7. Copenhagen (04/2014)

On 9 March 2014, CONSIDER held a workshop as part of the sixth Living Knowledge Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, to test with engaged stakeholders an initial draft of the guidelines and recommendations relating to CSO involvement in research projects. The Living Knowledge Conference is a renowned event that brings together civil society organisations (CSOs), academics, policy makers and industry representatives to discuss cross-sector collaborative research. This edition, entitled ‘An Innovative Civil Society: Impact through Co-creation and Participation’, sought to highlight civil society’s role as a producer of knowledge. The discussions focussed on having CSOs accepted as partners in research and innovation that is directed towards public interest and have their activities recognised as research and innovation.


CONSIDER is keen to involve all parties in the process to understand their needs, ideas and views. Therefore, we collaborated with the Living Knowledge Conference to hold this workshop in which we presented our initial intuitions and ideas to test whether stakeholders believe them to be on course for the desired output of comprehensive, relevant and practical guidelines and recommendations.

The CONSIDER project had two different activities at the 6th Living Knowledge 2014 Conference, led by members of the project’s consortium. Firstly, Dr. Martine Legris Revel presented a discussion entitled “Scientific activity in the prism of the participatory imperative” during the plenary session of the Conference. She explained a first typology of 162 FP7 research projects including CSOs along two factors: collaboration intensity and leadership (scientific or other) in order to analyse and evaluate the current landscape of participation in practice. Secondly, Simon Pfersdorf, Ivelina Fedulova, Tonatiuh Anzures and Dr. Kutoma Wakunuma hosted a “World Café”, aimed to present and discuss CSO involvement in research. Participants engaged in a lively debate to discuss their experiences on participatory research projects involving civil society as well as the key challenges involved in its effective management.

The session

Following an introduction to the CONSIDER project and its findings to date, the forty participants were split into groups and engaged in four separate round-table discussions to examine and debate the recommendations and guidelines for four key stakeholders: CSO representatives, researchers, funders and policy makers. Through an informal discussion, all participants were able to voice their concerns and present their views on the steps necessary for effective CSO participation in research.

Simon Pfersdorf (KIT) introduced the CONSIDER project to the participants

The following summaries highlight the outcomes of each stakeholder discussion:

CSO representatives

The need to identify why a CSO should be included in the project and what expectations scientists have towards the CSO’s role in the projects are of the utmost importance. Mutual understanding of each partner’s role is vital to establishing strong partnerships. CSOs should reflect on where their strengths and skills lie in order to define their role in the project. Nonetheless, participants were unanimous that the definition of roles was a reciprocal activity and not exclusive to CSOs. However it is important to note that roles can vary between projects and CSOs should be aware of this and its resulting implications (i.e. a favourable role in one project may not be applicable in another and a limiting role in one project is not representative of all projects).

Ivelina Fedulova reviewing the guidelines for CSOs with the attendants

Also, there needs to be strong management of expectations from all partners in terms of abilities. If CSOs took a proactive role in the project planning, this would ensure greater understanding of the expected structure and outcome of the project. Yet it is important to be realistic in terms of the results expected from a project. A clear understanding of the deliverable and the scope of its impact will ensure a positive and effective working environment. Participants also identified that the different working environments for stakeholders, such as autonomous roles in research and team projects for CSOs, will have an impact on the management of a partnership. Clear and practical time frames need to be negotiated and agreed upon, taking into account the needs and capabilities of each partner. It was suggested that other stakeholders could provide key resources in terms of planning and logistics for research projects, especially researchers.


The relationship between CSOs and advocacy raised several questions for participants. It was suggested that the expectation for CSOs involved in research projects to use the research findings for lobbying is not applicable in all situations. CSOs should be valued for their contributions to understanding and innovation, not simply for their activities in advocacy. Furthermore, it was identified that a united approach to lobbying would produce greater results. Therefore, CSOs and researchers should coordinate advocacy activities in partnership. Nonetheless, post-project, CSOs should play an active role in looking for follow-up action from the project. Both in terms of feedback from stakeholders and new initiatives that emerge from the findings, CSOs represent a vital connection to the public as an end-user group.

Research capabilities

The workshop discussions strongly advocated for the development of research capabilities for CSOs, though participants debated whether this was only the responsibility of CSOs. Too much emphasis is put on action from CSOs in this regard and other stakeholders should support them in this goal. For example, all partners need to be open to the partnership and view CSOs and credible actors in research and not merely an opportunity to gain funding. It was proposed that the government could provide placements to support CSOs in developing their research capabilities or research profiles which develop their awareness and understanding. In addition, they should be understanding of potential language barriers and assist in developing the language capacity of CSOs. However, some participants argued that the ‘scientification’ of civil society was not appropriate as CSOs’ key asset is their diversity and there should not be such focus on assimilation. Furthermore, it is unclear whether the guidelines concerning environment and infrastructure were applicable to the individual or the sector.

The term CSO

The need to define the term ‘CSO’ was discussed at length. Even though there is not a universal definition, CONSIDER should clarify the definition they are using in relation to the project. Participants also suggested that policy makers could in fact provide this guideline and it was highlighted that the World Bank and European Union provide good models.

Finally, it was highlighted that the primary objectives for CSOs is funding. Research is a secondary activity and this must be recognised in the recommendations and guidelines. Through development with policy makers and funding, CSOs could be supported in engaging with research that also allows them to contribute to funding advancement.

Additional guidelines and recommendations that emerged from the discussions are:

  • Allow for the diversity of CSOs instead of encouraging assimilation and scientification

  • Encourage collaboration in lobbying, should not be the sole responsibility of CSOs

  • Remember that not all CSOs have lobbying capabilities/interests

  • Support CSOs in creating research capabilities through placements, a database of research profiles

  • Develop guidelines for CSOs in post-project, for example looking for follow-up action and creating impact

  • Define the definition of a CSO, at least within the working limits of the project


From the workshop discussions, the need to provide further definition for certain terms emerged as a principal weakness in the initial intuitions and ideas. The initial intuitions and ideas do not specify whether they relate to academic researchers or market researchers. It is also unclear whether the target audience is young researchers, those mid-career or highly experienced researchers. This is important because it may define the relationship(s) with CSOs. In turn though, researchers also need to distinguish the different levels of relations in the project. For example, there are different levels of researchers (junior, senior etc.) who will all have different and varying levels of relations which can have an impact on relationships with CSOs as well as on CONSIDER’s work. However, participants encouraged the view of student participation in CONSIDER’s mission as this will ensure continuity and sustainable impact.

Dr. Kutoma Wakunuma reviewed the guidelines for Researchers with the attendants

The CONSIDER project should support researchers in their mission to foster collaborative research partnerships. By highlighting what single stakeholder research projects lack, which a multi-stakeholder approach incorporating CSOs could provide, further weight will be added to the guidelines and recommendations. There is a stigma sometimes associated with working with CSOs for researchers, as they may lose objectivity in the research and therefore lose respect. Furthermore, researchers’ main priority is to produce scientific papers and CSO involvement is a secondary concern. CSOs can be seen as weaker partners in comparison to ‘powerful’ researchers and this image imbalance must be addressed by all stakeholders. By clearly stating the advantages of CSO participation, CONSIDER’s proposals will encourage researchers in their commitment to overcome any potential barriers.

Partnership researchers - CSOs

Though there has been much talk regarding the need for researchers to be open to new partnerships with CSOs, the groups argued that CSOs also need to trust researchers if collaboration is to be meaningful and this is often not the case. However, it was noted that researchers must be aware that it takes time to build trust, networks and relationships but this investment will be beneficial in the long-run. Once again, language emerged as a key issue in relationships and it was proposed that terminology should be collaborative and inclusive. The relationship building process should be taken seriously and considered from the very beginning of the project as a cornerstone of project management, with both time and space dedicated to its development. Participants argued that the trust between CSOs and researchers is crucial for the production of knowledge.


Communication is a core tool for the establishment of effective collaboration. Participants suggested that conditions need to be created for both the communication itself and the development of communication skills. This should be embedded from the beginning of a project and throughout its lifetime. There was also a discussion on communicating recognition. It was stated that CSOs should be acknowledged for their contributions in all publications. Accreditation is important as it demonstrates the understanding by all partners that CSOs’ contributions are valuable, indigenous knowledge to the project.

Additional guidelines and recommendations that emerged from the discussions are:

  • Discourage researchers from taking all credit for publications, the indigenous knowledge of CSOs should be recognised

  • Involve young students in CONSIDER’s work for continuity

  • Clearly define the CSO stakeholder group for the benefit of other stakeholders to identify these actors

Policy makers

Definition of a policymaker

The need to define the stakeholders was the primary concern regarding the guidelines and recommendations for policy makers. It was questioned whether policy makers referred to civil servants, elected members of the European parliament or to science budget administrators. Furthermore, policy makers work at local, regional, national and international levels and it is important that the initial intuitions and ideas outline which of these audiences they are addressing. Some participants argued that our draft only encompass a subgroup of the broad concept of policy makers. They felt it was clear that the recommendation examples presented did not include elected officials but simply funders. As such, there is very little difference policy makers and funders if any at all.

Tonatiuh Anzures reviewed the guidelines for Policymakers with the attendants

Additional stakeholders

The discussion regarding recommendations and guidelines for policy makers also identified an additional stakeholder in the process: mediators. There are mediators within CSOs, researchers, funders and policymakers and these agents will be essential for policymaking in the forthcoming years. A participant suggested that 'The New Guide for Transboundary Research Partnerships’, a document made by Swiss Commission for Research Partnerships with Developing Countries (KFPE), might provide valuable insight for this issue to strengthen the landscape of CONSIDER's stakeholders.

Economic issues influence decision-making

There was extensive reference to economic issues concerning the guidelines and recommendations. Greater emphasis needs to be given to budgetary questions. Policy makers are heavily involved in these issues and very often make their decisions based on financial constraints. In the same way, time pressure is not mentioned. Policy makers often want results within a year and this may impact on the participation of CSOs in research. Policy makers face a great challenge regarding the notion of flexibility which is not addressed by this draft. One participant suggested that the "planning grant model" that is applied in the US could be applicable. This is a two-stage funding model that includes the initial step to fund ideas and then supports large-scale projects. In this way, a great number of groups have the opportunity to participate and suggest research topics, regardless of their size and influence, and it empowers new actors to contribute to the sector.

Additional guidelines and recommendations that emerged from the discussions are:

  • Clarify the distinction between scientific excellence scientific quality (as highlighted above)

  • Reference the financial, time and flexibility constraints that policy makers must respect in comparison to the relative independence of other stakeholders

  • Recommend that policy makers produce documents/journals/handbooks to support CONSIDER’s work


The European Commission should give greater focus to the need to involve CSOs in research projects. This could be facilitated through the establishment of an expert centre for CSO participation. Furthermore, funding calls should be structured towards the involvement of CSOs in research projects through its terminology and requirements. It was suggested that more open calls for CSOs are required, including calls for CSO-led consortia.

Simon Pfersdorf reviewed the guidelines for Funders with the attendants

More funding for CSOs is needed

Participants strongly advocated for greater funding for CSOs to participate in research projects. Some suggested that the budget regulation should be altered, either by allowing CSOs greater control or providing them with further funding. Nonetheless, investment should be made to the research of CSO-related topics. Staged funding or pre-phase funding was also highlighted as an important concept in supporting of CSO involvement, with the suggestion to use the Canadian staged funding process or the European Commission’s VISION RD4SD as potential models.

Relationship building was identified as a key means by which funders could support CSO participation in research. For example, start-up meetings with mutual exchange possibilities or concluding events would ensure personal relationships that create sustainable partnerships. Participants agreed that funding should be invested in relationship development. The incorporation of a problem-solving management system into the structure of multi-stakeholder research projects would also support the resolution of cultural and professional differences. Furthermore there needs to be publicity of successful research projects with multi-stakeholder partnerships. The European Commission should invest in post-project dissemination and evaluate the dissemination strategy in the following years after project completion to maximise results.

Additional guidelines and recommendations that emerged from the funders are:

  • Change the way budget is shared or allow CSOs greater control over the budget

  • Inform researchers about the disadvantages of working with CSOs

  • Establish an expert centre for CSO participation

  • Have a greater number of calls for CSO-led consortia


CONSIDER’s workshop in Copenhagen brought many issues to light regarding CSO participation in research projects. Participants agreed that CONSIDER’s work needs to be embedded in practices for all stakeholders with the participatory method becoming part of the curriculum at the foundation of project work and not simply a mere reflection. The overall recommendation was to develop the accessibility of the guidelines and recommendations. By incorporating an element of linearity to the presentation, the recommendations and guidelines would feed into each other and guide the user through the proposal.