Meet the Team – Interview with Carmen Munteanu from SYNYO GmbH

Carmen Munteanu is a Research and Project Manager at the Austrian Research, Development and Innovation company SYNYO GmbH. Due to her background, she develops project proposals and coordinates funded projects in sustainability-related fields. She is the initiator and the project coordinator of SciShops.

Q: Firstly, tell us a bit about SYNYO.

CM: SYNYO is a research, development and innovation SME based in Vienna. Our mission is to tackle contemporary societal challenges and provide smart technical solutions to citizens, consumers and decision makers. Our interdisciplinary team has expertise in social sciences, environment and sustainability, mobility and smart cities, safety and security and smart health, as well as an extensive background in European and nationally funded projects. Our multidisciplinary capabilities have allowed us over time to address new societal challenges in our projects, and as a result we have a rich and varied portfolio.

The novelty we are bringing to the field is in terms of the types of organisations starting and running science shops: besides the traditional university model, we are looking to develop new ones for small and medium enterprises, research institutes, non-governmental organizations and large enterprises.

Q: What is the motivation behind SYNYO getting involved in science shops and developing the SciShops project?

CM: SciShops is a collaborative project and all partners contributed their expertise in its development. As already mentioned, the team at SYNYO is interdisciplinary and team members are encouraged to apply their creativity and expertise in the elaboration of new project proposals. When I was doing my bachelor studies at Politehnica University of Bucharest, I also did some volunteering for InterMEDIU science shop, which is run within the university. In 2015, when I read the call text I saw the opportunity to apply the experience I had gained there, so I initiated this proposal, inviting InterMEDIU to be involved. When we, at SYNYO, started discussing establishing our own science shop, we realised that it an opportunity to engage more closely with the Viennese community and to build projects based on local societal needs and challenges.

Q: How is SciShops different from other science shop projects and your other projects?

CM: All science shops projects are different to each other, but SciShops is the first one trying to innovate business models for science shops . We are of course utilising the resources, tools and databases provided by previous and similar initiatives and we are also closely collaborating with our sister project InSPIRES, funded under the same call. The novelty we are bringing to the field is in terms of the types of organisations starting and running science shops: besides the traditional university model, we are looking to develop new ones for small and medium enterprises, research institutes, non-governmental organizations and large enterprises. Furthermore, our online platform will be an interactive tool where science shops can easily connect with each other, with civil society, and with organizations interested in starting a science shop.

Q: What do you hope to achieve through the project?

CM: The project ambition is partially to enhance the sustainable expansion of the science shops ecosystem. This means we, as project partners, will establish 10 new science shops, but through our broad stakeholder networks we also want to try to persuade other organizations to use our tools to connect and cooperate with science shops and, why not, also start their own. Furthermore, we hope to encourage established science shops to use our interactive tool to facilitate engagement with communities, networking with other science shops and also with research institutes who can support their activities.

Q: What do you see is the greatest challenge for SciShops?

CM: I think the greatest challenge relates to the novelty we are trying to bring to this field. Some of the project team have a lot of expertise in science shops and/or community based participatory research, and are very familiar with the traditional concepts, models and actions around these topics. It can be challenging to see it from a different perspective and try to come up with innovative business models, communication and collaboration tools and channels. A further challenge will be gaining acceptance of our innovative concepts, ideas and solutions in the already established science shops community.

Capton: The SciShops consortium at Leiden University

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

CM: It is exciting to bring together such a wide diversity of partner organisations with such multidisciplinary expertise: some experts in science shops and participatory research, and others who were not familiar with science shops but were willing to listen, to learn more, to conduct research on this topic and even to start their own. Additionally, for SYNYO as an organization, it will be an interesting journey as we are also establishing our own science shop.

Q: What are the challenges of managing an EU-funded project of this size?

CM: I would say probably its size: with 18 partner organizations from 12 different European countries, is the largest project I have coordinated and one of SYNYO’s largest as well. Luckily, the team have connected with each other very well, every partner is motivated and committed to the action, so no unmanageable problems have occurred so far. I am positive we will have a great collaboration experience that will be reflected in our project related activities and outcomes.

Q: In two years, when the project is coming to an end, what is your dream scenario for SciShops?

CM: We have set quite ambitious goals for the project and various challenges could arise along the way, so the dream scenario is to achieve all targets we have set and in the long term to inspire new organizations to use our tools to work more closely with science shops as well as to start their own science shops. The ideal scenario would also include the platform being used by communities, organizations and science shops all over the world, thus slowly but sustainably developing and enhancing the expansion of the ecosystem.