Public trust in the scientific community is under extraordinary pressure. Crucial areas of human activity and public policy, such as education, universities, climate and health care are influenced by populist political strategies rather than evidence-based solutions. Moreover, data-driven methods are becoming increasingly subject to de-legitimisation.
This book examines potential remedies for improving public trust and the legitimacy of science. It reviews different policy approaches adopted by governments to incentivise the empowerment of stakeholders through co-production arrangements, participatory mechanisms, public engagement and interaction between citizens and researchers.
Offering an original analysis of the political roots of the governmental impact and engagement agenda, this book sheds much-needed light on the wider connections to democracy.
Chapter Four concentrates on the participatory turn in the context of New Public Governance and the conceptualization of citizens as partners of the enabling state. According to this new paradigm, citizens take an active role as partners in both policy and public service delivery. They are no longer the passive recipients of welfare benefits. We will look at the programmatic reforms in the European Union aimed at improving the participation and engagement of the public in research and innovation. The discussion will trace the evolution of the relationship between citizens and governments, moving along a trajectory that has transformed their role from consumers in private market accountability systems to co-producers of knowledge. The chapter explores the changes associated with public engagement and viewing citizens as partners in the process of knowledge production and transmission.
Chapter Three discusses the different conceptualization of citizens’ involvement in the context of market-based environments and organizational models associated with the ‘entrepreneurial state’, initially introduced in the early 1980s in the UK. Following a review of the key tenets of the paradigmatic change associated with New Public Management, the chapter discusses the implications of adopting new governance arrangements in schools, such as Citizen School Charters and school autonomy, as an instrument of the entrepreneurial state, which is free from government controls and autonomous in designing its own strategies, recruiting teaching staff, and engaging with society and communities mainly through citizens’ involvement as customers and external actors.
There is growing concern in most liberal democracies about the surge of attacks against the public legitimacy of science and the scientific method. This includes not only efforts to delegitimize individual scientists and their expertise but also the social locations of knowledge production, such as universities, research centres, teaching hospitals and schools. Public trust in the scientific community is under huge pressure. In the post-truth era, evidence-based public policy is increasingly challenged by a new reconfiguration of ‘scientific truth’. Crucial areas of human activities and evidence-based public policies, such as healthcare, food, agriculture and climate policies, are subject to the manipulation of public sentiment, ideologies and affective political strategies that depart from policy making based on evidence, data and reason.
The discussion in Chapter Two focuses on the conceptual framework regarding the concept of public engagement. It then contextualizes the study of public engagement strategies against the backdrop of declining trust in scientific authority and the general distrust for science fuelled by populist leaders and the post-truth society. We look at public engagement insofar as it is an institutionalized government strategy and a policy domain, with vested interests, actors, policy instruments and distinct decision-making processes. The practice of public engagement includes research evaluation strategies by national government agencies.
Chapter Seven will present the author’s reflections on the potential benefits of the new relationship between science and society envisaged in contemporary science policies but also on the risks of governing the process of ‘bringing citizens back in’ in a rather populist and ineffective way, which may do more harm than good to the original aspirations of the public engagement project. Further research and attention are needed on the operational governance of citizen science and what it means to be a ‘citizen’ in the process of democratizing science.
Chapter Six is dedicated to the role that universities as independent actors play in the new knowledge systems oriented towards public engagement as an institutional goal. The triple helix model of innovation, developed by Carayannis and Campbell in 2009, has significantly transformed the strategic position of universities in relation to other stakeholders by incentivizing them to operate as ‘entrepreneurial’ actors that are able to attract joint ventures with private firms, research contracts with external partners, and diversify their income revenue. The process of adaptation of universities to marketization and financialization demands, not least entailed by the entrepreneurial university model and globalization, affects the quality and nature of public engagement with citizens in all its varying forms and implications for the relationship between science and society.
Chapter Five analyses a specific case study in this area of public engagement. It explores the adoption by national governments of a new type of sustainability education in compulsory schooling as an instrument for improving the participation of young people and their families in local knowledge systems that are concerned with climate change, waste management and, generally, environmental sustainability. In the UK, a bill has been discussed since 2019 by Parliament on the adoption of sustainability education in all schools. In Italy, the Italian Parliament passed a law in 2019 that introduced the provision of environmental citizenship education in all schools.
The experience the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture gained through its visits is that there are many serious problems which are not considered to be problems at all and accepted as being ‘just the way things are’. As a result, completely unacceptable forms of ill-treatment are allowed to pass not only unchallenged but even unnoticed by those who are responsible for them. The currently fashionable expression ‘hidden in plain sight’ might seem to sum this up: that we do not notice what is going on right in front of us. This is despite its not being hidden at all and being clearly visible. It is just accepted as acceptable when obviously it is not. This chapter explores this phenomenon and why it can be that states which routinely condemn forms of ill-treatment fail to even recognise it as occurring at all.
Debate on the need for more fairness in academic research collaborations between actors in Africa (or the ‘Global South’, broadly) and counterparts in the Global North has intensified in recent years, while practice-oriented frameworks and efforts to foster more equitable partnerships have proliferated. Important approaches to recognise and undo asymmetries in concrete collaboration arrangements – division of labour, decision making, access to rewards, capacity building – have been identified.
In this provocation we draw on African and other postcolonial, decolonial and feminist scholarship, as well as systems thinking and global science data to argue that such ‘equitable partnerships’ efforts at best sidestep the urgent need for a much more profound rebalancing of the positioning of Africa and ‘Global North’ in the worldwide science and research ecosystem as a whole. We consider why such wider rebalancing is an imperative for both Africa and the global community, propose that research collaborations must be understood as a key entry point for advancing such a systemic shift, and suggest a necessary transformative collaboration mode to this end. We conclude by positing an urgent need to think and act beyond ‘equitable’ partnerships and highlight where responsibilities for action must lie.