Europe is facing economic and social challenges and at the same time a shift in relationships between citizens and policy makers and an evolving understanding of democracy. Worldwide, the use of Internet and social media is changing the way people access information, communicate and select data. Better dialogue between science, media, citizens and policy makers is therefore crucial to ensure a more informed and responsible society and policy making, and to support the strengthening of the European innovation system. The Summit was opened by Nils Torvalds, MEP, Chair of REIsearch Policy Group (Atomium – EISMD) and Michelangelo Baracchi Bonvicini, President of Atomium – EISMD who highlighted that politicians should increase the dialogue with civil society and researchers to better implement their policies.
The first outcomes of REIsearch, a new ICT tool to bring science closer to society, were presented during the event and related to “First engagement and media campaign on chronic diseases.” REIsearch was proposed by the European Parliament as a Pilot Project to be a bridge that connects citizens, researchers and policy makers on topics linked to the scientific research and societal challenges that Europe will face in the years to come. Erika Widegren, Chair of the Advisory Board of REIsearch (Atomium – EISMD), stated that 44 different organisations and 12 media partners joined efforts in the initiative, and that around 70 articles were published during this initial campaign.
The presentation of REIsearch was followed by a session exploring the need to find new strategies and tools to promote inter-disciplinary, inter-sectoral, cross-national and systemic approaches to policy making, taking advantage of the knowledge and expertise developed by European researchers and the experience and needs of European citizens. Professor Jan Pierre Bourguignon, President of the European Research Council (ERC), said that the European Commission is committed to open science but warned that “we need to be careful with the huge amount of information on the Internet. We need to find reasonable ways to certify data and to educate citizens on how to select and distinguish good from bad data.” Mairead McGuinness, MEP, Vice President of the European Parliament, added that a “critical questioning” is missing and that behind advances on science, “there are emotional societal challenges that need to be solved.”
Breakout sessions were organised during the event and focused on three key issues for the development of a competitive and inclusive European research area:
- The Power of Knowledge: bridging the gap between science and policy to the benefit of society at large
- Citizen Engagement in Europe: Challenges and Opportunities of a Changing Vision of Citizenship
- The Power of Knowledge and Technology: bridging the gap between science, policy and society at large
Society is highly connected through networks, Internet and social media, “everything is connected”, highlighted Ralph Dum, Senior Expert, DG CONNECT - European Commission. However, a strong dialogue between government, society, science and industry still needs to be implemented. Citizen engagement on public debate and more effective ways of communicating research outcomes to policy makers are the way forward to have better policies and to solve European challenges based on a sound science evidence base.
Speaking at the event, Pierre Barthelemy, Executive Director of Research and Innovation at Cefic, also highlighted the need for a better dialogue between civil society, the public and private sector, and defended the benefits of innovation to solve societal challenges. “We need innovation and innovation needs chemistry,” he said, alluding to the fact that the chemical industry is an enabler of innovation in many other industrial sectors. Innovation is one of the most important drivers for growth and sustainable development and that is why more innovation driven programmes, such as Horizon 2020, are fundamental. Without innovation, European industry loses its competitiveness and attractiveness for investment. However, “there is no innovation or progress without taking risks”, stressed Barthelemy, and risks must be properly assessed and managed. He stressed that large amounts of information and data are easily accessible through modern IT tools, but that we lack the necessary critical review to ensure a balanced understanding of scientific issues. He also called for the European Commission to adopt the innovation principle to ensure that “whenever legislation is under consideration, the impact on innovation should also be taken into full account in the policy and legislative process.”
In the closing session chaired by Jerzy Buzek MEP, Chair of the European Parliament’s ITRE Committee and former President of the Parliament, speakers included Robert Madelin, Senior Adviser for Innovation at the European Political Strategy Centre (EPSC), Ron Mobed, Chief Executive Officer of Elsevier and Jean-Pierre Clamadieu, Chief Executive Officer of Solvay and President of Cefic. He highlighted that Europe was still leading in science and innovation, in what he called an “ecosystem of innovation”, through industry’s collaboration with universities, laboratories, and research centres. There is, however, a gap between innovation and how the public perceives it in terms of solving many societal demands: “We are facing the challenge that innovation needs a better understanding, and media have the important role of bringing that knowledge, improving dialogue and critical engagement,” said Clamadieu. He also stated that the future of Europe depends on innovation and that the acceptance of innovation is essential in this regard. He called for policy makers to take the best available science into consideration and integrate it when making policy decisions. Industry, on the other hand, has the responsibility to engage in a transparent dialogue with media to inform both citizens and policy makers, concluded Clamadieu.
The key questions the Summit addressed were specifically related to how to better communicate science to society and to policy makers, and how to improve the dialogue while promoting citizen engagement. Facing the huge amount of available data, thanks to the power of media and new technologies to disseminate information, critical analysis is fundamental not only to keep the seriousness of science but also to have different voices and needs integrated in public policies. Questions related to crowd sourcing, data-sharing, data-access and research infrastructure were equally important.
Jerzy Buzek closed the event stating that “we should have optimism concerning innovation, even if innovation and science go too far in the wrong direction sometimes. Innovation makes our lives easier, but it should also make our lives more valuable.” He reminded participants of the importance of social responsibility for companies, and the vital role of the media in promoting a quality dialogue and demonstrating the positive aspects of innovation.