The building blocks of Science Shops – new report

When setting up a Science Shop there are many decisions that need to be taken about how the Science Shop will operate. How will it be staffed and funded? Where will it be located? Who will carry out the projects? Will it have a thematic focus and what type of projects will it carry out?

A new report produced by the EU SciShops project seeks to provide insights into some of the key aspects that influence how a Science Shop operates, their interdependencies, and how developments relating to these key aspects might affect its growth, stability or decline.

In order to reflect the diversity of existing and future models of Science Shops, the report looks at how these key aspects can play out in different types of Science Shops, including those based at universities, non-profit organisations, and businesses as well as ones established as independent legal entities.

Figure 1: Overview of organisational options by type of Science Shop addressed in the scenarios collection

The seven key aspects related to the operation of a Science Shop that are explored in the report are:

  • Organisational model
  • Funding
  • Infrastructure
  • Coordination staff
  • Implementation staff
  • Project type
  • Thematic scope

For each of these aspects, possible operational options are identified and the advantages and disadvantages of the identified operational options are discussed as well as their interdependencies. For example, the organisation model may affects the availability of infrastructure options and staff for coordination and project implementation. The availability of expertise (staff) will affect the thematic scope and types of projects that can be undertaken.

Advantages Disadvantages
Pop up / pilot
  • Flexible, don’t require huge resources (staff or funding)
  • Can be used to pilot activity before committing resources
  • More difficult to establish reputation and branding
University: Centralised
  • Cross-university engagement
  • Able to respond to wide range of research needs and topics
  • Often more embedded in university’s strategy & funding
  • Can require dedicated funding and coordination
  • Reliant on cross-university support
University: Faculty specific
  • Closer to staff and students undertaking the research
  • Easier to coordinate
  • More difficult for CSOs to approach
  • Offers limited research scope to CSOs (if no other science shops within the university)
University: Regional
  • Provides a central regional contact point for CSOs
  • Shared knowledge and networking opportunities
  • Requires an additional level of coordination
Based within NPO / SME
  • Access to support and expertise within the mother organisation (e.g. financial, marketing & communications)
  • Can utilise mother organisation’s visibility and reputation for branding and marketing
  • May be limited in capacity due to other demands (how many projects can be done)
Independent legal entity
  • Freedom and flexibility (with regard to how it is run, funded, branding etc).
  • Funding insecurity as fully dependent on external funding
  • No access to additional support & resources from a mother org
  • Financial report and accounting responsibilities and other legal duties

Figure 2: Advantages and disadvantages of the different organisational models

The results of this analysis highlight some differences between Science Shops, especially between university-based and NPO-based Science Shops. Reflections on the business-based model, which are currently mainly hypothetical, indicate that these Science Shops might correspond more closely to the NPO-based model. University-based Science Shops have some particular advantages in terms of their better access to continuous securer funding, to students and supervisors, and to infrastructure, such as laboratories, libraries and dissemination channels. Thus, it is quite common for university-based Science Shops to conduct more projects on a wider range of topics.

On the other hand, Science Shops based at NPOs, and possibly businesses, are not dependent on governmental or university policies and requirements. They can therefore be more independent, flexible and creative, as well as more involved in action research, the facilitation of stakeholder engagement, and production of services and products for civil society more than research-oriented universities.

Science Shop life cycles

In addition, several key developments are identified for each key aspect. These developments consist of both challenges and opportunities, from both within and outside of the organisation, which can have a profound impact on how the Science Shop is run. For example, receiving project funding provides an opportunity for growth, while the end of project funding presents a challenge; a new member of staff joining a science shope may bring in new competencies and opportunities for new projects, while the loss of a key person can present a threat.

All options and developments are illustrated with real-life case studies, wherever possible. As the examples show, the life cycle of a science is rarely a linear process and many science shops undergo periods of growth and decline, often due to changing conditions and environments. The report highlights also some of the options for science shops when facing these types of challenges.

Read the whole report D 4.1 Science Shops Scenarios Collection