F1. Raise awareness of the issues to consider in CSO engagement
Our results show that within FP7 only 21% of research projects included CSOs, despite clearly identified advantages to CSO participation, and dedicated policy goals encouraging greater civil society involvement within EU-funded research. Funders play a crucial role in emphasising and enhancing the importance of CSO involvement in research. In particular, by encouraging CSO participation, or even making it a requirement of certain calls, the relevance and status of CSOs to the research are highlighted, and a wider range of researchers and other consortium members become familiar with CSO collaborations. However, such collaborations are not without their difficulties, and it is important that such calls explicitly emphasise the need for dedicated effort in developing and maintaining the collaboration, in building trust between the various different partners, and in ensuring the project meets the expectations of all parties. By acknowledging the challenges to CSO participation upfront, funders ensure that all parties enter the project in a more realistic mindset, and are thus able to more effectively plan and manage their resulting research programme.
Funders have the resources to contribute to such awareness raising, for example by:
making researchers aware of the potential benefits and disadvantages of CSO involvement
running events that highlight the opportunities for CSOs
providing information specifically relevant for the needs of CSOs
ensuring better visibility of funding opportunities - it was felt that CSOs are often unaware of funded research opportunities.
Funders who are considering encouraging the involvement of CSOs in research projects should consider:
What is the purpose of requiring CSOs to be involved in this research; what is intended to be achieved as a result?
What are the specific benefits to the involvement of CSOs in this research?
What challenges are likely to be faced, and how could the funding structure be set up to best overcome such challenges?
Example: The importance of expectation management
A recurring theme in many of the case studies was the importance of expectation management. It is important that the different types of partners have realistic views of each other's capabilities, interests and contributions to a project. This is true for all types of partners but it often raises specific challenges for CSOs as they tend to be less familiar with practices in research projects.
This expectation management requires growing familiarity between different partners as well as a fundamental understanding of the nature of various types of organisations. Funding organisations can provide mechanisms to achieve this, for example by funding preparatory workshops or short pilot projects that allow partners to understand each other as well as the advantages and disadvantages of collaborating.
'I would say don’t promise too much too soon. So you have to be careful of what you say your abilities are. On the other hand, often people take off with an idea when I make a suggestion. In a scientific setting there’s a different impact compared to when I make suggestions to a patient organisation. Because the patient group will make assumptions or expect something from it. They assume that it’s already been done and they expect it in a year or something like that. So one of guidelines should be don’t promise too much. But on the other hand they also have to be interested. And so the way we did it was by showing the other things we developed and things like that. So we could show examples of what our work was. But also mention that a lot of this work is not yet on the market or takes a lot of time etc… so there should be something to match the expectations of each of the partners in such a cooperation'. (Principal Investigator)