Social scientists have been conducting a debate on the potentials, functions, advantages and disadvantages of including societally articulated interests and values in research for several decades. Discussions are here being fed by approaches extending from the theory of democracy, theories of knowledge and the sociology of knowledge to those from societal theory. Viewed empirically, civil society organisations (CSOs), such as environmental protection associations, consumer protection associations or trade unions assume a prominent role as social actors. This is because they represent the organized opinions of many and articulate specific interests in order to shape the development of technologies accordingly (e.g. sustainability of nano-technology). To date there has not been any systematic investigation how CSOs make contributions to research projects, when or how they are permitted to participate and which favourable and unfavourable conditions for this exist. There is also the question which impact the participation of CSOs can have on the self-understanding of research or on the course of societal debate and how this is to be assessed.
These are topics of the CONSIDER project being financially supported by the European Union. The project started in February 2012. It seeks not only to empirically investigate the forms of CSO participation in research projects, but also to develop procedures for CSOs to participate in research projects. The potentials, limits and problems of CSO participation will be explored and made transparent. The insights will be fuelled by the project partners into guidelines, to provide interested stakeholders from science, industry, politics and the civil society with support for involvement in research. In order to produce these results, all projects supported by the EU in its 7th FP will be screened with respect to participative activities, and then a sample of up to about 30 FP 7 research projects will be explored in depth. These projects will be analysed with respect to the participation practices of CSOs and the associated effects on the projects themselves and on the process of research.
The EU Commission puts great value on the involvement of CSOs in research processes. CONSIDER will build not only on discussions with responsible representatives of the European Commision but also on close exchange with CSOs. The project itself involves CSOs and explores possibilities for their involvement in research processes. The project consortium is also building a network of interested CSOs in order to diffuse the results of the project in a timely fashion.