Interview with Helen Garrison from Vetenskap & Allmänhet (Public & Science)

Meet Helen Garrison, Project & Communications Manager at the Swedish non-profit organisation VA (Public & Science), talking about their involvement in the SciShops project.

Q: Firstly, tell us a bit about VA (Public & Science)

Based in Stockholm, Sweden, VA (Public & Science), Vetenskap & Allmänhet in Swedish, is a non-profit organisation whose purpose is to promote dialogue and openness between researchers and the public.  We are a membership organisation and have some 80 members interested in the interface between science and society, including universities, public authorities, research funding bodies as well as companies and private associations.

We are a small team of 10 with expertise in dialogue, public engagement, open science and science communication. Since our foundation in 2002, we have been carrying out studies, disseminating knowledge and testing new formats and activities for public engagement. We also carry out advocacy work, engaging in public debate and in dialogue with decision-makers at national and European level. Our activities range from co-ordinating Researchers’ Night in around 30 cities in Sweden each year to conducting surveys into the public’s attitudes to science.

Q: What is your motivation for getting involved in the SciShops project?

Promoting engagement between the scientific community and society is at the heart of what VA does and of course Science Shops are an excellent vehicle for achieving this and provide an invaluable service to civil society. We’ve been a member of the Living Knowledge network for a number of years and are keen to support and promote Science Shops both nationally and internationally, utilising our expertise and networks.

VA is an outward-looking organisation with experience of working on a number of European projects. For example, we are also currently a partner in the EU ORION Open Science project and BLOOM, a Horizon 2020 project raising public awareness and interest in the bioeconomy.

So when the opportunity arose to join SciShops, we naturally said yes!

Q: What is VA’s role in the project?

VA brings a combination of communications and research expertise to the project. We are responsible for a number of communication tasks e.g. producing the SciShops newsletter, writing articles for the website and creating leaflets and fact sheets. We’ve also undertaken interviews and developed case studies for the project as well as co-ordinated a global survey. Having managed the Swedish hub of the EU RRI Tools project, we also bring knowledge of responsible research and innovation to the project.

Q: What do you personally find most interesting/exciting about the project?

Conducting the case studies was really interesting as it has given us a lot of in depth knowledge of how science shops work in practice and greater understanding of the challenges facing science shops, particularly in terms of sustainability. It has also highlighted the diversity and flexibility of the science shop model.

The project is developing new models of science shops e.g. at NGOs and companies, so it will be exciting to see how these evolve too.

Q: What do you hope to have achieved by the end of the project?

In addition to the ten new science shops, I hope we leave a legacy of useful resources and experience that will be of benefit to other science shops in the future.

Although VA is not one of the partners setting up a science shop, we are doing lots of work to promote the concept. There are not many science shops in the Nordics, although there is a lot going on in terms of social innovation and community-based research, so it would be great to inspire other organisations to set up science shops too.