Enhancing the Responsible and Sustainable Expansion of the Science Shop Ecosystem in Europe

Visit to Open Science Hub in Portugal

Tackling local challenges in rural communities through Science Shops

Photo made by GIX
Following the SciShops’ consortium meeting in Madrid, four partners visited the Open Science Hub – Portugal, a Science Shop located in Portugal. Here they explored the building and its surroundings, learned about the mission, strategy and activities of the hub and exchanged ideas for the SciShops project.

The partners were shown around by Maria Vicente, the coordinator of the Open Science Hub – Portugal. The hub was founded by the Municipality of Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo and Leiden University in 2017. It is in an upcycled school building within the small village of Barca d’Alva, next to the Douro river and on the border ofSpain and Portugal. The hub has several workshop rooms, an exhibition room and amazing views. Maria Vicente showed them some of the activities that they carry out with school children: “They are adapted from the EU Making Sense project  and its Smart Kids Lab. Children can make simple accessible sensors for measuring UV-light, water quality or other environmental characteristics.”

After the tour, the partners were welcomed by Paulo Langrouva, the mayor of Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo. Because the hub provides a platform for developing for developing closer relationships between the municipality and its the local community and resolving local problems, Paulo Langrouva is very enthusiastic about the hub. He is looking forward to collaborating with SciShops project as “working together with Leiden University has really improved our projects, and the more open this project is, the more people will benefit.”

Locally relevant
Maria Vicente explained the goal of the project: “With our hub we want to bring science, technology and innovation to places that normally do not have access to these areas of knowledge. Also, to benefit these communities. So these communities can also benefit from knowledge.” The hub is in the low-density territory of Barca d’Alva, on the border between Spain and Portugal and has only 12 inhabitants per square kilometre. Vicente explains some of the challenges for this inland community. “It has limited access to science, technology and innovation, there is little collaboration between schools, jobs, communities and families. Also, there is little innovation and entrepreneurship and a lot of young people leave the area, without returning.” But there is also an advantage to being in such a low-density community: “It is much easier to have direct contact with people,” emphasized Maria.

“The strategy is to always focus on a global challenge that is also locally relevant. Then we select an annual theme and organize activities and an exhibition around this theme at the hub. Currently this is climate change,” Vicente said. But aside to working within and around the hub, Maria and her team are also active in schools. “In schools we have a more bottom-up approach whereby pupils are encouraged to think about local challenges and what is important for them.” This approach has resulted in two themes that the pupils are currently working on: the wellbeing of animals and teenage pregnancy. “So last week we organized a session with local stakeholders on the topic of animal wellbeing involving conservation biologists, the local veterinarian and a hunter.”

Open Schooling

Engaging and sharing with the community and other projects is important to the team. By following an open schooling strategy, they also organize activities outside of school around the topics that are chosen at school. Every month there is a program around one of the topics and a speaker is invited to participate in several activities. “The speaker will do an activity at school and there will be a ‘careers lunch’ where teenagers have an informal lunch with the speaker to learn about their expertise and career path. A science café with the community is also organised and an outdoor activity. These outdoor activities could be one of the citizen science projects the hub is involved in, for example, focusing on invasive plants or insect biodiversity.

Exchanging ideas

During the visit, the SciShops partners also exchanged ideas about their Science Shop activities and the themes they are working on. For example, the topics of sustainable water resource management and waste management, which the Italian and Hungarian SciShops’ partners are addressing in various ways, were identified as being of interest to the community and OSH in Portugal, and could lead to possible collaborations.