Although it's not a household name, science shops have been around for four decades. According to OSUN Science Shop Manager Andras Martoni, the practice originated in the Netherlands where communities had identified challenges in their neighborhood and approached local university researchers to help with solutions.
At Central European University (CEU), the OSUN Science Shop provides research support in response to cases brought forth by civil society organizations. It aims to be a demand-driven and bottom-up approach to education and research, working with community organizations who need data to better understand issues at hand. It connects organizations to with courses and students who are interested in integrating a case-based project as part of their studies.
In this way Science Shop acts as a matchmaker and pathway between the university and the civil society sector, thus closing the gap between academic disciplines and practice by directly offering research-based data and recommendations to solve current issues. Science Shop both makes higher education resources accessible to a wider public, while bringing the complexity and relevance of contemporary civil society cases to CEU’s courses and student projects.
“We think of community engagement as a third mission of the university alongside education and research. There are a great number of opportunities for the university and local NGOs as different stakeholders to work together by applying the university's knowledge and capacity for the greater benefit of society,” comments Martoni. He additionally notes that the cooperations are motivated by a desire for the university and civil society organizations to learn from each other, pointing out that the co-created knowledge is uniquely made possible by the diverse experience and perspectives of those involved. In Science Shop collaborations, academic knowledge and the experience of field practitioners are treated as equally valuable.
OSUN Science Shop is currently a two-year pilot program supported by OSUN and hosted by CEU’s Community Engagement Office in cooperation with the European Humanities University (EHU) in Lithuania. The project focuses on stimulating engaged and experiential learning through student projects embedded in course curricula. This fall, CEU opened a call for Austrian civil society organizations to work with faculty and students via select courses offered throughout 2022.
The program breaks down the walls of the university. Not only does it inject current experiences and societal challenges into the classroom, but it also provides a social good back to the community by contributing to the causes of working NGOs. “When Science Shop is integrated, it is really good for the teaching because class participation and student motivation go up.”
In these diverse collaborations, faculty may embed a research question of the partnering civil society organization into course work, for example as a student assignment, group work or a case study for analysis. The student output then doubles, serving not only as coursework but also as applicable data and proposals going back to the civil society organizations. Martoni acknowledges that while course planning with an external partner may entail more initial work, the learning becomes richer by integrating the experiences of local practitioners.
“Universities can sometimes extract information from communities, using sources via interviews and focus groups for research purposes alone. After working together it’s common for the researcher to take away the findings and never come back,” points our Martoni. He adds, “Shifting the paradigm, Science Shop is very much connected to responsible research and innovation, providing a mutual benefit relationship.”
Situating Science Shop through the lens of OSUN, Martoni discusses the vision for the program’s future, in which a network of Science Shops in OSUN member institutions around the world flourish via a broad ecology of knowledge sharing, while developing local practices on the ground in the respective regions.
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