Pilot Reflection Workshop in Brussels
In November 2022, the PRO-Ethics consortium met to exchange experiences, reflect on their pilot activities, and further develop our common ethics framework. As part of this, we carried out a series of interactive workshops, starting out with a synthesis workshop on pilot experiences aimed at discussing the findings and results of our participatory pilots.
Starting off with an assessment exercise, we used a race track to visualize which challenges our RFO partners met within their pilot activities and if and how they could address them. Through this, we collaboratively evaluated 1) the type of activity carried out, 2) the (planned) number of participants we included, 3) the composition of participant groups, 4) our level of transparency in interacting with participants, 5) potential conflicts of interest we encountered, 6) the comprehensibility of the pilot to participants, 7) the most critical ethical issues we encountered, and 8) the use of the project’s Ethics Framework for guiding all pilot activities.
In the second part of the workshop, we employed picture cards as a prompt to our RFO partners to reflect their most important findings. In a final session, the RFO partners reflected on their insights and identified learnings to transfer on to future activities. In groups of two, our colleagues discussed the next steps in embedding the learnings of the pilot activities and how further participatory approaches might be implemented in the context of their organizations.
Most of our RFO partners were satisfied with the formats they chose to implement their participatory activities. In terms of recruitment, reaching the planned number of participants was more difficult than anticipated for some partners, which was in part due to the recruitment methodology, but also the available timeframes to mobilize the target group(s). Nevertheless, a balanced composition of participants as intended in the pilot design could for the most part be achieved.
One important experience shared by most pilot partners was in regards to the flexibility and transparency needed to implement a participatory process of high quality. While flexibility is often essential to adapt a process to the (often unforeseen) needs of the participants, being transparent with the scope and the limits of the process – and its adaptability – was found to be beneficial. In turn, the processes within the pilots could largely be adapted to the satisfaction of all involved actors.
Conflicts of interest did not come up as a significant issue in most pilots, while communication with and between participating individuals was overall considered positive. However, our RFO partners also pointed out the limits of self-evaluation. Overall, the RFOs were very aware of ethical issues and considered many such aspects in the implementation of their pilot projects. At the same time, not many such issues even came into play in the individual pilots.
As a general conclusion on participatory processes, our RFO partners agreed that there is no ‘one size fits to all’ solution, and that not all questions arising during a complex participatory process can – or should – be answered in generalized terms. As a consequence, it might be helpful to invest in the guidance of (external) experts. Generally speaking, participatory processes in the activities of research and innovation funding agencies are still in their infancy, which means there is still a lot of room for growth and discovery. Most RFO partners agree that working with citizens to develop and validate new ideas can be valuable – if enough time and resources are invested to allow for the maximization of its impact.
Considerations for the future
During the last sessions, our RFO partners focused on the question of institutional embedding and how to achieve sustainability and continuity of participatory approaches in the activities of research and innovation funders. Here, sustained funding is a central issue that might be difficult to achieve in times of austerity and budget cuts. Another, related contextual consideration relates to the legal framework within which research funders operate. Often, decision-making on program development and methodological approaches is undertaken at the ministry-level. As ministries provide most of the budgets of the research funders in our consortium, it is essential to clarify the benefits of such approaches and define concrete impact pathways to substantiate their added value.
Advancing the Ethics Framework
Another focus of the general assembly meeting lay in further developing the ethics framework, and identifying best practice examples for a variety of difficulties encountered in the implementation of the pilots. The final iteration of the ethics framework and practical guidelines will be developed in the course of 2023. If you are interested in contributing to this process, you can participate in our E-Consultation until the end of March 2023. If you are interested in further updates, please subscribe to our newsletter or contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.