Publicly-funded research is supposed to bring outcomes beneficial to the public who fund it. According to European Research, Innovation and Science Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, “Knowledge is the currency of the global economy... If Europe wants to continue to compete in the 21st century, we must support the research and innovation that will generate growth and jobs, now and in the future. The high level of competition for EU funding makes sure that taxpayers' money goes to the best projects that tackle issues that concern all of us.” (see CONSIDER deliverable D1.3)
The question of what constitutes public interest is crucial for the field of CSOs in research, as one of the defining features of CSOs is that they promote the public interest. The policy drive being the inclusion of CSOs into research is thus rooted in a hope that this will promote the public interest and close the perceived gap between science and society. The CONSIDER project has shown that most CSOs promote the interest of a particular part of civil society but not the public interest more broadly. The integration of CSOs thus highlights some interest, but not all of them. This raises questions about the appropriate choice of CSOs and the degree to which these can claim to represent civil society.
Some questions to be asked in this context include:
(a) How to bring in public interests in spaces of science which have been arcane for a long time?
(b) Who are the ones to legitimately articulate these interests?
(c) What are the positive and negative consequences of proceeding in this way?
The call for orientation towards public interests should not be the door opener for lobbyists to use research according to their specific interests. The problem is that public interests are mostly articulated in the terms of specific interests. Therefore, a clear institutional setting is needed to open up the space for public interests in research by at the same time safeguarding it against pure lobbyism.