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

Case study: Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) Science Shop, Spain

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 UOC Science Shop is an e-science shop based in Barcelona, Spain, at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, an online university. The process of setting the science shop up began in January 2017 and it is currently piloting an initiative whereby students develop their dissertations on topics proposed by civil society organisations.

 

Background

U

OC, the Open University of Catalonia is an open online-university based in Barcelona offering graduate and postgraduate programmes in fields such as psychology, computer science, sciences of education, information and knowledge society and economics.

It is a completely online university that supports people in lifelong learning and societal advancement while carrying out research on the knowledge society. Its educational model is based on a personalised learning experience using e-learning activities.

The idea of creating a science shop stems from the UOC’s commitment to the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the EU’s promotion of RRI in its research and innovation framework, which fosters the participation of society throughout the research and innovation process to better align its results with the values of society.

The aim of the UOC Science Shop is to carry out community-based research and to bring research and civil society organisations more closely together. The science shop is one of the pilot activities in the university’s line of action on “Open knowledge for and with everyone” aimed at strengthening the relevance and societal impact of research and its relationship to the specific needs of societal actors.

The process of creating the science shop has involved a number of activities:

  • A conference on “Get to know the international movement of Science Shops” with international guest speakers including Emma McKenna (Queen’s University Belfast) and Jozefien de Marrée (Free University of Brussels).
  • A study of the international science shop landscape.
  • An Erasmus+ scholarship to spend four days at  Queen’s University Belfast’s Science Shop learning about all aspects of how a science shop operates.
  • An in-house analysis of state-of-the-art participatory research and a review of internal staff’s support and views on the idea.
  • The development of a Participatory Final Dissertation pilot in which students develop their Masters or Degree research dissertations on topics proposed by civil society organisations.

Business model and organisation

The UOC Science Shop has a multidisciplinary collaborative approach that encompasses both teaching and research, connecting all departments and areas of the university as well as students and management staff. Currently, the university completely finances the science shop. The science shop is run by  two people who are responsible for coordinating this phase of internal change and managing the development of the Participatory Final Dissertation pilot.

As the science shop is in a pilot phase, it does not have an official advisory board, but there are plans to create a committee on which all involved parties will be represented (representatives of the university, civil society organisations and students) to horizontally manage decision-making related to the science shop. A web platform will also be created and embedded in UOC’s website to act as a meeting point for everyone involved.

The research process and relationship with stakeholders

In the Participatory Final Dissertation pilot, research projects will be undertaken by students working on their Masters or Degree courses, providing them with practical experience of conducting a research project. Supported by a research project supervisor, students will decide what topics to work on, meet with the civil society organisations, formulate the research question as well as design and carry out the research.

Periodic meetings with the civil society organisations will be held online and, except in those cases where the methodology of the research and associated process of data collection requires face-to-face collaboration, the whole process will be exclusively online.

Although the online dimension may make it more complicated to develop close relationships and connections with the wider community UOC believes it is attainable given the strong ICT environment in which we live our daily lives. Once the research projects have been completed, students will present their results in an open discussion session involving all of the relevant parties.

Examples of Research Projects

The Participatory Final Dissertation pilot is being developed during the 2017-2018 academic year. Currently, local civil society organisations are being contacted with the aim of identifying suitable topics for collaborative research projects. During this first year, the UOC’s focus is on approaching civil society organisations directly, which also allows them to evaluate the general level of interest in the initiative and need for this type of work. In future years, once a certain level awareness about the initiative has been achieved, regular open calls for proposals will be also launched.

A couple of topics that have been identified to date are:

  • The student movement and feminism through social networks.
  • Housing: principle of inclusion.

Impact and Evaluation

An evaluation process is planned that will have three stages (at the start, in the middle and at the end of the project) to monitor and gain insights into the development of the projects. The data will be collected mainly through questionnaires completed by all stakeholders involved in the project.

The science shop also intends to ask some of the professors involved in the science shop’s research projects to carry out a comparison between the students that conducted a science shop project together with a civil society organisation and those that have prepared their Master thesis themselves. The aim to identify any new competencies that students may have obtained as the result of working on the community-based research projects.

Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI)

The university is currently working on implementing an internal policy for open and responsible research and innovation (2018-2020). The strategy focuses on developing the global and social competences of UOC’s staff in relation to the RRI and thus achieving a solid community of practice and responsible research within the UOC.

The first step is the development of a course on “Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) for Researchers – An Introduction”. The course will allow UOC’s researchers to relate the theoretical concept of responsible research to their daily practices. A second course on gender issues is also planned.

Challenges

The main challenge is how to make the science shop concept interesting to both students and the participating civil society organisations to achieve a maximum level of engagement from both sides.  

Success factors

The university’s support to the science shop at a strategic level and its overall commitment to engaging with society by fostering activities that respond to the needs of the societal third sector and involve the whole of of the university community in pursuing solutions to major global challenges. There is a also a high level of enthusiasm and commitment amongst UOC staff throughout the university.

Future development

Once the  Participatory Final Dissertation pilot is fully underway, the Science Shop will be officially launched. In addition, more complex societal topics that could form the basis of PhD theses or research projects will be investigated.

New training for researchers on community-based research skills will also be developed within the framework of the Knowledge for Change (K4C) Global Consortium[1], an initiative of the UNESCO Chair in Community-Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education.

Contact details

Website: http://uoc.edu

Contact: Nadja Gmelch, Head of Projects, Globalization and Cooperation

Email: ngmelch@uoc.edu

Links

[1] http://unescochair-cbrsr.org/