The discussion on the possibilities, functions, advantages and drawbacks of the inclusion of societal interests in research has occupied social scientists for decades. The arguments have been derived from approaches concerned with democratic theory, the sociology of science and knowledge as well as theory of society. Civil society organisations (CSOs) such as environmental protection associations, consumer protection associations or trade unions fulfil several criteria which make them suitable actors in research projects: they represent the organised opinions of many and frequently have an interest in underlining their own position in a scientific manner or to design technologies according to their interests (e.g. sustainable development for nanotechnology). Up to now it is unclear how CSOs participate in the scientific production of knowledge or in technological development. It is also open to question what impacts the participation of CSOs could have on research or societal debates and how this is to be viewed in general.
This lack of clarity is the subject of the project "Civil Society Organisations In Designing Research Governance (CONSIDER)" supported by the EU Commission, which began in February 2012 with the participation of ITAS. It seeks to construct different models for the participation of civil society organisations in research projects. From these, the partners in the project, ITAS among others, will derive guidelines to provide interested stakeholders from science, industry, politics and the civil society with assistance for participation.
Apart from consultation with the EU commission, CONSIDER relies on a close exchange with CSOs. For this purpose the project itself involves CSOs and experiments with possibilities for participation. The consortium is furthermore building a network of interested CSOs to transmit the results of the project beyond the research community so that these can use the results directly.