dialogues, to intensive interactions between researchers and citizens, to citizens participating in the research itself (citizen science). Citizen Science can also mean different levels of participation. This can range from collecting data for research, to defining the research problem(s), to assistance in data analysis, to collaborative science. In collaborative science, citizens are involved in all stages of the scientific process. I will here use both terms, participatory research and citizen science, as they overlap substantially. The CCC conference brought together a mix of experts in the field. People with ethical expertise, representatives from the humanities, professionals identifying their work as citizen science or participatory research, among other terms. Others are working at science shops, of which some are transitioning from collecting science-related questions to ‘science dialogues’ and citizen science. Others are working at funding organisations, ranging from ‘experimenting with participation’ to funders with substantial experience on this topic. Overall, it was a very inspiring event. True to their principles, the conference organizers co-designed several parts of the conference program with the attendees, drawing inspiration from the unconference principles of THATcamp (https://thatcamp.org/about/index.html). Attendees proposed workshops through short abstract submissions, which were then categorized by themes in an online platform. This facilitated connections between like-minded participants, leading to the creation of new collaborative workshops. I was part of a group of funders and experts assembled by the organizers. Together, we co-created the workshop ‘Shaping Participatory Futures: What Can Funders Do to Facilitate Meaningful Participation in Science & Innovation?’. This collaborative approach allowed us to exchange ideas and get to know each other even before the conference started. During our workshop at the CCC conference, we encouraged participants to envision a future where participatory research is the standard. We asked them to visualize this future—its processes and the structure of research projects within it—without focusing on obstacles. Later, we delved into identifying the hurdles which could hinder this envisioned future. Lastly, we discussed strategies to overcome them. Towards the end, participants shared innovative funding opportunities from around the world. Such examples provide glimpses into the future and can inspire us to collaborate, funding organizations and practitioners, to make this future a reality. One step at a time. Nyangala Zolho (Innovation Growth Lab, NESTA), one of the co-organizers of the workshop, nicely summarized our collective envisioned future for funders (https://pro-ethics.eu/news/the-future-is-now-citizen-participation-in-ri ) as: “The future role for the research funder might not be to award funding but to support play and experimentation in a structured way, to support unusual collaborations (for example matching citizen-led research to researchers and resources), and to be a critical friend and support ethical applications of this new way of thinking and doing R&I.” How can we achieve an ideal situation for participatory research? I firmly believe that as citizens, researchers, and funders, it’s crucial that we critically assess the current situation and determine the steps needed to progress toward a future of meaningful participation in research. At the Dutch Research Council (NWO), my colleagues and I are currently examining NWO’s funding landscape for participatory research and are identifying strategies to enhance these practices. Funders vary in their ability to support participatory projects—by assisting in initial phases like consortia formation and matchmaking, by providing support during project execution (e.g., training, mutual learning opportunities), and by offering post-project evaluations. These capabilities are shaped by their legal framework (e.g. who can apply for funding?), funding history, available resources, expertise in participatory methods, and much more. To establish an ideal environment for participatory research, we need to overcome hurdles before the projects starts, during the time of the project and after the project has ended- challenges not limited to funders alone. The question that arises to me is: What can funders do to overcome some of these hurdles and facilitate funding? And what could I do as program leader citizen science/societal engagement within Open Science NL? In my quest for answers, I came across the PRO-Ethics and the COESO projects. These projects offer a unique perspective by examining the role of funders in involving non-academics in research. Their joint conference provided valuable insights into the ethical challenges faced in participatory research, also with respect to the humanities. One notable output of PRO-ethic’s project is the “Ethics Framework and Guideline: a guide for research funding organizations implementing participatory activities”. (https://zenodo.org/record/8089673 ) This resource is a valuable tool (not only for funders) when designing participatory projects. It serves as a hands-on guide, facilitating the entire process from planning to implementation and follow-up. I am convinced that funders bear a significant responsibility for promoting participatory research. As highlighted in COESO’s Policy Brief, “The way funders structure their programs, the specific wording they use in their calls, and the processes they implement to assess the projects all deeply impact the research itself.” (https://coeso.hypotheses.org/files/2022/07/COESO-Policy-Brief-Funding.pdf) What’s next? I’ve established valuable connections with experts in participatory research, ranging from funding organizations to practitioners and spanning the fields of ethics to humanities. These connections are important for me to further advocate for and strengthen participatory research efforts in the Netherlands. I anticipate numerous forthcoming opportunities to build upon. To find the appropriate words and procedures when establishing dedicated funding for participatory research and citizen science, we at Open Science NL will initiate a participatory trajectory. This trajectory, aimed to commence in 2024, aims to collaboratively co-create a framework for citizen science funding. Our goal is together with a diverse array of stakeholders—citizens, citizen scientists, municipalities, professional scientists, among others—to determine how a funding program should be shaped. This trajectory is part of the recently launched Open Science NL work program (https://www.openscience.nl/en/publications) for 2024-2025. This program outlines Open Science NL’s aspirations to introduce various funding opportunities for FAIR data, research software, scholarly communications, and citizen science/societal engagement in the coming two years. Organizers of the workshop were: Floriant Covelli, (Institut français du Monde associative); Anne-Floor Scholvinck, Esther Baar (Rathenau Instituut); Frederike Schmitz, NWO (Dutch Research Council); Anila Nauni, Thomas Evenson (Research Council Norway); Nyangala Zolho, Alex Glennie (Innovation Growth Lab/Nesta) About Open Science NL: Open Science NL is a newly established organisation within the Dutch Research Council NWO. (https://www.openscience.nl/). Open Science NL has the mission ‘to make open science the norm in 2030.’ In the Netherlands it can build on a national plan on open science (NPOS) in which FAIR data, research software and scholarly communication and citizen science/societal engagement are seen as integral parts of Open Science. Open Science NL therefore also has four program leaders: Maria Cruz for Open Research Software, Jeroen Sondervan for Open Scholarly Communications, Marta Teperek for FAIR Data and Frederike Schmitz for Citizen Science/Societal Engagement. The Open Science NL director is Hans de Jonge. If you want to stay updated on recent developments subscribe to the Open Science NL newsletter (https://www.openscience.nl/en/stay-updated ).