P5. Recognise the diverse nature of CSOs

There is no unambiguous definition or understanding of the term CSO. The EU sees CSOs as legal entities that are non-governmental, not-for-profit, not representing commercial interests, and pursuing a common purpose in the public interest. This points to some of the problems. Many CSOs are not legal entities in a formal sense. It is contested whether social entrepreneurs could be viewed as CSOs.

The main issue in this recommendation is that CSOs come in very different forms, from a loosely organised neighbourhood organisation to a highly structured internationally active NGO. Policymakers need to understand this fluid nature of CSOs and recognise that CSO involvement in research is determined in large parts by policy they produce.

Guiding Questions

Policymakers should consider the following questions:

  • Which assumptions about CSOs are reflected in the policy?

  • Which type of CSO might be best placed to fulfil the policy aims?

  • Does the policy favour CSOs that are likely to participate in research anyway and disadvantage other types of CSOs who might still make important contributions?

Example: Exclusion of CSO from research due to lack of legal status

In one of the projects investigated by the CONSIDER team the role of CSOs was to create a link between patients with a particular type of disease and the researchers developing an ICT system that was supposed to help these patients. The work undertaken by the CSOs was important to them because they saw a possibility that the research would help their members. However, it turned out that some of the CSOs were not eligible to receive European funding because they lacked the required status of a legal entity. While they had a formal organisation this did not suffice for EU funding and they subsequently had to be removed from the project.

'It was interesting to learn that the EU says to the researchers 'you need to have these persons in your project' and then you bring them into the project you are not able to have them as partners because the EU doesn't do that [accept non-legal entities]'. (Researcher)