Scientific knowledge is playing an important role in the societal development, when it comes to assessing environmental threats, health problems and social problems and their cure, but also in relation to the development and assessment of new information technology, biotechnology etc. Scientific knowledge is often seen as neutral, but is in fact contested and negotiated knowledge. This role of scientific knowledge should be seen together with the fact that the economic and organisational resources for research and development are unequally distributed. Businesses and governmental authorities and institutions have more resources themselves and easier access to and influence on the research facilities than NGO’s like consumer organisations, environmental organisations, trade unions, social organisations etc. Science shops are organisations that offer NGO’s free or very low-cost access to scientific knowledge and research in order to help them achieve social and environmental improvement. Originally developed at Dutch universities during the 1970’s, science shops now also exist in Austria, Denmark, Germany, Romania and the U.K., as well as in a number of non-European countries including Australia, Canada, Malaysia, South Korea and the USA. Some science shops are independent not-for-profit research centres and some are affiliated to a university acting as the intermediary between NGO’s and university researchers, teachers and students, who conduct research in response. Most university based science shops are demand driven, while the independent science shops more often are supply driven and approach NGO’s. A quite recent approach are the Canadian Community-University Research Alliances, where a national research council funds research programmes planned and conducted in co-operation between community and university.
Recent research on the role of science shops shows that science shops act as interfaces between science and society in three ways. One way is through the enhancement of the knowledge of a NGO, which afterwards are able to impact the social and environmental conditions by documenting a problem and its impact, or by supporting the development of social and environmental projects of NGO’s like better waste management or better social and health care. Another way of interaction is the impact of science shop projects on university research and the scientific discourses through development of new research themes or programmes. Finally science shops contribute to the interaction between science and society through the contribution to the competencies of the future academia, when students conduct science shops projects as part of their curricula and thereby achieve competencies within problem-based learning, participatory methods, interaction between scientific knowledge and community knowledge, science communication etc.
The paper was presented at Interfaces between Science and Society organised by JRC Ispra, 27-28 Nov 2003 in Milano.
- science shops