GROW, Open Science and a New Social Contract

Continuing our monthly theme of GROWers — the people of GROW — we focus on GROW Community Manager Pavlos Georgiadis’ contribution to the Open Science Fair. And this is not just a story about one person — Pavlos presented on how GROW will help bring people into the scientific process.

by Nikos Vrantsis

Participants at the Open Science Fair, Athens

There is a trend in many parts of the world of people losing confidence in experts and political institutions. The same can be said for science: its authority has been questioned, people can feel disconnected from its processes and even its from its findings.

So How Can we Agree on a New Social Contract to Restore Lost Confidence?

This was the question posed to scientists who gathered in Athens, at the new premises of the National Library of Greece, for this year’s Open Science Fair, on September 6–8. The event was organised by OpenAIRE, OpenUP, FOSTERand OpenMinted — four EU-funded projects dealing with open access technologies for education and research, under the main theme “Connecting People to Open Science”. The event offered opportunities to explore ideas and innovations promising to open up structures, services and policies that democratise knowledge and research and actively engage citizens in the scientific process.

GROW helped to convene a workshop on Responsible Research and Citizen Science, through Greece-based GROW partner CulturePolis. It was among a range of interesting workshops, and presented in collaboration with Ellinogermaniki Agogi.

Pavlos Georgiadis at Open Science Fair, Athens

Pavlos Georgiadis, an ethnobotanist and biodiversity researcher interested in social innovation as a tool for the transition to agroecology, presented on theGROWObservatory. Pavlos referenced how GROW designs and implements a Citizens’ Observatory for European soils, engaging thousands ofgrowers, scientists and others passionate about the land.

“It is now evident that landscape and environmental management requires very well-informed strategies that are based on data, which are open and accessible to all. No scientist alone is able to collect and analyse such big amounts of data. Here comes the role of the citizen, who can now become a “citizen scientist” who collects, processes and analyses data together with the researcher. Modern technologies allow this to happen on a massive scale. At GROW, we hope to unite these communities and individual GROWers who see the soil as a living organism, and work to protect it. If the Observatory succeeds, it could encourage new approaches of formulating rural and environmental policy, which is most often drawn blindly, without data and -crucially- without the involvement of growers and citizens.”

GROW in discussion and mindmapping at the Open Science Fair

Aliki Giannakopoulou from Ellinogermaniki Agogi focused on experiments based on Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI):

“Responsible Research & Innovation takes a long-term perspective on the type of world we want to live in. It can strengthen research projects by putting an emphasis on openness, transparency, diversity, inclusiveness and adaptation to changes. Essentially, RRI aims to create collaborative frameworks in which citizens engage with scientists, entrepreneurs, decisions makers and other groups to work towards sustainable, ethically acceptable and socially desirable outcomes.”

The two young researchers mark a transition to a new scientific modality that tries to engage citizens collectively in the process of knowledge production, allowing them to maintain their critical eye on things. This is a scientific modality that transforms citizens from research subjects to research partners.

Citizen Science brings a new hope of restoring trust between social partners, without sacrificing the demand for a better and well-informed audience. It gives citizens the first say in producing scientific knowledge and allows them to prioritise the questions and directions of scientific research. Responsible Research and Innovation aspires to set a long-term research horizon that is collectively agreed and unlocks new knowledge, thus enhancing the very quality of the scientific analysis.

We are seeing the rise of new forms of participatory science, and of social and environmental action. They raise their voice, ask for transparency and accountability, and demand a stronger involvement. More importantly, they come up with innovative solutions to fill the gaps and connects with kindred initiatives that act locally but impact globally.

Photo Credit: Theophilos Gerontopoulos