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VOICES: a new European public consultation in Science and Society

Views, Opinions and Ideas of Citizens in Europe on Science (VOICES) is a one-year-long EU-funded project coordinated by Ecsite which has particularly innovative and challenging objectives. VOICES will run a Europe-wide public consultation initiative, but also offer valuable know-how on methodological and procedural aspects for the structural employment of citizen participation in defining the European research agenda in the framework of Responsible Research and Innovation.

The VOICES project answers to the SiS.2013.1.2.1-1 (Grants to Name Beneficiary) EU call “Citizen’s active participation in EU Research and Innovation policymaking (Coordination and Support Actions)”: The present action is a pilot focused on “Waste as a Resource” within the Societal Challenge “Climate action, resource efficiency, raw materials” of Horizon 2020 that aims to introduce a citizen dimension to the preparation of the Horizon 2020 Work Programmes for 2014.

Concretely, VOICES will run a consultation process to involve one thousand European citizens in discussion about the European research priorities for the theme “Urban Waste and Innovation”; the consultations will take place in 33 locations in all 27 European countries. Twenty-nine institutions from the Ecsite network have been actively involved in VOICES as Third Parties linked to the beneficiary and will be responsible for organizing the focus groups. Experienced moderators from all 33 Ecsite members will participate at the beginning of March in training modules on the contents of the focus group which is being developed by the VOICES team.

The project is a breakthrough because of its scale (covering all of Europe) and because of the involvement of science centres/museums – and, in general, institutions highly engaged in science outreach and science communication (as Ecsite members are) – as the venues for the consultation and the source of expertise for EU-wide initiatives for public discussions on science, technology and society.

VOICES is also extremely important because of the stated commitment of the European Commission to formally include the results of citizen consultations in the main policy document that will shape priorities of European research. Moreover, another breakthrough aspect is the use of a methodological approach on such a wide scale which makes use of qualitative methodologies that allow deeper understanding and harvesting of citizen views, fostering good governance processes and social innovation. Finally, the knowledge gained from VOICES, from the perspectives of methodology, infrastructure and results, will be documented and presented so as to organize similar participatory actions in the future during Horizon 2020.