Enhancing the Responsible and Sustainable Expansion of the Science Shop Ecosystem in Europe

Case study: Social Innovation Institute Science Shop

This case study is part of a set of case studies developed by SciShops to investigate different models of science shops and community-based participatory research.

The Social Innovation Institute Science Shop is based in Vilnius, Lithuania at the Institute of Social Innovations. It is a relatively young science shop (the first in Lithuania), set up in 2013 as a  non-profit organisation to provide a research service for Lithuanian NGOs and communities with a focus on social sciences. To date, it has conducted four science shop projects and is currently on its fifth.

 

Background

T

he Institute of Social Innovations is a non-profit organisation established in 2006. SII strives to create, promote and implement social innovations and to research and propose new responses and solutions to contemporary social and economic challenges. It unifies a group of excellence-driven researchers and scientists working in policy research, applied social and interdisciplinary research and various policy development projects. The Institute:

  • conducts scientific research;
  • develops and implements projects;
  • carries out studies and expert evaluations; and
  • provides consultations for civil servants involved in policy development processes as well as for NGOs and business companies.

The institute currently employs a permanent staff of four and, depending on the project, engages up to 20 other people on a part time and voluntary basis.

The team that set up the science shop were introduced to the science shop concept in 2009 at a training session given by Norbert Steinhaus from Bonn Science Shop, delivered as part of a programme on popular science. The decision to establish the science shop was made in 2013, following participation in a two-day seminar on the practicalities of establishing and operating science shops in Budapest, Hungary. The inspiration from examples of science shops in other countries and motivation to follow these examples was so strong that the team started working at establishing a science shop without conducting a feasibility study.

The first half year was spent setting up a website and information about the science shop. Despite a communication campaign involving the internet site and a wide dissemination of messages to NGO’s by emails, its first project came about as a result of a presentation on science shops given at a congress of NGOs. One of the NGOs was interested in the concept and the first research request was elaborated together.

Business model and organisation

Within the Institute of Social Innovations, there is one person responsible for the science shop, supported by an assistant, who helps with communication and publicity.

The science shop has no core funding and costs are subsumed in the overall running and staff costs of the SII. The issue of funding is addressed directly with the NGO during the research definition phase. In some cases, NGOs can reallocate small amounts of money to contribute to the project. Any money that is provided by the NGO is used to cover expenses and as small remuneration for participating researchers.

The structure of the science shop is relatively light and flexible as it only deals with a couple of research projects a year. A project manager from within SII manages the process in terms of allocating responsibilities, setting deadlines and reporting. The science shop acts as an intermediary finding appropriate student researchers to undertake the research, or undertakes the research themselves.

Research projects are often undertaken by intern students from various universities. These are usually fourth year students in sociology or communication looking to gain practical experience. SII has close informal contacts with Vilnius University (many of the staff at SII have previously taught at the University) through which they are able to access resources. They also use contacts from Socforumas (a semi-formal network of researchers in social sciences). The first science shop project (a literature review and interviews with foreign publishers of books for sight-impaired children) involved a number of volunteers.

The research process and relationship with stakeholders

Research requests are generated by on-going conversations and direct contact with NGOs, through which they are made aware about the work of the science shop. Information campaigns have proven unsuccessful in the past but the science shop does raise awareness of its work and the benefits of undertaking this type of research through articles and interviews in the media.

In response to an approach from an NGO, the science shop works together with them to formulate the research question. The NGO is also fully consulted during the design of research tools, the definition of target groups etc. Between two and four meetings are held with the NGO to formulate the question, usually depending on the sensitivity of the topic. The intern students are involved in all aspects of the research process, from question formulation to data analysis. In some cases, the NGO will also provide access to research respondents (e.g. access to doctors).

Research results are presented to the NGO in the form of a research report with further discussions on how they can be implemented. An important focus is on translating the research into concrete results and discussing possible future directions and activities.

It is up to the NGO to decide what to do with the results in the project. In the majority of cases, the results are not disseminated to a wider public audience. In the case of the project with the publisher, SII participated in a presentation to a wider audience.

Examples of research projects

The first project undertaken was for a Lithuanian non-profit publisher of books for sight-impaired children that was interested in learning from practices in other countries but had no capacity or ability to do this. The science shop conducted a literature analysis to identify other publishers of most interest and benefit that could inform their work.

Another project was conducted for Baltic Environmental Forum Lithuania and involved a study to investigate mismatch between personal attitudes regarding environment and actual behaviour. The science shop developed recommendations to inform their publicity material and educational activities.  

The focus of their latest project is the relationship between enthusiasm for healthy eating and eating disorders among young women, being undertaken for the non-profit organisation “Innovation Office”. The aim is to propose innovative measures for improving support, to increase visibility of the problem, and to educate society.

Impact and evaluation

SII do not undertake any formal evaluation at the end of their projects. In SII’s view, the success of a project is clearly linked to whether the results are used by the their clients, if it has improved the work of the organisation and had a direct influence on their target groups. This is not formally evaluated but by maintaining their relationship with the NGOs, they are able to learn about how the project results have been used.

Professional development and training

Prior to establishing the science shop, in 2013 four members of its staff participated in a self-funded two-day Science Shop Summer School on the practicalities of establishing and operating science shops in Budapest, Hungary. It was organised as part of the EU PERARES project and Henk A.J. Mulder, Coordinator of this project and Director of the Science Shop at the University of Groningen, was the main lecturer. Being part of the Living Knowledge network gives the SII access to other training and networking opportunities. SII also participates in a number of EU-funded projects (European Researchers’ Night, SPARKS, as well as SciShops), which provides access to training, new ideas and contacts.

Challenges

The main challenge is getting research requests and convincing NGOs in Lithuania of the benefits of undertaking research.  When the science shop was first set up, they sent letters to over 1,000 NGOs and received just one response. This is partly due to civil society being relatively underdeveloped in Lithuania. In addition, the public is not particularly interested in research and NGOs do not understand its use in their own work and activities. At government level, knowledge-based decision-making is acknowledged in declarations but there is a lack of understanding on the ground about what this means in practice.

The identification of research requests relies on the enthusiasm and persistence of the science shop’s staff in following up potential avenues.

A further challenge relates to the timescale in terms of when the research is conducted and matching the expectations of the NGOs with practicalities. NGOs want quick results. But if the topic were to be proposed for a BA or MA thesis at the university, it would take too much time to find a student who is interested in that particular research topic and for the thesis to be completed. Therefore, the science shop currently works only with intern students, because the internship lasts up to three months and the process is faster.

Funding is also a challenge. SII chooses not to actively search for public funding for individual research projects as competition for funding is high and the application process is often long and does not coincide with the NGO’s timescales.

Success factors

SII’s focus is on the social sciences and they regard it as highly important to be clear with NGOs right from the start about what the science shop can and can’t do in terms of areas of expertise and the cost of undertaking the research activity.  If a potential client has financial resources for certain types of research, SII has the capacity outside of the science shop to fulfil these requests, too.

Maintaining contact with their clients to see how the results are used is important to the science shop as is the use of the results.  

Further, they have a clear process that focuses on quality assurance. In the science shop’s first project, SII acted as an intermediary, managed by an internal project manager, who identified external volunteers to conduct the research, which raised questions about who was responsible for the quality of the research. Subsequently, they moved to a different model in which projects are managed and conducted using internal resources. This means that they are better equipped to ensure the quality of the research.

Future development

The science shop is relatively young and still relies on the enthusiasm of one person. To become more established, a more defined structure will be required in the future.

SII is interested in exploring more innovative ways of involving citizens in projects, for example using citizen science.  

The number and diversity of NGOs and communities in Lithuania is growing, which presents further opportunities for the science shop’s work. The presence of a second science shop in Lithuania (with a focus on interior and industrial design) is now helping to raise awareness and understanding about science shops in society.

Contact:

Website www.sii.lt

Contact person: Ingrida Geciene

Email gecieneingrida@gmail.com