Science Shops for Well-Being

Project lead: Franco Bagnoli, University of Florence

Participating universities: University of Florence, University of Birmingham, Nantes Université

General overview

This project will involve a series of staff exchange visits in order to collect and organise best practices in participatory research (e.g. citizen science), the engagement of citizens and students, and other communication activities related to sustainability. The final goal of this exchange will be to set up a more flexible model of a Science Shop, that can be customised to different scenarios.

The focus of this project is on sustainability, i.e. the responsible and balanced utilisation of resources to meet the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. To do this, society and scientists need to find ways to engage with each other. In the related Well-Being Research Incubator workshop three effective key elements of community and public engagement were highlighted: the platform – in this case Science Shops; the method – science communication and participation; and the societal need – determined and enabled through community organising. 

Building upon the insights and experiences shared during the workshop, the exchange visits will provide a unique opportunity for those involved to immerse themselves in each other’s practices, learn from diverse perspectives, and collectively generate a new, broad-reaching concept for Science Shops.

Purpose and Significance

Science Shops are a way of opening universities and research centres to the needs and questions emerging from civil society, university students and schools. The central idea of a Science Shop is that of promoting the formulation of proposals from outside of academia, that can be developed into a research investigation. The research is conducted by university students, under the guidance of a researcher, in collaboration with the proposers. The research may be part of an exam or a traineeship period, for example. The results are then presented to the proposers in an open meeting. 

However, there is not a single modality of implementing a science shop. The University of  Florence is currently introducing this method, and at the University of Birmingham and Nantes Université there are already well-established methodologies that partners are able to share, especially at the level of technical and administrative staff, which are an essential component, rarely involved in the planning of a new service. For this reason, this project will involve the exchange of both teaching and administrative staff during engagement events, to identify best practices.

Each partner brings crucial expertise and experience. It was established in our incubator workshop that the blend of Science Shop platform, science communication and community engagement presents a potent combination. Each element has been tried and tested in a hitherto separate context. This project is an exciting opportunity to examine the combined approach and explore the potential diversity and flexibility to enhance both academic and societal well-being and social currency.

Implementation Method and Timeline

University of Florence (Unifi)

The visit to Unifi will enable partners to find out more about the university’s science cafés and public engagement events in libraries. Partners will co-produce video/audio material for public engagement in Florence, Birmingham and Nantes. An audio/radio product will be developed, as well as a repository for open education material, which will be populated by videos, text and interactive material produced in response to the requests received by our science shop. 

University of Birmingham (UoB)

Visitors to UoB will attend a civil assembly organised by Citizens UK. Partners will take part in Community Connect Science Shops to witness and experience the demonstration of a civil alliance in action. The study of the assembly will include the concept of relational power built by community organisations and institutions, understanding political power, experiencing the value of turnout (being physically present), negotiating with and agitating those in power, and the role of anchor institutions such as universities. 

Nantes Université (NU) 

The visit to NU will engage the VigieMer network, which is coordinating and sharing activities in France about Citizen Scientists. The objective will be to share project success factors and the contribution of a network to consolidate initiatives and increase their impact. The visit will include a workshop with the PI of two projects with public engagement: OdySéYeu (measurements by citizens of the effect of climate change on the littoral) and MOOREEF (an artificial reef project engaging non-professional divers). 

In addition, NU will present two tools for engaging the public in science: a brief three-minute video, and open education. The project team will prepare materials about open education for several courses in English after a selection with partners, from existing materials hosted in French on UN-e-SEA platform.

Expected Outcomes

The main output of the project will be a report about best practices, which can be considered as a manual for setting up a Science Shop in the EUniWell universities, and possibly others as well. The report will include a survey administered to the participating staff and the people involved in the participating universities, and a further survey collected from all partners in the EUniWell alliance to collect their opinion and suggestions on a first draft of the report. 

The team also plans to produce videos of the initiatives, to be published on their websites and on social channels. In Florence we also plan to organise and record science cafés and other meetings, and to produce several radio transmissions on a local radio with interviews and discussions and the themes related to the activities of the Science Shops.

Some of the funds will be dedicated to the production of open material for education on the themes of sustainability, to be used in courses offered by the EUniWell Alliance and available to the whole community.