Context tailoring workshops to adapt the pilot initiatives to the particular local contexts

Work Package three (WP3) has as its objective to design and implement six pilot projects on innovative PE processes. Such projects (or ‘pilot initiatives’) are being organised in the context of on-going research programmes in Finland and Italy. PE2020 is being funded through the Seventh Framework programme, and it is developing tools and instruments for better societal engagement in Horizon 2020. The pilot initiatives are collectively linked to the six ‘Societal Challenges’1 of the European Commission. To ensure that there is an EU-wide dimension and relevance, three of the pilot initiatives have been conducted in the context of EU joint research programmes, European innovation partnerships or other types of research and innovation activities with a transnational dimension.

Workshop in progress

The six pilot initiatives have been co-designed and implemented with our target research projects and programmes. The original plan of the PE2020 project was that after a global survey and identification of the most innovative PE processes, two to six of the more interesting public engagement (PE) methods would be transferred and tested in new research policy contexts. Soon, however, it was realised that such a transfer process is far from a straightforward process. On-going research projects and programmes have their own priorities, expectations, quality criteria and cultures of operating; testing and introducing new PE processes need to be adapted to the preconditions of the target programmes.

In order to adapt the pilot initiatives to the particular local contexts, the PE2020 project included ‘context tailoring workshops’ among the initial steps of the pilot design. As was described in the project plan, the purpose of the context tailoring was ‘to consider the factors that precondition successful design and implementation of PE tools and instruments in local contexts.’ Contributory and hindering factors were supposed to be identified and discussed by the PE2020 researchers and local STI actors.

The implementation of the pilot initiatives has taken place in two countries with highly different cultures of research and innovation policy and science in society debates: Italy and Finland. While research and innovation have been high on the political agenda in Finland for several decades (until the current recession and government), other political themes have dominated Italian politics. In terms of public engagement, the Nordic approach to policy making has favoured broad stakeholder consultations, whereas direct democracy and national and regional referenda characterise the Italian cultural landscape. Public engagement in both countries is still a new issue and this was very much reflected in the negotiations with those responsible for establishing target programmes.

Considering that the national cultures of policy making and particular research project and programme contexts both have an impact on the design of the pilot initiatives, we decided to adopt a flexible approach to the design of the workshops. Common to both countries, the planning of the workshops preceded a series of informal bilateral negotiations between the PE2020 organisers and the target programmes. The main model of the context tailoring workshop in Finland included a large seminar involving all three pilot initiatives organised in Finland plus an international group of experts giving insight and external perspective on the pilot initiatives. The Italian model relied in one case on a smaller-scale seminar that was organised to scope locally important factors for practical pilot initiative design. In two other cases, context tailoring took place only through bilateral discussions between the project partners and target programmes.