What is a Science Shop?
Science Shops carry out independent, participatory scientific research in response to concerns experienced by citizens and local civil society. This involves researchers working closely with civil society organisations (CSOs) or other members of society to co-create new knowledge that can be used to better understand or tackle societal issues.
Science Shops are not ‘shops’ in the traditional sense of the word but help to create knowledge for organisations that lack the resources or expertise to carry out research themselves.
Many Science Shops are based within universities and research institutes, but they can also be run by non-profit organisations, or even companies wanting to share their research expertise to support their local community.
Why would a CSO need research?
Research is a useful tool for generating knowledge and evidence to inform a CSO’s work and ultimately attain change in the community. For example, research can provide new insights into a problem, help organisations better understand the motivations or challenges faced by their target audiences, or result in new ideas. Findings might be used to inform funding applications, make decisions on where best to allocate resources, inform the development of new products or services or even shape future policy.
Who can access a Science Shop’s services?
Representatives of civil society organisations or local communities can approach a Science Shop with a problem, where they feel some research might be helpful. For example, project requests might be received from non-profit organisations working with young people or on environmental issues, a patient association or a local sports club. Even a group of citizens with shared concerns about an issue affecting their local community can benefit.
Occasionally, Science Shops deal with requests from other types of organisations, such as companies and government institutions. However, in this case, the results must be of wider societal relevance; Science Shop projects are not designed to replace paid-for research consultancy services.
What kind of research do Science Shops carry out?
The field of research that can be undertaken is dependant on the expertise of Science Shop and those undertaking the projects. Some Science Shops may have a specific thematic focus, others may be able to handle a broader range of requests.
The most appropriate research methods will be selected once the research question has been clearly defined, but could include questionnaires, interviews, focus groups or desk research i.e. finding out what research already exists. Data is often collected by the researcher, but the CSO and even citizens may also be involved. Once the data has been analysed, the research findings and recommendations will be presented in a useful and easy-to-understand format.
However, not all Science Shop projects are based on traditional research techniques. Projects sometimes consist of more consultation-type work for community organisations (e.g. legal or business development advice) or result in concrete products, such as technical products, feasibility studies, websites, promotional materials or campaigns.
Some Science Shops also carry out other types of projects, such as developing educational resources or even running other types of consultation and engagement activities.
Who carries out the research?
This depends on the individual Science Shop but projects may be carried out by supervised student(s), as part of their coursework or theses, giving them valuable experience of working on real-life problems. Other Science Shops utilise researchers or other internal research expertise.
What involvement is required?
One key aspect is that the research is participatory and collaborative, i.e. it involves the active involvement of community members in an equitable and mutually beneficial partnership. The Science Shop will work closely together with the civil society organisation to ensure there is a clear understanding of the issue to be addressed and the outcomes will be of maximum benefit. The more time a CSO can commit to the project, the more useful the potential outcome will be.
This type of research also requires a holistic approach i.e. looking at the bigger picture and taking into consideration the perspectives of other stakeholders, including those that may be able to affect change in the longer-term e.g. policy- and other decision-makers.
Does it cost anything at all?
Science Shops usually offer their services for free. However, in some cases, an organisation may be asked to cover small costs, such as travel or equipment costs. If the project is part of a large initiative, costs may be covered by a project grant and the Science Shop acts as a project partner. Regardless, this is something that will be clarified in initial conversations.