Effective participation in research funding and implementation: Policymakers and practitioners meet in Vienna to discuss ethics, methods and aspirations

On 29 September ZSI organised an event on the challenges, opportunities and ethical considerations surrounding the participation of stakeholders in all kinds of processes around research and innovation. A collaboration with PRO-Ethics partners FFG and LBG OIS, as well as the Austrian Platform for Research and Technology Policy Evaluation fteval , the interactive workshop targeted the broader national landscape of the Austrian national embedding event for promoting the PRO-Ethics framework and guidelines to the national landscape of R&I funders, policymakers, researchers and managers working on issues of ethics and participation. It served as an opportunity to share the findings of the PRO-Ethics project with representatives of all types of organisations working in the field, and opened up the dialogue on challenges and benefits of stakeholder participation. It also served to further gather feedback from participants, and note down open questions to be addressed by subsequent projects and activities.

The welcoming address was given by Isabella Wagner, the coordinator of the fteval Platform, followed by the presentation of the PRO-Ethics project activities and main outputs by Stefanie Schuerz (project coordinator). Starting from the overall strategic embedding of the project, Ms. Schuerz directed the focus on the PRO-Ethics framework and guidelines, which support the implementers of participatory activities in doing so ethically.
A second presentation by Barbara Kieslinger (ZSI) explored the specific case of participatory evaluation / co-evaluation. It shared key principles as outlined in the Whitepaper on Co-Evaluation of Citizen Social Science , which was developed in the context of the CoAct project.
The second round of presentations laid out insights from the Austrian pilot activities at FFG and LBG OISC, presented by Gerda Geyer and Adis Serifovic, respectively. Both presentations included the key facts and structure of the pilots, the rationale behind the chosen activity as well as a reflection on the ethical issues faced along the process, highlighting main challenges and lessons learned.

Proaction Café
The interactive part of the event used the Proaction Café method to collect feedback from participants, and to provoke a deeper discussion on the issues of ethics and participation in R&/, evaluation, and research funding. The audience was invited to pose questions or problems they would like to discuss. The questions were shortlisted and participants were divided into several groups, each of which was led by one ‘problem owner’ interested in discussing a certain question. This peer-learning approach allows participants to choose the conversations they would like to join in three rounds of conversation. After each round, participants were asked to move to a new table to exchange on another question, and finally develop potential solutions and ‘elegant next steps’. In total, the following seven questions were discussed:

  • How can we ensure that we implement participation in R&I in an ethical manner? (Stefanie Schuerz, ZSI)

  • What skills do we need? What kind of training offers for participation methods are demanded? (Isabella Wagner, fteval)

  • Involvement of vulnerable groups in research? (Adis Serifovic, LBG OIS)

  • What would be relevant questions to evaluate participatory pilots? (Gerda Geyer, FFG)

  • How can participation help to strengthen trust in democracy and science? (Martin Schmid, BMBWF)

  • What support do we receive from funding agencies for participation? (Elisabeth Frankus, IHS)

  • How can we responsibly manage expectations? (Patrick Lehner, LBG OIS)

From these questions, the following key learnings were extracted:

  • Participation is a form of research and should not be seen as distinct from other approaches to R&I.

  • When working with vulnerable groups, it is important to move away from the dichotomy of us and them. This includes actively addressing the hierarchies present within vulnerable groups as well. It may also help to understand that, from some perspectives, all of us are vulnerable / have vulnerabilities to be mindful of.

  • Trust in science can only be achieved if we develop a shared “Bewältigungskultur” (lit. “coping culture”). We need to find a way to achieve a broad inclusion of citizens.

  • Participatory approaches need to be integrated in the broader workings of the R&I system. In particular, there is a need for a continuous involvement of citizens beyond the implementation phase, and particularly in evaluation and impact assessment.

  • We need the development of a comprehensive toolbox of methodologies that is offered to the wider participatory research community.

  • We shouldn’t just assess the process from a technical perspective, but also from an ethical one. As part of this, we need to balance participation in the sense of understanding its costs and its added value.

  • Participation in R&I comes with special responsibilities. We need to approach such processes with transparency of expectations, openness, and humility.

  • We need to rethink research ethics away from a box-ticking exercise at the beginning of a project towards a continuous process of reflection and adjustment pervading an R&I process. To provide training, mentoring, coaching and capacity building, an ethics hub could be a valuable resource.

  • Not only do we need skills for ensuring the methodological quality, but also skills for understanding and ensuring the quality of the cooperation with people itself, including social and ethical questions. Requirements and resources needed for successful participation as well as realistic success indicators, combined with a thorough context analysis, are essential when conceptualising a training for participatory methods.

Photos from the Event
Published: 06.10.2023