The first Polish science shop is based at the Faculty of Political Studies & Journalism at Adam Mickiewicz University (AMU) in Poznań, Poland. It is a new science shop, currently in the process of being set up as part of a project financed by Polish Ministry of Development and EU structural funds, starting in September 2017. Research projects will be undertaken by BA and MA students as part of their theses with a focus on the social sciences and humanities.
This case study illustrates some of the experiences and challenges of setting up a new science shop.
dam Mickiewicz University is the major academic institution in Poznań and one of the top universities in Poland. The Faculty of Political Science and Journalism (FPSJ) is one of the youngest of the 15 faculties at AMU. At present, the Faculty has over 4,200 students divided between four majors: Political Science, International Relations, Journalism and Social Communication, and National Security. The Faculty employs over 80 researchers and lecturers. Many specialist classes are run by people outside of the university, such as members of editorial offices, representatives of government authorities and employees of public institutions.
The AMU science shop is being set up as part of a POWER project financed by EU structural funds planned from September 2017 until September 2019. Its aim is to support collaboration between the university, businesses, policy makers and NGOs, with a specific focus on the latter. The main focus of the science shop is research projects undertaken by BA and MA students in interdisciplinary teams, in response to concrete needs and problems identified by local civil society organisations.
The team that initiated the science shop is very keen to develop the third mission of university to address growing societal and economic challenges, so the science shop was a natural consequence of this interest and involvement.
In response to a call for social innovation projects issued by the Polish Ministry of Development, AMU submitted a proposal in 2017 and was awarded funding to establish the science shop. The project has a number of objectives, including equipping students in the social sciences and humanities with skills and competences needed for their future professional lives, providing students with real-life projects for theses and developing a socially-engaged university.
Business model and organisation
The science shop has been established on a project basis, thus all staff costs and activities are covered by the project budget, financed by Polish Ministry of Development. The science shop has funding from the Polish Ministry of Development for two years. After this, funding will be provided by the university.
There are two people coordinating the science shop at the AMU. They are responsible for organising the work and negotiating with the relevant people in order to ensure they work together effectively. There is also a project leader, the Dean of the Faculty, who supports the science shop. Administrative staff carry out organisational tasks.
During the establishment of the science shop, a team of supervisors was identified along with co-supervisors in all of AMU’s faculties. The role of the supervisors is to support the student recruitment process, to encourage students to work on societally relevant and useful theses, and to help to transform the questions submitted by the NGOs into research topics that are suitable for student theses. Teams of two to three students work together to produce each thesis.
The aim is for the research projects to become an important part of a student’s educational experience. Students involved with science shop research will gain valuable insights into the subject of their thesis, gained from active participation in addressing real societal issues. Students will also be given an insight into the culture of scientific research and a scientist’s work.
The research process and relationship with stakeholders
As part of setting up the science shop, much consideration has gone into how the science shop process will operate. Research requests will be generated through direct contact and ongoing conversations with NGOs, who show an initial interest in the science shop’s work. Part of the role of the science shop coordinators is to develop these relationships by holding meetings with non-profit organisations to promote the science shop concept.
To start with, it was decided to gather research questions from a “known and safe environment”, so direct contacts has been made with people and organisations that the university is already familiar with from other projects and initiatives. The first few research questions were gathered during joint workshops involving AMU academic staff and NGO representatives. In addition, the science shop coordinators are building a platform called MatchtheThesis, which will be integrated into the science shop’s website, and through which organisations can submit their research requests.
There are also plans to set up an advisory board, whose role will be to evaluate submitted requests and convert them into research questions together with the team of supervisors.
The next step is to recruit students to work on the research requests as the subject of their theses. Subsequently, routines and procedures will be further developed.
Open access to the research results is considered to be very important. When the projects have been completed, the results will be published on the science shop’s website, allowing society and other communities to use and benefit from the results.
Members of the Faculty of Political Studies & Journalism also have strong, collaborative relationships with local government. During the preparatory stage of the project, several workshops were organised at which the science shop concept was presented to local government representatives.
Examples of research projects
The science shop is in the process of setting up its first research projects, however, during meetings and workshops held with NGOs, some directions for future research topics have already been generated:
- Various types of analyses for NGOs, e.g. how they collaborate with other sectors; how they work with local communities; how they conduct their activities; how their activities are viewed by society; and what their main needs are at a local level.
- Promotional and educational initiatives for an NGO active in a small village.
- Promotion of the university’s students office for the disabled.
- A promotional campaign for psychological support for students, especially those with special educational needs.
- A fundraising campaign for an NGO.
- A regional map of social innovations for an NGO.
Impact and evaluation
Impact and evaluation methods are at an early stage of development. Quantitative and qualitative data will be gathered during every research project, but the science shop’s coordinators still have to develop measures to evaluate the outputs of the research activities in relation to the NGO’s objectives.
Professional development and training
The first two months of the project were dedicated to preparatory workshops, study visits to other well-established science shops (in Berlin, Germany; Cork, Ireland; and Budapest, Hungary), and meetings with experts and representatives of local NGOs, communities and government officials. One of the main objectives of these activities was to prepare the academic staff that will be supporting students who will be undertaking the science shop projects.
The science shop’s coordinators also participate in a number of other EU-funded projects, which provides access to training, new ideas and contacts.
The greatest challenge is keeping all of the stakeholders engaged and motivated. During the workshops and meetings with NGOs, some representatives expressed concern about the time that they will need to dedicate to the research projects. The organisations are willing to commit to working together on a project for six months, but it’s difficult to say at this stage whether they will be able to find the time and resources for long-term involvement.
The second challenge is intellectual property rights. Open access implies that the results of the research projects will be free of all restrictions on access. Since intellectual property rights are generally designed to exclude others from using an organisation’s ideas, at first glance the two concepts (open access and intellectual property rights protection) seem irreconcilable. For this reason, the stakeholders have to be prepared to accept that the results of their research projects will be published under open access.
The science shop currently has external funding for two years. In 2019, when the project comes to an end, it may be a challenge to find funding to support the science shop’s activities, despite initial commitment from the university. The conditions of the call is that the science shop has to remain active for at least five years.
External funding from the Polish Ministry of Development and partly by EU structural funds, has enabled activities to be set up relatively easily.
Support from senior management of the university. The science shop concept is now embedded in Adam Mickiewicz University’s strategic plan. Members of the university’s management team are keen to promote the science shop concept to other faculties within the university.
Creating a MatchtheThesis platform as a contact mechanism for civil society organisations and tool to assist with the management of research requests.
Developing a Code of Ethics. Since research at the science shop involves a great deal of cooperation and coordination among many different people in different disciplines and organisations, ethical standards will help to promote the values that are essential to collaborative work.
Joanna Morawska Jancelewicz