Report of the public engagement pilot cases on Societal Challenges

This report presents the work executed in PE2020 Work Package Three. The aim of the work package was to 1) test and refine innovative public engagement tools and processes in research programme contexts, 2) to evaluate the feasibility of using such tools in other countries, and 3) to gain further understanding of the relevance of contextual factors in designing processes for public engagement.

The seven pilot initiatives were co-designed and implemented with the research projects and programmes we examinied. Testing and introducing new public engagement processes requires them to be adapted to the preconditions of the target programmes. Through the pilot initiatives we were also able to identify innovative public engagement methods. The initiatives led to positive results with regard to the quality of the research projects as well as the relationships between the actors. The forms of public engagement used in the pilot initiatives varied from more conventional science communication and focus group discussions, to highly collaborative co-creation practices.

There has been strong pressure to find solutions that match the style and obligations of the new funding programmes. However, the successful research consortia from the first phases of adopting innovative practices have shown ability to develop both their knowledge and skills in public engagement.

-Timo Aarrevaara, Kirsi Pulkkinen and Ian Dobson-

Societal Interaction Plans of the Strategic Research Council at the Academy of Finland

In the pilot initiative about Societal Interaction Plans we have examined the 16 projects selected in the first call of the Strategic Research Council (SRC) at the Academy of Finland. These projects commenced in late 2015 and will run for a maximum period of five and a half years. The competition for SRC funds was fierce and the application process was considered to be laborious. Hence, those responsible for the selected projects are aware that their progress will be followed closely and expectations are high for both scientific and societal deliverables.

The SRC projects funded from the first call in 2015 fell under three main topics, each focusing on grand societal challenges: 1) utilisation of disruptive technologies and changing institutions (six projects), 2) a climate-neutral and resource-scarce society (four projects), 3) equality and its promotion (six projects). The Societal interaction plans report analyses public engagement tools, and identifies the partners and processes that define successful consortiums, the new knowledge on societal interaction plans (SIP) and benefits of SIPs for researchers and research groups. In addition to these core capacities of dynamic governance, continuity is viewed as an additional key capacity in the framework of this report.

Pilot initiative of the Joint Programming Initiative (JPI) More Years, Better Lives (MYBL)

The Joint Programming Initiative (JPI) More Years, Better Lives (MYBL) was chosen as a pilot initiative for the PE2020 project in order to pilot the idea of societal impacts and stakeholder involvement in the research grants awarded by the JPI MYBL programming initiative on European and global demographic change. Joint programming is a new approach to increase collaboration and coordination in research and development in Europe. The JPI MYBL programming initiative is focussed on demographic change which is one of the determining megatrends all over the world and is having an exceptional impact on Europe, for example in rising life expectancy and falling birth rates, resulting in an ageing society which in turn creates strains on existing welfare systems (e.g. pensions, health care, the labour market, and education). The conceptual aim of the programming initiative is to explore and enhance the understanding of societal impacts and stakeholder involvement in studies on the science and the society. You can read more in the report of the pilot initiative. 

Early-career researcher support in the Bonus pilot project

The promotion of science-society dialogue among early-career researchers with the use of blogs was chosen as a pilot initiative for the PE2020 project in order to deliberate on the possibilities to support junior-level researchers to engage with stakeholders and citizens in the different phases of research and innovation processes, to support the bottom-up initiatives of junior-level researchers in a traditionally hierarchic academic environment, and to deliberate on the possibilities for using new social media as a public engagement tool. Early-career researchers refer here foremost to doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers who are going through the first stages of their academic career. Download the Bonus Pilot Report for more information.

Baltic sea pic

The rationale for developing the capacities of junior-level researchers is related to the potential impact on agenda-setting and new modes of work, if new generations of researchers see value in public engagement and if they have the necessary knowledge, skills and motivation to actively participate in science-society dialogue. In the long term, as the junior researchers proceed in their career, they may continue this dialogue and collaboration with stakeholders and citizens not as a separate process, but as a natural component of their work. In choosing the pilot initiative, it was also expected that members of younger generations would already have some of the necessary capabilities and a positive attitude towards trying out forms of social media that enable new modes of interaction between researchers, stakeholders, and the general public.

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Public engagement in the vacuum does not exist

One of the main outputs expected from the PE2020 project is the development of a web-based toolkit that, helps policy makers to adopt, adjust and implement public engagement processes for their different needs. Starting from February 2015, under WP3, six pilot initiatives have been launched, of which three in Finland and three in Italy. Some of the initiatives have been concluded while others are still ongoing. Therefore, the results of the pilots are still to be fully identified and developed. However, some preliminary outputs can be mentioned, especially for what concerns obstacles and potentials of public engagement practices, which can be extremely relevant with the PE2020 Toolkit design process. (A toolkit design document can be found here.)


Undoubtedly, one of the key elements emerging from the pilot initiatives is the necessity to strongly contextualise public engagement initiatives. There is no public engagement tool or approach that fits all organisations and aims. The same tool and approach could assume a set of meanings in a given context and another one in another context. This element clearly emerged from the context-tailoring workshop held in Finland, but also from the Dialogue Workshop on mobility and transportation especially by comparing the experiences made in the Naples area and those carried out in Zurich.

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Living Lab of Global Change Research

The rationale for launching the Living Lab of Global Change Research stems from the pressures emerging from large-scale societal challenges that transcend boundaries of traditional academic fields. There is a need to understand interlinked, large-scale changes in environment and societies which cannot be studied solely from a perspective of one discipline. For example, the changes in climate, biodiversity, agriculture and energy are interlinked, which calls for collaboration between researchers in human and natural sciences.


The Living Lab of Global Change Research was chosen as a pilot initiative for the PE2020 project in order to deliberate on the possibilities to support and strengthen multi- and interdisciplinary, multi-actor research collaboration related to solving societal challenges, and to elaborate on the possibilities how intermediary organisations may strengthen inter- and multidisciplinary and multi-actor collaboration and support the continuity of living labs.

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The pilot projects in Italy at a glance

The pilot projects carried out in Italy presented in this website through three specific presentation sheets are certainly different from each other for what concerns the issues dealt with, the kind of players involved and the procedures adopted.

The first pilot, titled Educating science-society relations and public engagement was held in Turin, in partnership with Agorà Scienza, an inter-university centre specialised in public engagement and science communication. The pilot was organised to test the possibility of using PE mechanisms to raise the awareness of and transferring knowledge to young students on the complex and changing relationships existing between science and society. The context was given by the 2015 edition of the Scientific Summer School (SSA), a week-long informal education initiative targeted at 50 high school students that Agorà Scienza organises each year. The strategy was that of mobilising the involved researchers (around 20 from different universities based in Turin) for incorporating public engagement in the SSA and for organising an experience of public engagement involving all students.

Turin pilot workshop

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