The fourth edition of the European Intersectoral Summit on Research and Innovation focused on how engaging with citizens is changing the public discourse around science, bringing in new dimensions and perspective into the debate around evidence-based policy, as well as responsible research and innovation. At the same time, speakers and the public discussed how technological innovation – particularly ICT and data analysis – can be used to support both citizen engagement and evidence-based policy, democratizing both the decision making process and the European research agenda.
As highlighted during the conference in a moment of deep disillusionment with the European Union, it is essential to find new ways to engage citizens and stakeholders in the EU decision-making process.
At the same time, it is fundamentally important to engage with scientists and experts to make sure that political decisions are made considering available scientific evidence and based on a deep understanding of the complex reality surrounding us.
REIsearch was born to support these two goals by harnessing the power of ICT to enhance collaboration and to further grow a broad network of leading media, research institutions, researchers, civil society organisations, and citizens interested in contributing to the European policy-making process.
The results of the first REIsearch’s citizen engagement and media campaign on chronic diseases – summarized in the report “Citizen Engagement and Media Campaign on Chronic Diseases – Analysis and results of the launch of the beta version of REIsearch”, were presented during the Summit. Indeed, the campaign attracted nearly 60.000 people, of which nearly 18.000 answered the survey linked to the initiative.
A set of recurrent topics for future research and action emerged from the event, all revolving around the fact that evidence-based policy making and citizen engagement seem to be the two sides of the same coin, and that technology can be brought together with informed communication.
This means that better communication between scientists and citizens at large is needed. In this regard, the role of media is key to promote well-informed debate, provide reliable information, and increase trust between citizens and scientists, facilitating in this way relationships between policy-makers and researchers.
If we want to promote multi-sectoral debate, all the parties need to be totally transparent about their positions and interests. In addition, it is fundamental to work, together with media and communication professionals, to build a common language for policy-makers and researchers.
On the other hand, from the perspective of both policy-makers and citizens, it is extremely difficult to find the “right” research results. However, if we want to make the best out of the data revolution, it is necessary to break the silos between different communities of researchers and sectors of society, establishing even more connections between the multiple nodes of the EU ecosystem and creating the infrastructure that will allow data-scientists to make sense of all this information and big data.
Of course, we must be well aware of the fact that political decisions cannot be based exclusively on scientific evidence, and that there is a risk of “evidence-based policy making” as a way of discharging responsibility from policy makers. Similarly, both the democratization of politics and the democratization of science come at a risk of encouraging populist approaches. Again, transparency and informed debate are key to overcome these risks and achieve instead a “transboundary neo-pluralism”, where it is no longer a matter of “reaching out” to people, but rather empowering them and supporting them in building new solutions to multiple issues.