Sustainability is a topic that concerns a wide array of research areas. Global change is correspondingly a subject that covers a plethora of research fields and is interlinked also to sustainability. It has been understood that global change research needs to feed into greater societal impact by engaging stakeholders in different phases of research processes related to sustainable development.
The CASI project aims at formulating research priorities in an interplay with citizens and experts about sustainable futures. The public participation method applied in the CASI project involves two citizen workshops and an expert workshop. First, citizens were asked about their visions of sustainable futures, then experts formed research priorities based on these visions. Finally citizens will validate and prioritize the experts’ priorities.
Another European project, PE2020 (Public Engagement Innovations for Horizon 2020), has applied another public engagement method to define research priorities for global change research. With the help of the secretary of Future Earth Finland, the project organizes a series of Global Change Town Hall meetings that aim to create an interface between research, decision-making, business and civil society. The focus on continuous support for a strong engagement culture in science community reveals that public engagement is not regarded as an external activity, but instead as a core part of research activities.
The first town hall meeting was held in May in Helsinki, Finland and it gathered over 60 participants to discuss global change research priorities in Finland. The next town hall event will be organized in Tampere, Finland, in September 2015. These engagement activities have been planned in a process of deepening the knowledge of the research needs together with the stakeholders. For example, in the first town hall meeting cities were recognized as central locations for global change. Many sustainability decisions (such as the ones related to housing, mobility, and consumption) are linked to cities. Also in the CASI project’s citizen visions on sustainable futures and in the experts’ research priorities the importance attached to cities in sustainable innovation is remarkable. The second town hall meeting of the PE2020 project will therefore focus on analysing research needs in sustainable cities.
Common to both projects’ public engagement activities is that they target the societal challenge on climate action, environment, resource efficiency and raw materials. These examples show the richness of public engagement methods in addressing societal challenges. Opening up the dialogue about the priorities for global change and sustainability research enriches the science policy discussion and also brings new opportunities for collaboration between researchers, policy-makers, stakeholders and citizens.
-Kaisa Matschoss and Maria Pietilä