In recent years, an increasing number of research institutions at national and European level has devoted time and resources to develop strategies and activities to promote dialogue and engagement with citizens. The attention towards public communication and engagement becomes visible thanks to the activities promoted either by the research centres themselves (often by means of specific professionals such as press and PR officers) or by a number of other actors involved in SiS activities (i.e. science museums, media, local government bodies, citizens’ organisations, and further on). Consequently, there is a growing awareness among science centres, general public and policy makers that successful SiS policies have a positive impact not only on citizens but also on the members of the same research organisations.
Although sometimes object of discussion, quality criteria for assessing scientific research are largely established (peer-reviewed publications and impact factor are two examples of such criteria). In the field of SiS activities, on the contrary, there are no solid and widely recognised criteria through which institutions and organisations at national and European level can assess both project proposals and already implemented activities falling within the broad category of science communication.
In 2006 Observa designed a research project aimed at analysing the activities of the broad and articulated field called “science in society” (SiS) promoted by public and private research institutions.
The ongoing project ‘Indicators of Science in Society Performance’ promoted by Observa – Science in Society actively intervenes in this debate both at theoretical and practical level. This pilot research project aims at providing a tool for assessing SiS activities performed by EU research institutions.
The project is structured in two main phases:
a) Provisional identification and definition of a number of indicators apt for collecting data on SiS activities;
b) Validation of these indicators by experts and professionals directly involved in these initiatives.
The first part of the project, which took place between 2006 and 2008 with the support of Compagnia di San Paolo, has experimentally defined parameters apt for identifying a number of indicators on SiS activities and policies carried out by research institutions.
The second phase of the project seeks to directly engage the subjects of SiS activities asking them to play a prominent role in analysing the above mentioned parameters. In order to achieve this, Observa is willing to involve a selected sample of European researchers and professionals in the discussion of SiS policies and indicators with a view to identify possible ways of traducing efforts into concrete SiS activities. This moment of discussion takes place through semi-structured interviews to be held in research centers at national and European level.
The results of the research project will be gathered in a written report which will be made available on Observa website.