Reflections from the NUCLEUS Annual Conference 2017 in Hannover.
By Emily Webb, Aberdeen, Scotland.
NUCLEUS is entering an exciting phase in which the project’s RRI recommendations, fashioned from our research across Europe, China and South Africa, will be implemented in ten institutional testbeds, or “Embedded Nuclei”. Caitríona Mordan, of Dublin City University, will be leading the implementation stage of the project. Speaking at the annual NUCLEUS conference in Hanover, she explained: ‘We are coming to a very exciting phase of the project in which the ten Embedded Nuclei will adopt some of the RRI strategies we have developed and put them into practice over a two-year period. This will develop our understanding of RRI and we will be able to refine our recommendations so that other institutions, beyond NUCLEUS, can benefit from the project’.
The Embedded Nuclei will be supported by mentors throughout the implementation process. Dr Kenneth Skeldon, Head of Public Engagement at Wellcome Genome Campus in Cambridgeshire, will be mentoring three of the Embedded Nuclei. For Kenneth, ‘the role of the mentors is to help the Embedded Nuclei keep on track and measure their progress. Our approach will be light touch – we will not be instructing them what to do but making suggestions along the way’. Caitríona is greatly looking forward to working with her mentees and views the process as an opportunity for both parties – ‘As mentors we are also learning from the mentees. The entire process is focussed on mutual learning’.
Over the coming weeks, the Embedded Nuclei will develop localised action plans for their respective institutions. They are supported by an Implementation Roadmap developed by Dr Anne Dijkstra, Assistant Professor of Science Communication, and researcher Mirjam Schuijff, of the University of Twente. As with any institutional change, the Embedded Nuclei will be faced with an array of barriers. Professor Jacqueline Broerse, Director of the Athena Institute at VU University Amsterdam and keynote speaker at the 2017 NUCLEUS Annual Conference, advised the Embedded Nuclei to use a combination of bottom-up and top-down strategies to overcome institutional barriers. She encouraged the Embedded Nuclei to establish a network of RRI advocates within their institutions, who can foster a bottom-up process where RRI is championed on the ground. This should be accompanied, however, by top-down activities such as policy change and the embedment of RRI in the mission statement of the institution. She explained:
‘This, of course, means that the implementation of RRI must go all the way to the institution’s board and leadership. It is important to secure advocates of RRI within the management board. Leadership can support bottom-up initiatives by making RRI visible but must also try to offer incentives to researchers. We cannot force researchers to embrace RRI, they are too autonomous, but we can start the discussions. A combination of bottom-up and top-down initiatives is the best way for success.’
For keynote speaker Dr Michael Gastrow – a Research Specialist in the Education and Skills Development research programme of the Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa – the Embedded Nuclei should also be mindful of the specific local context of their respective countries. He said, ‘From our experience in South Africa, one important thing to grapple with is the local context because each country will have different social drivers and dynamics’. The NUCLEUS Cultural Adaptation Report presents two case studies of RRI in South Africa and China. It highlights the unique challenges and barriers these countries face, as well as exploring approaches to RRI from a non-European perspective. The localised action plans will allow each Embedded Nuclei to tailor the implementation of RRI to the context and demands of their respective countries.
Perhaps of most importance, however, is learning from what we already know. Martin Bergmann – a researcher on H2020 RRI project “ORION” – advised the Embedded Nuclei to ‘Pay attention to the research that has been done before. There are a lot of studies and knowledge already out there that can help the Embedded Nuclei with the implementation process’. The Embedded Nuclei will benefit from a wealth of knowledge already produced by the NUCLEUS project and other previous studies into RRI. They enter the implementation phase well equipped to face the challenges ahead and we are confident that a set of fruitful recommendations will be fashioned over the course of the next two years which will secure the legacy of NUCLEUS for years to come.