Socially engaged is one of the five Erasmian Values. But what makes research socially engaged and what can you encounter as a researcher? The Open & Responsible Science (ORS) programme offers support and is organising several Engaged Research activities over the next month.
"Engaged Research to me is that you do research in collaboration with your target group," states associate professor specialised in clinical child and family studies Rianne Kok of Erasmus School of Social and Behavioral Sciences (ESSB). "This can be done at all stages of research. For example, you can collect research questions from your target group, but you also want to make sure that the results come back to people who benefit from them. It's doing research together with people, not just about people."
Kok is an ambassador for the Open & Responsible Science (ORS) programme, launched in 2021 to improve the quality and visibility of research, among other things. Promoting Engaged Research is one of the main pillars of this programme, and as an ambassador, she is keen to be at the forefront. For example, Kok is now following the Impact Journey, a workshop of Erasmus Research Services (ERS) that helps researchers generate more impact. "I like the fact that you get to spend time and attention on this. Because of initiatives like this you don't have to reinvent the wheel yourself, that would also be a waste."
The scientist sees the YoungXperts platform (Winner of the national Open Science Award and awarded a grant from the NWO in September to further develop the platform) set up by the Erasmus SYNC lab as a great example of Engaged Research. "They organise brainstorming sessions to get young people to think about issues such as the climate crisis and social inequality. The platform is used not only to share knowledge, but also to collect concrete solutions," she says. "Should you also want to set up a platform to get closer to your target group, invite SYNC-lab to hear how they did it. We have a wealth of knowledge and experience as a university and we need to bring that together."
The research world is evaluating and that means that as an academic you are forced to think about your attitude towards society, observes Pursey Heugens, Academic Lead Open & Responsible Science (ORS) and professor of Organisational Theory at Rotterdam School of Management (RSM). "To do socially engaged research, as a scientist you end up in a different playing field where you have to deal with diverse stakeholders." He therefore sees it as ORS's task not only to inspire scientists to do more Engaged Research, but also to facilitate and support them in this.
Intervention research on refugees
But what might Engaged Research look like in its own field? "For example, we do intervention research on entrepreneurship in refugee camps. The findings show that entrepreneurship contributes to their life happiness and improves their financial situation. We are now developing training courses to help refugees become better entrepreneurs. Then we will look for partners, such as NGOs, who can provide these trainings. For me, this is a very tangible and rewarding form of Engaged Research."
At the same time, according to Heugens, Engaged Research means being exposed to new risks: "Making an impact does not automatically mean positive impact. Also, as a scientist, you come into contact with social parties that have their own agenda. Do you see through those as a scientist and do you dare to walk away if you have to?" According to Heugens, this is not something scientists are trained in, which is why it is important to assist them in this and to create more awareness.
"The Open Science Award is an incentive award to put scientists who lead the way in the spotlight"
To exchange experiences, a theme month is organised twice a year, including debate sessions and knowledge sessions on specific aspects of Open & Responsible Science, such as data awareness. Next month, Engaged Research will take centre stage. A meeting highlighting and sharing best practices of citizen science will take place on 19 October and a 'crash course' on public engagement & science communication will follow on 1 November.
Open Science Award
The month will be concluded with a meeting on 17 November on the role of scientists in society. Heugens: "This is also where Rector Magnificus Annelien Bredenoord will present the Open Science Award for the first time. This is an incentive award to put scientists who lead the way in the spotlight. Not only to set an example, but also to sincerely thank them for their efforts."