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8. Brussels (07/2014)


CONSIDER Expert Workshop, Brussels 2014

The Workshop

On 1st July 2014, CONSIDER held an expert workshop in Brussels, Belgium, to gather feedback on the project’s draft recommendations and guidelines for the participation of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in research. Following extensive analysis of our theoretical research and empirical studies, CONSIDER has now identified the characteristics, influencing factors and best practice of CSO participation in research projects. This workshop gathered approximately 25 experts in three key stakeholder groups – CSOs, researchers and policy makers – to gain feedback for the further development of the guidelines and recommendations. The discussions focussed on the needs of stakeholders and the document’s presentation and dissemination. Experts were invited from a variety of cultural, professional and geographical backgrounds.

Objective

Following an introduction from Prof. Bernd Stahl to the CONSIDER project, its methodology and the draft guidelines and recommendations, there was an initial plenary discussion. The participants were then split into three stakeholder groups based on their professional background (CSOs, researchers, policy makers) to discuss the document from their own viewpoint. The discussion concentrated on the specific content of the document, with participants outlining their accordance with and prioritisation of the recommendations and guidelines. In order to gain a broader perspective, the second round of workshop brought stakeholders together in three mixed groups. This session was based primarily on the presentation and dissemination of the guidelines and recommendations across all stakeholders. The workshop concluded with a plenary session to summarise the workshops and identify key messages for the revision of the guidelines and recommendations.

Prof. Carsten Stahl giving the introductory talk to the Expert workshop

CONSIDER is committed to producing results that are innovative, effective and sustainable. Through peer-to- peer discussion, group analysis and workshop debate, this workshop sought to provide participants with an opportunity to voice their ideas, opinions and concerns on CSO participation in research. The feedback will be analysed and acted upon by the CONSIDER project in order produce the final proposal.

The session

Overall, the guidelines and recommendations were positively received. Participants agreed that the document was necessary to the development of CSO involvement in research and responsible research and innovation (RRI). However, the diversity of the workshop proved to be both its strength and weakness: participants raised numerous points for consideration, sometimes in opposition with those both within and beyond their stakeholder group. Nonetheless, several key arguments arose for the development of the guidelines and recommendations.

Prof. Stahl showed a video on Responsible Research and Innovation in ICT
(to watch the video follow this link)

First and foremost, the vision and mission of the recommendations and guidelines must be refined. Participants argued that the document attempts to provide a one-size-fits-all product, whereas its intent is to be tailored to different groups. The guidelines and recommendations should state that the diversity of the definition of a CSO does not allow for a general statement but rather that CONSIDER’s vision embraces a range of organisations. It was also suggested that the current proposal is most suited to stakeholders engaging in EU-funded multi-stakeholder projects such as those under FP7
and Horizon 2020. This product would prove valuable; however, it should be the sole focus of the document. The recommendations and guidelines cannot provide a theoretical overview, guidance for small-scale projects and advice on large-scale collaborations – a choice must be made. The document should therefore be anchored in these structures. With the current review of Horizon 2020, CONSIDER’s findings could significantly contribute to these modifications, if presented accordingly.

Pragmatism
Pragmatism was a key term used by all participants. There was a strong view that the recommendations and guidelines need to be rooted in actionable content. In order to achieve this, empirical references, diagrams, quotes and case studies of good practice could be used to bring together information. The empirical data sourced by CONSIDER was identified as its greatest asset. It is also the grounding evidence and justification for the claims made in the guidelines and recommendations. The current sentiment is that this document provides objectives as oppose to instructions. This alternative approach could also increase stakeholder engagement as it was argued that the guidelines and recommendations currently appear to be formulated from the academic perspective which does not suit the needs of other audiences.

Across all stakeholders, there was a unified call for justification of CSO involvement in research. Once more, the need for this differs between stakeholders. For policy makers, it was highlighted that further argumentation is required to support CSO participation in research. By identifying ‘political convenience’, this would orientate and motivate their engagement with the initiative. As such, CSOs require this justification in order to strengthen their standing in multi-stakeholder research projects. The document must emphasise the incentives and motivations for the collaborative approach, whilst outlining current obstacles to its realisation. Three principal areas for which CSO engagement is crucial were highlighted:

1. Shaping research to societal challenges;
2. Involvement in participatory research (‘action research’);
3. Translation of research results back into society (i.e. application and scale-up).

Incorporation of literature regarding social movements could further support these arguments. In addition, CSO engagement requires a clear understanding of the social purpose of the research. 

The language used in the guidelines and recommendations
It was generally agreed that the current usage was formal, with the tone being suggested as either reminiscent of the European Commission or representative of the researcher’s perspective. It was argued that the tone and language should reflect the specific stakeholder in question. By tailoring the language, this will also increase engagement with the text. Reciprocity should also underline the document’s language. At times, the tone appears accusatory, negative or distant yet the recommendations and guidelines should portray a collaborative dialogue between all stakeholders. This could be achieved through use of first person to personalise the text.

Terms and definitions
Though the terms and definitions used by CONSIDER have been a point of reflection throughout the project, further development is still required. Beyond the stakeholder categories (CSO, researcher, policy maker), CONSIDER must define principal ideas such as ‘research’, ‘responsibility’ and ‘innovation’. Furthermore, in order to support the development of democracy within research, this document should clarify the distinctions between stakeholders or present a continuum between fundamental concepts – i.e. policy makers and policy doers, CSOs and civil society, researchers and research institutions.

A view from the expert workshop

The terms and definitions used to present the document were also analysed by participants. By referring to CSO involvement in research, this suggests that there is a secondary nature to the role of the CSO in the guidelines and recommendations. The document should instead allude to collaborative research which suggests a more equal partnership. Though the content is presented as guidelines and recommendations, discussions identified that there are various levels to the report that need to be clearly highlighted. The document consists of advice, considerations, recommendations and policy options, all of which merit distinction within the individual sections for stakeholders. Furthermore, the term ‘governance’ raised several questions. Regardless of the project’s overall title, participants suggested that this final output does not reflect a discussion on governance and the document should highlight this as, in fact, the terminology may deter certain stakeholders. In addition, it was argued that there is confusion between the criteria of ‘excellence’ and ‘impact’ and the guidelines and recommendations should instead focus on transdisciplinarity. The boundaries between science and society were also found to be blurred through discussion of ‘social science’, a concept distinct from science for society.

Structure of the guidelines and recommendations
Firstly, it was debated whether the stakeholder structuration was an effective method of presenting the content. Reminiscent of a chicken and egg situation, participants discussed whether it was more appropriate to approach the subject from the perspective of the issues involved or the stakeholders participating. This was supported by the suggestion that it is impossible to draw a clear line between the roles of stakeholders, as demonstrated by the lack of universal definitions. Even though clearer definitions will support the document, CONSIDER must acknowledge that there are constant overlaps in the roles of the different stakeholders.

Furthermore, CSOs argued that the ‘Environment/Infrastructure/Conditions’ stage is equally relevant to effective participation and should therefore be incorporated into the strategic preparation. Nonetheless, development of project management within the document was discussed and further precision needs to be given to the timeline of the individual stages for all stakeholders. Greater information was also requested for the competencies of writing research proposals in relation to all stakeholders.

The experts' view: Guidelines and Recommendations for CSOs

The representatives at the CSO expert workshop felt that overall, the document provided valuable guidance on participation in research projects. Through group discussion, several key areas were identified within the document for improvement. As mentioned before, the primary issue is the definition of a CSO, both in terms of its encompassment of and its distinction from civil society. A clear definition of what CONSIDER understands to be a CSO is a vital component of the document. It was suggested that this could be supported by a visualisation of “the universe of CSOs”, highlighting where CONSIDER stands in relation to each of the different entities. In addition, though there is no universal definition, the role of the legal entity status of CSOs should be incorporated into the guidelines and recommendations for policy makers.
Dr. Karen Bultitude taking notes on the experts' feedback for CSOs

This lack of definition is in fact a product of the great diversity between CSOs, in particular with regards to size, scope, structure, capacity and resources, which the document must tackle. The nature of research participation for CSOs must be clarified as it is unclear whether the guidelines and recommendations advocate for CSO involvement generally in research or the establishment of dedicated specialists within the organisation. However, participants did suggest that CONSIDER should connect with large CSOs such as Greenpeace in order to maximise the impact of the recommendations and guidelines.

From the researchers’ discussion, it also emerged that the recommendations and guidelines should address the technical participation of CSOs in research. If CSOs are to be involved throughout the project as CONSIDER advocates, the document should incorporate specific aspects such as the level of expertise for CSOs regarding scientific instruments.

The experts' view: Guidelines and Recommendations for Policy Makers and Funders

The representatives at the policy expert workshop agreed that the recommendations and guidelines align with current international policy initiatives. The range of participants provided a broad overview of the developments necessary for CONSIDER’s work. Once again, definitions and terminology were a key topic in the discussions. Greater clarification on who is understood as a ‘policy maker’ is required in the guidelines and recommendations. There are many differences regarding policy implementation (EU officials on the one hand, policy do-ers on the other) and a wide range of people making decisions at various levels. However, policy makers and funders should remain two distinct categories; EU-funding is just one option, with private funding from charities and fundraisers as another powerful source and industry-funded initiatives having an increasing role in research & innovation.

Experts giving feedback for the policy-makers guidelines and recommendations

On a practical level, policy makers were keen to receive further information on how to succeed in implementation. Further concrete recommendations relating to the selection criteria for CSOs, their social relevance and pluralism are required in the document. Participants were keen for the recommendations and guidelines to have a sustainable impact and questioned how precisely the European Commission can take CONSIDER’s work forward. The document should outline how the recommendations and guidelines can feed into European Research Area (ERA) processes in particular and be incorporated into the research policy of large institutions such as Joint Programming Initiatives (JPIs) and European Innovation Partnerships (EIP). Finally, for effective implementation, the advice for funders should recommend process evaluation procedures so as to constantly improve and perfect collaboration.

The experts' view: Guidelines and Recommendations for Researchers

Researchers believe the recommendations and guidelines to be a solid basis for development of participatory research. Nonetheless, the definition of terminology used when discussing this stakeholder needs greater refinement. For maximum impact, the dissemination to this stakeholder should include key figures at research institutions.

Experts giving feedback for the guidelines and recommendations for researchers

For researchers, the main issue is not willingness but institutional obstacles. Researchers identified that lack of time, reward and funding, in addition to added bureaucracy and an opposition between market and knowledge-driven research, often prove to be a disincentive for engaging with CSOs. The recommendations and guidelines should address these challenges by outlining the added-value of CSO participation in research. Furthermore, in order to support positive working relations once projects begin, specific places for colleagues to exchange (online or offline) would be greatly beneficial.

Researchers were clear in terms of unfulfilled needs from the recommendations. Firstly, further input is required on the suggested evaluation of research or collaborative evaluation processes with civil society or peers. By addressing this concept, the guidelines and recommendations will ensure greater impact and longevity. Secondly, in relation to project management, the document must reference the time allocation of researchers. This issue is captured in the guidelines and recommendations for CSOs but requires development for researchers. Thirdly, regarding the recommendation to build support structures (R4), the contextualisation is lacking from the claim. Finally, the recommendations and guidelines need to put greater emphasis on the changes required within research institutions to allow for the democratisation of research governance.

Dissemination of the guidelines and recommendations

CONSIDER asked participants to read the guidelines and recommendations prior to the workshop, if necessary focusing only on the section perceived to be relevant to their role. The majority of participants however had read the entire document and believed this was important to their overall understanding. Nonetheless, for dissemination purposes, it was agreed that CONSIDER should implement a tailored approach in order to encourage engagement and strengthen impact.

The language and presentation used to communicate the guidelines and recommendations will be crucial. CONSIDER must utilise trending terminology such as ‘public engagement’, ‘responsible research’ and ‘innovation’ with eye-catching titles to boost engagement. In addition, the recommendations and guidelines should be phrased with active terminology such as direct address in order to encourage action. Participants again identified CONSIDER’s empirical knowledge as its key selling point. This information should be embedded visually into the presentation of the guidelines and recommendations with quotes, statistics and diagrams used as pop-ups in the document – outlining advantages and disadvantages where necessary. In addition, a glossary of the key terms would clearly highlight the intended understanding of the document’s terminology, though the continual development of definitions will prove challenging in its construction.

An in-depth communication strategy must be designed for the dissemination of the recommendations and guidelines. In addition to printing brochures and publishing online, it was suggested that competitions, videos and events would support dissemination. Participants believed that a competition for stakeholders, perhaps related to examples of best practices, would generate both awareness and engagement with the initiative. Complimentary videos could provide an innovative communication tool, whilst supporting participants’ requests for greater empirical evidence. Personal stories of successful CSO participation in research would deliver a powerful message. Furthermore, videos provide another means of ensuring the permanence of CONSIDER’s work following the completion of the project. Finally, face-to-face interaction through events was championed as an effective tool for dissemination. Be it advocacy meetings in Brussels, collaboration with partner events or workshops and trainings to discuss implementation, participants agreed that events would have strong impact.

As an innovative initiative, CONSIDER should use innovative dissemination tools. There was agreement that the guidelines and recommendations should be available online. However, additional comment boxes and rating tools for the online documentation would support the sustainability of CONSIDER’s work. Furthermore, CONSIDER should investigate employing a web-platform to present the content. This could act as a decision-making tree, allowing stakeholders to approach the guidelines and recommendations from different access points. As a more economical alternative to video technology, software such as Prezi could provide innovative means of engaging wider audiences. Overall, these online dissemination tools will have a general audience and the language should therefore be user-friendly and non-technical. More tailored content, such as videos for civil society, briefs for policy makers and theoretical studies for researchers should then be available across different levels.

Experts brainstorming on the possibilities for the dissemination of CONSIDER's results

The participants agreed that the communication strategy needs to seek longevity for the recommendations and guidelines by incorporating advocacy. It was suggested that CONSIDER should seek out ‘ambassadors’, ‘champions’ and ‘multipliers’ to assist in raising awareness and generating public interest in the project. In the coming months, CONSIDER should invest time in identifying National Contact Points (NCPs) and umbrella organisations that can continue to disseminate the guidelines and recommendations beyond the lifetime of the project. In addition, similar research projects should be identified in order to develop synergies and share knowledge. There are also a number of current guidelines on public engagement, such as those developed by the European Commission, which CONSIDER could contribute to or collaborate with. CONSIDER should not neglect the tools currently at its disposal though. Participants agreed that the Network of Associates must be empowered as it provides effective means of sustainable communication and networking.

Conclusion

CONSIDER’s final workshop in Brussels brought many new issues to light regarding CSO participation in research projects. Both the initiative and the proposal received positive reception, with participants underlining that the overall rationale of the recommendations and guidelines should be that multi- stakeholder cooperation in research must become the norm. Through effective multi-stakeholder relationships, research will be strengthened by broader engagement, knowledge and capacity.
The workshop focussed on two key areas: content and dissemination. Participants agreed that the document contains novel and relevant content but it lacks actionable guidance. Furthermore, CONSIDER’s vision of the proposal is unclear. The guidelines and recommendations cannot fulfil the needs of all stakeholders, across all projects, at all levels. The document must be clear in its limitations, delivering quality as oppose to quantity. However, CONSIDER must not restrict its knowledge base. The depth of theoretical and empirical research should be included in the guidelines and recommendations, through both a methodology of CSO participation and use of supporting evidence.

The recommendations and guidelines have great capacity and it is crucial that the dissemination of the findings fulfils this potential. Through innovation, engagement, and interaction, CONSIDER must ensure that the guidelines and recommendations target a variety of audiences. The document should be presented as a living contribution, adapting to structural changes and new considerations in the future.
This expert workshop has highlighted key development points in order for stakeholders to realise the effective participation of CSOs in research. The event provided a constructive space in which CSOs, researchers and policy makers could discuss their needs and understand the advantages, challenges and issues in collaborative research projects. CONSIDER will now re-evaluate the draft recommendations and guidelines in order to finalise the project’s proposal.
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