Mid-Term Assessment of Science and Society Activities 2002-2006


In 2001, the Commission undertook for the first time an important initiative with the publication of its Science and Society Action Plan (SASAP) for addressing issues which are at the core to a new relationship between research activities and the society. There are many reasons that justify activities at European level in this domain: The increasing dependence of economic development on science and technology, the ever more elaborate complexities involved in developing and implementing research policies in association with a diversified population of scientists as well as the complexities of justifying these policies to the public and engaging citizens in thoughtful participation in processes of identifying social priorities and constraints are some of these reasons. One of the challenges was to assess the Science and Society programme, as an innovation in the Framework Programme. This task was further complicated by the fact that evaluation exercise is a “mid-term” assessment which means that the majority of the actions supported in FP6 have not yet reached their full term and the results are not yet fully formulated.

At European level, “Science and Society” is a new initiative that was undertaken under Sixth Framework Programme. Its main objectives were formulated in the Science and Society Action Plan, which led to a broad range of activities numbering about 150 projects, conferences and forums. The programme is organized into five thematic areas: (a) Science Education; (b) Scientific Advice and Governance; (c) Ethics; (d) Women and Science; (e) Science Communication.

The programme attracted a large number of participants: 916 partners from the EU25 were engaged in projects with 764 (73% out of total of 1045 participants) from the EU15. The participants were predominantly from the public sector with higher education institutions (41%) and research institutes (23%) holding the largest share; participation from the industrial sector (public and private) has been rather modest ranging from 0.5% to 6% across the five thematic areas.

The distribution of partners among countries has been rather even and those from new Member States have been rather fairly represented (with the exception of some areas such as governance) although the funding for their participation in the projects appears to be determined more commonly by the perceived cost of labour in these countries rather than the work involved.

The total funding for the Science and Society programme in FP6 was 71.5 M€. This was distributed among the five thematic areas of the programme: Science Education (including Scientific Culture and Descartes prizes): 24.3 M€ (34.1%); Science Communication: 5.3 M€ (7.4%); Scientific Advice and Governance: 4.7 M€ (6.6%); Ethics: 24.9 M€ (34.9%); Women and Science: 12.1 M€ (17%). In terms of funding, Ethics, Education (but including substantial funding for the Descartes prize) and Women and Science have received a relative priority. The types of funding instruments used were fairly evenly distributed. Coordinated actions represented 24% of the funding of activities, specific support actions 56% and specific targeted research 20%. For the vast majority of projects, the funding was at a relatively modest level (below 0.5M€).

A panel of experts, in charge of assessing Science and Society Programme considered that the activities of the programme are in line with the main objectives, as defined by the Action Plan and all the activities have contributed to its implementation.

According to their evaluation, the main achievements of the programme are the following:

– The programme has established a forum and a context at European level for examinining Science and Society issues in a manner that provides reflective activities on specific issues related to scientific and technological research (such as Ethics, Governance and Science Communication). It has also developed a thoughtful scientific approach to highlighting and addressing barriers and future obstacles to the continuing contribution of science in society (such as the challenge of safeguarding a sufficient supply of competent future scientists and engineers and the need to enhance the involvement of women in science).

– The programme has made important contributions in enlarging the circle of communities involved in such kind of activities at national level (with the biggest impact made in new EU Member States) and has provided increased visibility for these activities both among scientists and among the public.

– The projects have generally succeeded in creating networks of partners who have been able to achieve common goals, to exchange and share experiences and to demonstrate an European added value by contributing to the emergence of communities in Europe that are seeking to address issues related to the complex roles of science in society; this must be considered as being the main impact of the programme.

– Conferences and forums were able to launch debates in several areas (scientific culture, women and science in particular) at European level with a rather large participation from a diversity of actors. They have doubtless contributed to enhance the visibility in Europe of important issues in areas such as ethics, women and science and scientific communication and have also provided pilot examples of methodologies for how to achieve this in a broader spectrum of issues.

The Descartes prizes have also made a significant contribution in highlighting the importance of (a) European cooperation to achieve excellence in research and (b) science communication activities.

– Several projects involved non-European partners (for example, African countries in the Ethics theme) which has provided a valuable international dimension to the programme and has laid the foundations for more intensive future collaboration efforts with potential for enormous impact. This dimension opens new opportunities for the development of European capacity to work with local structures in developing countries in order to enhance European influence and international presence. Activities in this direction have the added advantage of providing a mechanism for obtaining the feedback that is so valuable in enterprises such as the pharmaceutical industry, the medical system or the food innovation mechanisms.

– The Commission services have acted in a commendably open manner in implementing the Science and Society programme. The Advisory Board, the Expert Groups and the various studies that were undertaken have provided valuable input in designing a policy and also modifying it along the way in the light of both new information and the response from the various actors.

Experts analysis has also identified a certain number of weaknesses in the implementation of the programme:

– The scope of several projects, and possibly of the work programme, was too narrowly defined. This was particularly the case for the themes related to Scientific Advice and Governance, Scientific Culture, Ethics, and Women and Science). The worse situation was in the case of scientific culture which was addressed in the work programme only through the science education and science communication themes, an approach which has led to a very narrow focus of the overall approach. Furthermore very few, if any, of the projects were able to address “transversal” issues (such as ethics and governance or gender issues in science education).

– The participants were predominantly drawn from academics with actors from industry, public administration, the media, NGO’s and, in general, policy-makers playing a more minor role.

– Many projects have considered the dissemination of their results and findings as a secondary activity: this is a serious handicap for the overall impact of the programme.

– The coordination with national activities in the Science and Society domain has not been achieved to any noticeable extent. The Open Method of Coordination (OMC) has not brought significant progress in this direction, partly because the CREST committee has not played a proactive role in this perspective. There is also an issue with the problematic levels of commitment to relevant policy development in the home institutions by the various actors that take part in OMC activities. The Science and Society Programme Committee has also not taken sufficient initiative in this respect and the National and other Funding Agencies have, in the best of cases, taken only a very fragmentary approach to policy development and implementation on these issues.

Experts propose the following recommendations for a renewed “Science in Society” programme in the context of FP7:

– The perspectives of the programme could benefit from being broadened in two ways. First, it would be useful to correct for instances where the programme focused its objectives or activities too narrowly (Science Communication and Scientific Advice and Governance, respectively). Second, there is a need to include new topics, such as actions addressing “transversal” issues and social science research activities that would strengthen the knowledge base that is deemed necessary for the actions.

– More intensive activity needs to be undertaken in the area of Scientific Culture in order to (a) develop a better understanding of the role which science should play as an important part of human culture; (b) envisage new channels for a better dialogue between scientists and the public, which should involve enhanced innovation in engaging a diversity of actors, including the public, in science-related debate; (c) promote innovative methods for the public accountability of science, including its ideas, its methods and the quality of its outcomes, and (d) demonstrate more effective approaches to better integrate Science into publicly visible creative culture.

– The diversity of partners involved in the various activities should be broadened so as to include academics, representatives of private companies, NGO’s and, whenever possible, policy-makers in the public sphere (administrations, parliaments, etc.), as well as the private sector (industry and services) and the media. There is also room for the direct and indirect involvement of the other DG research and other EC directorates in several Science in Society activities during FP7.

– A greater effort should be devoted to the improvement of the dissemination of the outcomes of the programme, including the results and findings of individual projects. There is room for improved support by the Commission Services in specifying more effective dissemination strategies. There is also a strong need for follow-up activities undertaken by the Commission, in cooperation with the partners, in order to organize targeted dissemination of the achievements of projects.

– There is a strong need for coordination with national and localized activities in the various areas of the programme. In this perspective, the role of the CREST committee should be reappraised and new mechanisms need to be found in order to safeguard increased commitment to relevant home policy development by the actors that are involved in the various co-ordination activities. Greater effort needs to be devoted in engaging national funding agencies and policymaking institutions in an effort to achieve planned complementarity and greater coherence with the future Science in Society programme. A renewed emphasis on developing participative methodologies and specific indicators would also be of benefit in this respect.

– There is a need to re-examine the criteria that are applied for the evaluation of proposals. Criteria should include among others (quality being of course the primary one): (a) a detailed plan for dissemination of results and findings with a description of specific means; (b) the European added value of a project and its contribution to the emergence of a community dealing with specific science and society issues.

– The production of specific indicators would also be useful for future assessment of the sustainability and long-term impact of funded science and society activities.

– The European Commission should more actively encourage an internationalization of its Science and Society activity. On the one hand, on issues such as Science Education or Scientific Advice there is room for productive exchange of expertise and experiential insight with Canada and the US who share similar concerns and have parallel extensive ongoing activities. Even more importantly, Europe has international interests and a mission that can only be realized through building new capacities to work with developing countries in Africa and the Middle East. The exceptional projects that have tried activities in science ethics demonstrate the enormous potential to work with and influence local structures (under admittedly many difficulties and severe constraints) but also to obtain experience with innovative applications in a diversified context. This, in turn, provides extremely valuable feedback to policy-making with respect to, for instance, the medical profession, the pharmaceutical industry, the food sector and water engineering. The Science and Society programme can take a pioneering role within the FP7 in developing this capacity to build a European competitive edge in developing countries while at the same time exploring new ethical and policy–related issues. The first “Science and Society” programme at European level has demonstrated that a reflective approach with a robust scientific knowledge base is important for both science and society. It provides the science enterprise with the thoughtful monitoring of the issues that may serve to constrain its anticipated impact but also with a proactive stance at broadening the constituency for science. It provides the society with methodologies for a thoughtful informative input to science policy development and increased opportunities to engage with authentic debate on issues of scientific concern. The positive achievements of the first “Science and Society” programme during FP6 clearly demonstrate that a renewed “Science in Society” programme with a broader scope would continue to contribute an important European vision to the construction of a new relationship between science and society with the collaboration of partners beyond European shores.

Download the pdf file, in order to read the whole report on “Mid-term assessment of science and society activities 2002-2006” by the group chaired by Pierre Papon, Professor emeritus, Ecole Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles, Paris, honorary chairman of the Observatoire des Sciences et des Techniques).