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 conclusion to the book argues that attention must be paid to a plurality of values that are in operation in higher education as a way to understand both how official educational narratives proceed (such as those on institutions’ promotional websites), and how people seek to disentangle that plurality when asked to explain their beliefs and actions in interviews. It goes on to think through the implications of this plurality in the specific context of meritocracy, massification and non-vocational education discussed throughout the book, as well as more explicitly in Chapter 6. Analysing the precise mechanisms by which credential inflation has proceeded since the early 20th century, the book argues finally that the problem of non-vocational education is not that it masks class inequality under a veil of educational legitimacy (as formulated in much critical sociology), but rather that it casually entangles plural values together in ways that allow multiple goods (not only credentials, but also intellectual kudos and social esteem) to stick to privileged individuals. The ways in which some students and academics seek to disentangle these values offers an invaluable starting point for making the liberal arts less elitist.
This chapter explores one of the only features that characterises all liberal arts initiatives in England: interdisciplinarity. Using Rob Moore’s distinction between routine interdisciplinarity and hyper-interdisciplinarity, it relates how institutions’ promotional websites reject disciplines and the complex ways that this rejection is negotiated by students and academics. They seek to disentangle celebratory liberal arts advocacy by drawing attention to how interdisciplinarity is practised on the ground in higher education. First, academics note the educational structures that are required to sustain (or not) interdisciplinary innovations, where broader questions of specialisation, progression and the modularisation of the curriculum must be considered. Second, students, in particular, can be critical of very grand assertions about the capacity of applied, problem-based learning to solve all manner of complex, ‘wicked’ problems.