The European Research and Innovation Days ran 24-26 September 2019 in Brussels. The Policy Conference was a first-of-its-kind for DG Research and Innovation. Its purpose was to bring together experts from across Europe to speak with key Brussels policymakers on the current state and future priorities of research and innovation in Europe. Specifically, it was an opportunity for external experts to help shape the European Commission’s proposal for the planning and implementation of Horizon Europe, which will be the EU Framework Programme running 2021-2027, with a proposed budget of €100bn.

The panel session was entitled Clean and affordable energy and transport for citizens. It was chaired by Helen Spence-Jackson of Climate-KIC, and in addition to Dr Chris Foulds (ARU) and Prof. Marianne Ryghaug (NTNU) of Energy-SHIFTS, the panel also included Dr Robert Braun (IAS) and Prof. Imre Keseru (VuB).

The panel began by responding to ‘how have citizens been engaged over the last 10 years in your research field?’. Here, Dr Foulds pointed to five trends: (1) an obsession with deficits (whether information, technology, values, politics, etc.) that linearly reduce down the problem and thereby produce unrealistic policy expectations; (2) citizens are rarely engaged in step 0, as part of setting problem definitions; (3) too much of a focus on social acceptance, with pre-determined, passive roles for citizens; (4) commitments to ‘citizenship’ are not actually being followed through, with the dominant ‘consumers’ conceptualisation being ineffectively re-tagged as ‘citizens’; and (5) it was warned that significant proportions of EU-funded projects working on citizen engagement have zero partners with expertise in the Social Sciences and Humanities.

Prof. Ryghaug emphasised that participation has been framed too narrowly and “the public” have been rendered as a highly specific, pregiven, and external category imported into the design and evaluation of participatory practices. The problem is that citizen participation is often seen as confined to discrete, isolated, and passing events.

Prof. Ryghaug stressed that we should move beyond such a narrow view, and learn from relational and coproductionist perspectives in developing understandings and practices of participation that emphasize the relational and systemic qualities of participation; that highlights the way participation interrelate in wider spaces of controversy, issue formation, systems, and as a part of science and innovation practises.

Prof. Ryghaug pointed towards the recommendations found in the newly launched report on Inclusive engagement in energy and low carbon transport solutions that stresses, among other recommendations, that:

  • Mainstreaming inclusive engagement requires time and sustained action, which means that it needs to be a targeted project activity with allocated funding.
  • The EU should acknowledge and cater for diverse spaces of inclusive engagement – from decision making processes, to continual dialogue events, to recognizing ways in which objects and technologies may enable participation and energy citizenship.

Dr Foulds closed the panel by recommending that structural changes were needed to the way that Framework Programmes (Horizon 2020, Horizon Europe, etc.) are run. He argued that the Commission needs to carefully think through how the decisions they make now in planning can lock-in ways of writing, evaluating and implementing Horizon Europe projects. For example, he discussed how the Horizon Europe proposal template (e.g. descriptions, section headings, scoring guidelines) really matters in creating a fertile space for (non-mainstream) Social Sciences and Humanities to flourish.

Dr Chris Foulds (ARU) and Prof. Marianne Ryghaug (NTNU) were invited by the European Commission’s DG for Research & Innovation to be on a panel at the European Research & Innovation Days Policy Conference. The panel focused on the missed opportunities for Social Sciences and Humanities in the context of mobility/energy transitions and citizen engagement, and specifically drew out recommendations for the future Horizon Europe programme.

The whole session was recorded and can be freely viewed here