A look at: Time to take the next step

Meaningful public engagement in the context of open science”, a paper by a group of researchers from Utrecht University, describes the role of public engagement in promoting open science and outlines the steps involved. Mirko Schäfer has been working with social partners on the issues of datafication and democracy through Data School since 2013. He spoke with one of the article's co-authors, Maud Radstake.

Mirko Schäfer:

Our publicly engaged research is always driven by a sense of social urgency. That might not necessarily always coincide with the current debates in your scientific discipline, but you are working to solve problems in those social sectors. We refer to that process as public engagement, which is very different from science communication. How do you view that, Maud?

Maud Radstake:

On paper, we apply a broad definition of public engagement. That covers everything you do at Data School, but it also includes science communication. After all, if science aims to engage with broader society, we also need to make sure the parties we want to engage with can actually determine whether that's interesting and relevant to them.

Mirko tijdens een congres

Mirko Schäfer:

We'll have to learn how to listen and realise we don't have all the answers either if we aim to genuinely engage with broader society. The social sectors we're involved in have a lot of existing knowledge, and we'll need to leverage that expertise if we aim to do better research.

Maud Radstake:

Exactly, that has two sides to it!

Mirko Schäfer:

I share the concerns described in the article about the lack of recognition and rewards for public engagement. A growing number of universities want to pursue public engagement, but we're ultimately still being judged by the grants we bring in, our articles and our teaching evaluations. Everything else is seen as a nice but unnecessary extra. It's time to take the next step. After all, where are you supposed to find the time to make an impact and do these kinds of social activities? 

Profielfoto van Maud Radstake

Maud Radstake:

That actually applies across the full spectrum of public engagement. For example, how do you count efforts to set up a project with schools or engage on science with library users? I'm glad we're addressing that in our Open Science Programme, which covers both Public Engagement and Recognition & Rewards. We have a clear vision, but we still need to implement it in practice.


This is the referenced article: Wouter Boon, Judith de Haan and Carien Duisterwinkel et al. Meaningful public engagement in the context of open science: reflections from early and mid-career academics. Research for All. Vol. 6(1). DOI: 10.14324/ RFA.06.1.23. It is published Open Access, meaning it is accessible to everyone online.


This article also appears in the third edition of the magazine Close-Up, full of inspiring columns, background stories and experiences of researchers and support staff.

Go to Close-up #3
Want to learn more about the Data School approach? You can also read an interview with Mirko Schäfer on publicly engaged research.