he coordinator behind the pop-up science shop, a lecturer at Malmö University, became interested in the science shop concept a number of years ago. Following numerous discussions with stakeholders outside of the university in 2014, he gained personal funding from the regional government and some CSOs to conduct a study trip to the Research Shop at the University of Guelph, Canada to learn more about their community-based participatory research work. These experiences helped to inform the development of the Malmö science shop and subsequently, an opportunity arose to pilot the concept as part of a regional social innovation project.
The project “Social Innovation Skåne” began in 2015 and will continue until 2018. Its objective is to develop a sustainable innovation infrastructure and other support facilities for promoting social innovation and social entrepreneurship in the region of Skåne in the south of Sweden. Activities are aimed at increasing collaboration between government, academia, industry, social entrepreneurs and civil society organisations.
Malmö University has a strong focus on the large societal challenges as well as collaborative research together with stakeholders outside of the university, particularly civil society and the public sector. However, these collaborations often take place between individual researchers and organisations and the research outcomes rarely reach far beyond the immediate beneficiaries. The science shop concept would not only help the university to fulfil its societal engagement goals but also help to spread research results much more widely.
A pop-up model was chosen for a number of reasons. The first was due to limited resources. The science shop didn’t have any permanent source of funding nor administrative resources to support the structure of a more traditional type of science shop. Secondly, those involved in the project saw potential benefits in the science shop being less connected to a physical space or one institution. The idea was to prototype a flexible and open approach that could easily be taken out into society to the civil society organisations themselves. The pop-up pilot approach would also provide useful evidence to inform the future development of the science shop.
Two pop-up science shop pilots were trialled during 2017. One aimed at civil society organisations and the second aimed at SMEs. The objective of both was to bring these organisations together with researchers at the university to identify and pursue research projects relating to challenges of wider societal relevance.
Business model and organisation
Four members of staff at Malmö University from different departments and faculties have been involved in driving the project forward. They do not have formal roles but function more as an informal network of people facilitating the initiative. STORM, a new innovation hub that has recently been opened at Malmö University, provides a physical space where the staff can meet and the science shop can also utilise some of the innovation hub’s resources and expertise.
Funding for the pop-up science shop pilot activities is provided via the Social Innovation Skåne project, which in turn is funded by European regional development funds. The project involves four main organisations: the Centre for Public Entrepreneurship: Coompanion Skåne (a business advisor for democratically owned enterprises), Meetingplace Social Innovation (a national platform for social innovation at Malmö University) and NETWORK-Idéburen sektor Skåne. The latter is the Social Economy Network in Skåne, an independent lobby organisation for CSOs within the region. It currently has 50 member organisations, representing a wide range of different NGOs, including humanitarian organisations, the disability movement, sports, culture, children and youth, human rights, cooperative and rural development, faith communities and adult education. These partners act as brokers to connect the science shop with relevant CSO stakeholders.
The research process and relationship with stakeholders
The pop-up science shop pilot began in Spring 2017. Invitations to a meeting were sent out to civil society organisations in the region via partner organisations. Material was also sent out to participants in advance to help CSOs prepare challenges to bring to the meeting.
The first CSO meeting attracted 25 participants from 15 CSOs. The objective of this first meeting was to harvest ideas and to turn the CSO’s challenges into research questions. No researchers (apart from the academic staff organising the meeting) were present so the focus could be on the CSOs. Discussions were held in small groups in which CSOs were encouraged to interact with each other. The meeting resulted in 17 challenges being identified. Prior to the next meeting, the organisers used their networks to find out what existing research was being undertaken at the university that related to these challenges and to identify researchers that would be potentially interested in pursuing these types of collaborations with CSOs.
The CSOs were then invited to a second meeting along with a number of researchers to provide context and inspiration to the themes in relation to research being undertaken at the university. The aim of the second meeting was to explore the issues in more depth in order to be able to narrow them down and identify opportunities for concrete projects. The meeting resulted in eight possible directions, which were investigated further after the meeting and narrowed down to four concrete potential project ideas.
At the third meeting, the four project ideas were explored in a lot more depth and possible funding sources for research projects were also identified. The science shop will now continue to facilitate the process to develop the project ideas into concrete funded research projects.
The science shop primarily focuses on researchers (not students) to undertake the projects and has particularly had positive support from researchers who have recently completed their PhDs and are now looking for topics to form the focus of postgraduate studies.
The SME pop-up shop started in the autumn and followed a similar format. Two meetings of two hours each were held to which SMEs from the region were invited. The background was the overall theme of green business. The first meeting was to identify challenges, the second to present existing research and discuss possible collaboration opportunities.
Throughout the process, the focus has been on collaboration with partners, with all stakeholders fully involved in co-creating the process and developing the activities together.
Examples of research projects
The four project themes that have emerged from the CSO pop-up shop are the circular economy, social impact, gaming addiction, culture and communication. Two of these are progressing into concrete collaborations and potential funding sources have been identified. A third shows a lot of promise and the fourth is being explored further. Themes emerging from discussions with SMEs are sustainability innovation and green innovation in urban settings.
Impact and evaluation
The project does not have a rigid set of success indicators as part of the pilot process was also to explore ways to evaluate this type of process. The experiences and learnings gained from the pilot will be used to set indicators for subsequent years. The overall goal of the pilot science shop was for the process to result in one new collaboration so this target has been exceeded.
Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI)
RRI lies at the heart of the pop-up science shop’s collaborative approach and practices. However, the university does not work with RRI as a specific concept as RRI practices are seen a part of Malmö University’s everyday practices. The coordinator is currently collaborating on an RRI project with Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland.
Professional development and training
In 2014, the coordinator undertook a study visit to the University of Guelph in Canada to learn more about their Research Shop and community-based participatory research in general. He regularly participates in relevant conferences and has established a good network of contacts with other science shops, too.
One challenge has been educating the CSOs about what makes a good research question. Many CSOs do not have a clear understanding of the research process or how research can be used to inform their work and address their challenges. A lot of time at the first meeting was spent explaining what research is, what the research process involves and how a research problem can be identified. Several CSOs that are no longer involved in the process have since said that they now have a much better understanding of how research may be able to inform their work and would be interested in participating in the future.
There is also the question of funding, once the project comes to an end. Finding project funding is a lot easier than gaining permanent funding. However, becoming a perpetual project is not optimal for the science shop in terms of stability. Generally, the coordinator is very positive about the future of the pop-up science shop due to the number of stakeholders, both within and outside of the university, that have shown support and enthusiasm for the concept. The way that infrastructure around social innovation will be organised in the region once the social innovation project is completed will also impact the future of the science shop and its role within the social innovation agenda.
The pop-up science shop aimed at SMEs was less successful, mainly because many of them struggled to understand their role and how community-based research relates to their businesses. The focus of the science shop process is not about helping businesses become more innovative but the contribution they can make to wider societal issues. The university also has less experience of working with SMEs. The science shop coordinators aim to revisit the SME format in due course.
The science shop concept sits well within the university’s overall strategy and there is strong support for working with this type of approach throughout the university right through to the top.
The first step of the process in which CSOs were brought together to talk about research in the context of their work proved to be a good way to create mutual understanding between the participants. The participating CSOs now have a better understanding of what research involves and how it might be used to inform their work.
Representatives from 15 CSOs attended the first meeting, which exceeded expectations. However, the coordinator stresses that it important not to focus on quantity in science shops as the challenges need to be explored in depth. Given that four people from the university are involved in leading the process, he believes that the optimal number of CSOs to work with is around five to six organisations.
Meetings will take place in the coming months between the various stakeholders to discuss the direction in which to take the science shop once the project comes to end and to develop a longer-term strategy. The flexible nature of the pop-up model presents a range of opportunities. For example, pop-up science shops could be held in different parts of the city or even the countryside, to tackle challenges that are rarely addressed. Decisions also need to be taken on whether to focus to start with a broad approach again or just focus on a smaller number of CSOs.
The ambition is not to turn the science shop into a formal permanent body but continue to develop a flexible way of working that engages a wide range of researchers in the process. The coordinator is particularly interested in exploring ways to involve several universities and encourage researchers across the region to work more closely together e.g. a type of regional science shop.
Opportunities to involve students in research projects with CSOs will also be pursued, e.g. through matchmaking events.
A key question relates to sustainability in the long term and finding the science shop’s role in the wider regional agenda. There is a lot of support for the concept from many stakeholders including the regional government. Meetings with decision makers are planned to discuss how the region could potentially benefit from this type of resource. A formal partnership already exists between the regional administration and CSOs through which funding and networking opportunities are delivered. One aspect that the partnership currently finds difficult to fulfil relates to research, a gap that science shop could potentially fulfil. So future paths need to be explored with regional partners and other decision makers as well as the university itself.
Contact: Fredrik Björk, Coordinator and Lecturer