Science Shops in Europe: The Public as Stakeholder

Corinna Fischer, Loet Leydesdorff, and Malte Schophaus[1]



After two decades of relative silence, Science Shops seem back on the agenda of science policy-making. We assess the future of this mediation model in the light of Science Shops’ history and the current state of affairs in Europe. Country-specific as well as country-independent factors for success and failure of Science Shops and their co-operation with civil society are discussed in terms of different traditions in political culture. Science Shops seem to be at a crossroad, where their work focus and their coalitions may have to change. On the one hand, they are still connected to their roots, the social movements. On the other hand, a general trend towards business co-operation in science policy can be observed. In this new context Science Shops face the challenge of positioning themselves between these two trends. In addition, the increasing debate about the science and society interfaces lends importance to the Science Shop concept, as is especially visible in the recent support given them by the European Commission.


1. Introduction


The Science Shop model seems to be back on the agenda of science policy-making in Europe (Hellemans, 2001; Farkas, 2002). New Science Shops are being founded, like the Brunel University Science Shop (BUSS) in London (August 2002), which is funded by the Higher Education Active Community Fund, and two new Science Shops in Belgium (at the University of Antwerp and the University of Brussels, 2003)[2]. The European Commission in its Science and Society Action Plan of December 4, 2001, stated that more than 60 Science Shops exist in Europe, mainly in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, the United Kingdom, and France. The Commission proposed an action plan to enhance the networking of Science Shops and the creation of a structure for the inventory and dissemination of “work carried out on behalf of citizens and associations” (European Commission, 2002, page 15)[3].


The idea of Science Shops can be considered as an offspring of the political movements from the 1960s onwards. Science Shops were conceptualized for the purpose of moderating between academic scientists and organizations that cannot afford to fund their own research. The SCIPAS project, an association of 13 partners from 9 countries, described them as providing “independent, participatory research support in response to concerns experienced by civil society“ (Gnaiger & Martin, 2001). They offer citizens, NGOs, municipalities, and sometimes small and medium enterprises free or very low-cost access to scientific and technological knowledge and research in a wide range of disciplines. The term “science” is used in its broadest sense, incorporating social sciences and the humanities as well as natural sciences (Gnaiger & Martin, 2001). In practice, Science Shops deal mainly with questions related to environmental issues, health, education, labour, law, housing, and developmental issues.


Since the founding of the first Science Shops in the Netherlands in the 1970s, the concept spread throughout Western Europe and to Israel, Romania, South Africa, the USA and Canada during the 1980s and 1990s. Science Shops are or were active in at least nine European countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Romania, and the United Kingdom. Mulder et al. (2001) also mentioned that initiatives have been reported in Finland, Sweden, Italy, Switzerland, and Norway. The concept of Science Shops has also been picked up in other countries like the “new” South Africa and South Korea.


In this paper, we assess the future of the model in the light of its historical development and the current state of affairs in Europe. We compare the development of Science Shops in several European countries and try to link the variety of patterns of Science Shop activities to differences in the social and political environment. First, we discuss the history and current situation of Science Shops in Europe. Then we compare the developments in six European countries (Austria, Denmark, Germany, Romania, Spain, and the United Kingdom) in more detail based on a recent survey (Fischer & Wallentin, 2002). In the final sections, we draw conclusions and specify policy implications.


2. The history and current status of Science Shops in Europe


In the establishment process of Science Shops in Europe, four “waves” can be distinguished.


First wave: The oldest shops were put up in the Netherlands in the 1970s, following the students’ movement (Leydesdorff & Van den Besselaar, 1987a; Farkas, 1999, 2002). The institutionalization of the Dutch Science Shops can be considered a result of the political program of a left-wing coalition that had won the elections of 1973 under the motto of “equal distribution of income, wealth, and knowledge.” The Minister for Science Policy at that time, Fokele Trip, actively stimulated what became known as “the democratization of science” both internally and externally. He welcomed proposals like the Science Shops.


The first Science Shop was established in 1973 at the chemistry faculty in Utrecht. In 1978, the University of Amsterdam decided to organize a Science Shop at the university level both as a service to the larger community and as an instrument for further developing its science policy in discussion with relevant NGOs (Zaal & Leydesdorff, 1987). The Dutch Federation of Trade Unions supported this development to the degree that a representative participated in the meetings of the daily board of this Science Shop (Leydesdorff, Ulenbelt, & Teulings, 1984). Other universities followed to a variable extent with differences in relative emphasis on a service component, an activist component, and the use of the Shop as an instrument of research policy. The Science Shops of this first period can be considered in relation to similar attempts in other countries to democratize science and technology policies, for example, Industrial Workers Plans in the UK (Cooley, 1980), the research program for the “Humanization of Labour” in the Federal Republic of Germany, and alternative product designs in Scandinavia (LO, 1982; Leydesdorff & Van den Besselaar, 1987b).


Second wave: In the 1980s, Science Shops of a “second wave” evolved in Germany, France and Denmark, as well as two shops in Belgium. These shops can be considered as by-products of alternative movements like “Bürgerinitiativen” (citizens’ initiatives) in Germany. The environmental movement of that time had a strong impact on these developments which were mainly based on collaborations with emerging university departments in environmental sciences. Some of these Science Shops still focus exclusively on environmental issues.


Third wave. During the 1990s, a “revival” of the Science Shop idea can be diagnosed and traced back to a change in the discourse about science and society. The ICT revolution has turned the tables in the relations between science and the public to such an extent that a call for a new social contract for science is sometimes voiced (e.g., Nowotny, Scott, & Gibbons, 2001). The increasing awareness of the gradual replacement of the industrial economy by a knowledge-based economy led to reflections about the strategic importance of communication about science at the social level. Different models have been proposed to understand “science in action” (Latour, 1987) or to make “science meet the public” (Wynne, 1995).


In the course of this debate, the concept of Science Shops received renewed interest by policy makers. The model is special because of its partisan position for public demand. Thus, the public is not considered as a receiver of the scientific knowledge or as an interactive conversation partner, but as a stakeholder with his or her own knowledge interests. These considerations resonated especially at the European level and led to the above mentioned action plan by the European Commission to enhance the networking of Science Shops.

In this context, the EU decided to fund several projects on Science Shops, and most recently a network of Science Shops (ISSNET) has been established with EU subsidy in order to facilitate exchanges among Science Shoppers and science policy makers at the European level.


In this favorable atmosphere, a third wave of Science Shops could be initiated in Austria and the UK during the 1990s. The Austrian shops were at least partly triggered by the Dutch example (Steinhaus, 1999). The British initiatives, however, were launched by government agencies and the Nuffield Foundation. In Spain, the term “Science Shop” is rather unknown, but institutions pursuing similar tasks were put up more or less independently from one another.


Fourth wave: Finally, in a fourth “wave”, Science Shops were started in the Middle and East-European accession countries in the period from 1995 to 2000, modelled after the Dutch example and realized in co-operation with Dutch Science Shops. Although this eventually failed in the Czech Republic, eight Science Shops have been successfully established in Romania (Mulder, 2000; INTERACTS, 2003).


However, the story of Science Shops in Europe is not a continuous success story. During the 1990s, as a counter-tendency to the establishment of new Science Shops, Science Shops in some of the early founding countries faced a decline. Of the about 25 German Shops only three are still operating today. In France, where there were about 15 Science Shops operating by the end of the 1980s, none are left. Also the Belgian Science Shops at Leuven and Gent have been closed down. Science Shops as a policy instrument have tended to fade away because of the increased focus on entrepreneurship, privatization, and commercialization during the period from 1985 to 1995 (Irwin, 1995; Sclove, 1995; Clark, 1998). In a study on Dutch Science Shops, Wachelder (2003) sees reasons for the closure of Science Shops in the decline of state funding, a change of the political climate, a stricter academic regime for students that makes it harder for them to participate, and more pressure on academic staff to publish that makes them more reluctant to engage in Science Shop projects (pages 255f.).


It remains difficult to assess the exact number of Science Shops in Europe today. The figures given in different sources (e.g. Steinhaus, 1999; Mulder et al., 2001, Fischer & Wallentin, 2002) vary. One reason is the difficulty of empirically keeping track of Science Shops and following up on current developments like close-down or the generation of new shops. Furthermore, shops may still exist “on paper”, but no longer be active. And finally, the term “Science Shop” is not generally known in Europe, therefore not every institution or program that might fit the above description calls itself a Science Shop.


As noted, the European Commission in its Science and Society Action Plan of December 4, 2001, mentions that more than 60 Science Shops exist in Europe. Following our investigations in the project INTERACTS and from the comparison of different sources and of the Internet presentation of Science Shops, there are about 3-5 Science Shops in most of the countries mentioned above, with the exception of the Netherlands, which still hosts more than a dozen, including some specialized and faculty-based shops (Ree, 1996; Wachelder, 2003). Additionally, some countries possess similar institutions or programmes which do not operate under the heading “Science Shop”. For example, in Denmark there are “project agencies” at three universities which can be considered as similar to Science Shops. In Germany 18 “co-operation offices” are active which deal with trade unions as their client group and in the UK there are a number of “community exchange programmes” (Hall & Hall, 2002, page 25).


Table 1 summarizes the rise and fall of Science Shops in different European countries, revealing three different patterns: one group of countries with a constantly high number of Science Shops (including Denmark, whose five shops mean one at each major university), one group characterized by a “rise and fall” – pattern, and one group of “latecomers”.








> 20


Constantly high




5 plus 3 project agencies





Rise and fall








3 plus 18 co-operation offices









3-4[5] plus 8 community exchange programmes and similar institutions






Number is unclear, because the term “Science Shops” is not used widely in Spain. Science Shop tasks are being carried out by NGOs and private research institutes (e.g., trade unions, and projects at university faculties. A few specialized university institutions also describe themselves as “Science Shops”, e.g. “Bazar de las Ciencias“, University of Léon[6], and the department “Social Projects” of the Business Transfer Office (OTRI) at the University Ramón Llull, Barcelona

Table 1: Rise and fall of Science Shops in Europe


In a project “Study and Conference on Improving Public Access to Science through Science Shops” with the acronym SCIPAS (1999-2001), the European Commission commissioned an inventory of Science Shop activities both within the European Union and abroad (Gnaiger & Martin, 2001; Mulder et al., 2001). The six reports from this project (available at provide the impression of a large variety of activities accommodated to local circumstances. Basically, there are two types of organizational models (university-based and non-university-based) performing three types of functions: services delivered directly to the client (by all Shops), influencing research policies in universities (by university-based Shops), and engaging in university education (also by university-based Shops). Most Science Shops are mainly service oriented. Many of the university-based Science Shops also rely heavily on their function in higher education, for example, by providing students with interesting topics for thesis work and research projects. In contrast, the Shops consider their function in setting the agenda for research policies at the university level as only secondary. Only one university, the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands, systematically uses Science Shop questions as input in university research programming at the level of the board of the university. However, in dealing with environmental questions, a broad involvement of scientific staff and even departments in Science Shop projects is not uncommon (Teodosiu & Caliman, 2002).


3. A comparative analysis of Science Shops in Europe


3.1 Research question, methods and materials


Earlier studies have primarily tried to explain differences among Science Shops with respect to their internal organization. This has mostly been done at the national level. In this article, we aim at explaining different national patterns of Science Shop development. We draw strongly on the recent INTERACTS project (2001-2003), which conducted in-depth case studies with thick descriptions in a comparative mode.[7] The project focused on the co-operation between Science Shops and organizations of the non-profit sector -- that is, citizen initiatives, NGOs, and public administration -- in six European countries: Austria, Denmark, Germany, Romania, Spain and the United Kingdom. Each of the six partners has interviewed client groups, researchers, and mediators in three cases of “best practices.” Additionally, next-level policy makers in the relevant NGOs, university departments, etc., were interviewed in order to obtain their assessment of the quality and policy relevance of the cooperative projects from the respective perspectives.


In the first phase of this project, a “state-of-the-art report” was compiled with one of us contributing (Fischer & Wallentin, 2002). The information for this report was collected by the different national project partners. For this purpose a common research framework was defined, guiding parallel investigations in the participating countries. This framework covered the following areas: a) overview of Science Shops in the respective country (history, number, activities), b) description of the discourse on science and society in the respective country, and c) political and legal framework, providing support or barriers to co-operation between Science Shops, science and NGOs (structure of NGO sector, funding opportunities, trends in science policy). The information collected by the partners is based on expert interviews with Science Shop staff and policy makers, literature reviews, and the analysis of science policy documents. However, this data is organized quite differently in the various countries. The difficulties in data collection can already be seen as a relevant insight into the informality of the work of Science Shops. The work is in many cases not very well documented, or difficult to access. Results of projects are often published as grey literature.


Results show that the development of Science Shops and the conditions for co-operation with civil society organizations vary considerably across countries. The variations relate to the different periods in which the respective Science Shops were created and to differences in the social and political conditions which are country-specific. We were able to identify four interconnected factors influencing the degree and the form of co-operation between Science Shops and civil society organizations:


1) The condition of civil society and the NGO community: Is there a mature and differentiated civil society in the respective country? What are the needs and aims of non-profit organizations, and in which respect do they need scientific support? To what degree are such organizations capable of voicing their demands?


2) Political culture and public discourse: Is there a political culture that is supportive of NGOs, civil society, and of fulfilling their research needs? Is there a public discourse about the relations between science and society? What traditions can the concept of Science Shops build on? To what extent is the concept of the Science Shops as intermediary institutions known and named?


3) Resources: How do Science Shops mobilize the necessary human and financial resources for their work? Which resources does public policy offer them and under what conditions?


4) Science policy: Is the need for a dialogue between science and society recognized at the level of national science policy formation? What is the form of the dialogue aimed at, what are its topics, and which institutions are considered for promoting that dialogue? How does the Science Shop model fit with these conceptions?


These four factors are crucial for the success or failure of the Science Shop model, and therefore, comparative analysis among countries along these terms will enable us to draw some conclusions about the future prospects of Science Shops.


The results of this comparison are presented in the following section. The patterns of the development of civil society and political culture are country-specific. They can be linked to the country-specific developmental patterns of Science Shops introduced in the above section and used to explain the current performance of Science Shops. With respect to resources and science policy, however, we find patterns that are common to all these countries. We first discuss the specificities and then return to the commonalities in the following sections.


3.2 Country specific patterns of political culture and civil society


In Denmark, Science Shops are not only continually active, but also report an ongoing and strong co-operation with NGOs and civil associations. This constantly high pattern of activities can be explained by a lively and active civil society in combination with a political culture that widely recognizes the need for public participation in science and technology.

Denmark has a more than 150 years’ tradition of “associationalism” (Bo Kaspersen & Ottesen, 2001). Beginning with the constitution of 1849, the Danish state has always regarded a lively civil society, and, more precisely, a rich associational life, as a means of integrating society,  enhancing patriotism and performing functions of the welfare state. Cooperatives of peasants and workers have helped to improve the social situation of these groups and to transform Denmark into a modern economy. Today, associations run free schools, provide adult education, and offer a multitude of services in the areas of education, sports, leisure, and culture. The state supports these activities by funding the associations as long as their structure and purpose follows basic democratic principles. As a consequence, we find that associational membership is as high as 3.4 memberships per adult and both membership and activity have even risen since 1979. This translates also in political participation and interest (Torpe, 2003).


A second important source for Science Shop support is Denmark’s strong participatory tradition in the areas of technology assessment and environmental decision making. For example, the “consensus conferences” about new technologies and their social implications have been developed in Denmark (Joss & Durant, 1995). The Danish Board of Technology, an advisory body to the Danish parliament, considers the involvement of the public in debates about technology using consensus conferences and scenario workshops as one of its tasks (Sclove, 1996; Joss, 1998).


In the 1970s and 1980s, Denmark like other West European countries was shaken by protest movements tabling the issues of peace, women’s liberation and youth self-determination (e.g. the squatter movements) (Gundelach, 1991, Mikkelsen, 1999). One core area of contentious politics was nuclear energy. Movement activity helped to achieve the abandonment of government’s plans for nuclear power plants in 1985. In the course of these conflicts, the anti-nuclear movement OOA (Organization for Information on Nuclear Power) managed to politicize the public and raise demand for participation and information in technological decision-making.


Academics were active in these movements, bridging the gap between university and the public. They answered the demands for information with a concept of democratization of academia and access to scientific knowledge for the public. The Danish Science Shops, as outcomes of the alternative movements, are not “neutral” intermediaries, but follow a political program for democratization and equality.


Because of this “associational” tradition and the practice of participation, the idea of Science Shops found resonance in the general political culture. Science Shops in Denmark are an established institution at universities and an accepted tool for the public participation in science. They are considered as an asset for generating social capital in the knowledge-based economy.


In Germany, Science Shops show instead a “rise and fall” pattern. Furthermore, in spite of a strong civil society, Science Shops also report difficulties in co-operating with NGOs. On the one hand NGOs are sceptical towards scientific institutions, on the other hand university personnel is often not so interested in co-operation (Block-Künzler & Graf, 1993, Steinhaus, 1999). These patterns can be explained by changes in political culture and in the structure of the NGO sector in Germany.


During the 1980s, like in Denmark, Science Shops were one of the outcomes of the “new social movements” including the environmental, peace, and women’s movement. But in contrast to Denmark, an academic and policy tradition that could generate “official” support for the Science Shop idea had been lacking as well as a stable civil society tradition.

Already in the Weimar Republic, German civil society had been “pillarized” (Zimmer et al., in press). On the one side, there was a lively “Vereinskultur” (associational culture) with small, local associations in the areas of sport, leisure, or religion. They were often associated with political or ideological groups and thus socialized their members into specific political milieus. On the other hand, there were the huge welfare organizations which, according to the German “principle of subsidiarity” co-operated closely with the state in providing social services and fulfilling social policy goals. Run by the churches and funded and regulated by the Ministry of Labour, they can hardly be seen as self-governed associations of citizens (Zimmer et al., in press).


Having been smashed by the Nazi Regime, associational life only gradually recovered in the Federal Republic of the 1950s and 1960s. There were almost no independent organizations with political or broader social goals. Besides sports and leisure associations, the German non-profit sector was dominated by the huge, service- and state-oriented welfare associations. The student movement and the “new social movements” in the 1970s and 1980s were the first articulation of contentious politics for almost three decades.


The Science Shops emerging from them therefore found little resonance in the broader society and were dependent on the fate of the new social movements. However, the relationship with these movements has never been an easy one. Especially small and grassroots protest groups have remained suspicious about academic science, and did not expect the sciences to contribute to the solution of practical problems. Academic science was heavily associated with political control by the ruling class (“Herrschaftswissen”; Dehler, 1989; Steinhaus, 1991; Steinhaus, 1999).


During the late 1980s and the 1990s, the movements declined while many of the supporting NGOs institutionalized and professionalized. Organizations like the Green Party or Greenpeace developed their own resources for knowledge-production or developed extensive networks with scientific institutions, so they no longer need intermediaries like Science Shops. Thus, Science Shops have lost a strong client and advocate during the 1990s. A new potential client group could have been the charitable sector, encompassing the huge welfare organizations. However, apart from the Science Shop in Bonn, Science Shops in Germany have not yet fully explored the potential of this possible ally.


In Austria, the UK, and Romania, we find what we have called above the latecomer pattern. In spite of the comparably late Science Shop start-up, today there is quite successful co-operation between Science Shops and NGOs in these countries, albeit for different reasons.


In Austria, civil societal organizations have a long history. Many NGOs were founded at the beginning of the 20th century either by the social-democratic movement, the conservative Christian Democrats or the churches, in order to tie their clients to their ideologies. After the World Wars new NGOs often functioned as “bridges” between the Left and the Right.

With the exception of the labor movement, NGOs always were part of the establishment in Austria (Heitzmann & Simsa, in press, page 715). Nevertheless they have maintained their potential for inducing social change.


Not until the beginning of the 1980s did new NGOs arise, which were neither linked to the political parties nor to the church. These organizations have been mainly active in the fields of women’s liberation, ecological or human rights, development aid, and international relations. These organizations have been important for Austria’s political culture and for shaping public attitudes, but due to their distance to the establishment they have never received much public funding and thus their importance was not much reflected in statistical data. This late development of independent NGOs explains the latecomer pattern of Science Shops in Austria. These small and independent NGOs were in need of their own knowledge production, and were independent from ideologies of larger societal partners (like the church or political parties) at the same time.


Furthermore, the Austrian NGO culture is shaped by the country’s federalism and corporatism. There are many local, independent and self-organized civil societal groups. Also the umbrella–organizations are normally not organized on a national level, but within one of the nine federal provinces. This structure also favors knowledge production on a local level, e.g. in cooperation with Science Shops, rather than centralized in large NGOs.


Austria has a strong tradition in cooperatives and social economy. Even though many of these organizations have by now become large for-profit organizations or governmental agencies, the basic idea of self-organization has influenced the NGO-sector in Austria (cf. Heitzmann & Simsa, in press, page 723), thus also making it compatible with the Science Shop idea. In Austria, as well as in all German speaking countries, NGOs are oriented more towards the state than towards business, much more so than in Anglo-Saxon countries. Solidarity, ideology, and values influence the activities and structures of the NGOs in this former group of countries. These NGOs are mainly run by volunteers. As a result of financial pressures since the 1990s, requirements for higher efficiency have influenced some areas of NGOs, though. The decreasing public funds also push NGOs to develop new financing schemes, such as fundraising or sponsorship. These developments also have an impact on Science Shops and their co-operation with NGOs.


The late development of Science Shops in the UK goes hand in hand with the neglect of the third sector during the long conservative government. Only in 1997, with the election of Tony Blair and New Labour, did the development of civic organizations come back on the political agenda. During the Thatcher era and also during the legislative period of her successor John Major civil society – especially volunteerism - was often mentioned as a crucial pillar of society. But this engagement was mainly limited to rhetoric (cf. Kendall, 2001, page 140f.). In fact private businesses were the main object of policy. During this time Science Shops had a hard time getting started.


The opposition to the conservative government was for a long time dominated by the strong tradition of the labour movement in Britain rather than by New Social Movements and NGOs. The New Social Movements in the UK have remained modest in size and often had strong links to “patrons” in the established left (e.g. the Labour Party) (Koopmans, 1996, page 44). The Labour Party only paid more attention to new concepts of civil society once Tony Blair became the chairman of the party in 1994. Blair introduced the idea of communitarianism to the party, which he later formulated as “The third way” (Blair, 1998).


New Labour introduced three reforms between 1997 and 1999 that gave the development of the third sector a push forward. These are the Charity Tax Review (1997), the “Compact” agreement for the closer relations between the government and the third sector, which e.g. had an impact on funding NGOs (1998), and the increase of financial and personnel resources of the “Active Community Unit”, which is the governmental unit dealing with the third sector (Kendall, 2001). Such reforms lead to a co-operative rather than an oppositional approach of the movements.


By now, civil society in the UK is flourishing. Thus, there is a sufficient range of potential clients for Science Shops. However, the cultural context is different from e.g. the German case. The later founding date of the Science Shops guaranteed some distance from the heated political controversies of the new social movements in the early 1980s. Therefore in the United Kingdom, Science Shops are rooted in social rather than political activism, leading to a co-operative rather than oppositional approach. Thus, establishing links between science and society is publicly acknowledged as a method of strengthening and empowering the community, that is, building “social capital” (Putnam, 2000). This is based on a strong tradition of voluntary work, from which the concept of “Community-based learning” stems, linking students’ voluntary work in the community to a university course, or training community leaders in universities (Buckingham, 2000).


The late-coming Science Shops in Austria as well as in the UK could profit from experiences made elsewhere (especially in the Netherlands) and start out more professionally. In short, the Science Shop founding in the 1990s was linked to a positive discourse about civil society’s contributions to public welfare that gained the shops support and recognition.


In Romania, in contrast, the NGO society is not yet well developed, due to the transition situation. Remaining largely a rural and economically less developed society far into the 20th century, Romania had a particularly oppressive and stringent dictatorship during the Communist era. After the fall of the Ceausescu regime in 1989, civil society re-emerged, but remained hampered economically by a lack of domestic resources and an insufficient legal framework (Saulean et al., 1999, pages 337f.). The Romanian NGO-sector thus has not yet been able to fully reach the level of its Central European counterparts.


Romanians have become relatively willing to get involved in civic activities, which is a good foundation for the future development of the civil society. But opinion surveys point out the lack of legitimacy of civic organizations, which mainly goes back to a number of highly publicized scandals and questionable transactions relating to the transformation of the assets of formerly government or party agencies and social organizations in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Communism (CSDF, 1997). With the election of a former NGO leader as the country’s president in 1996, the initial “cold” period in the government and NGO relations has come to an end, though. Nevertheless much remains to be done to enhance the growing maturation of civil society (Saulean et al., 1999, page 354).


Altogether, civil society in Romania already plays an important role in the political and cultural transitions. At the same time, this sector remains a fragile organism, struggling to meet the overwhelming humanitarian, cultural, environmental, and development needs of Romanian society without yet having a firm domestic support structure in place. This implies a need for inexpensive ways of knowledge production, as through the co-operation of NGOs and universities.


Like in the other Eastern European countries, university reform is an ongoing process in this system. Organizational structures and methodologies are being tested, discussion about the goals of the system of science and education are continuous (König, 1992; Ionescu-Sisesti, 1994). In this context, the work of Science Shops seems satisfying so far and receives positive feedback. In this rather open transition situation, space opens up for ideas of dialogue between science and society, being promoted mostly from within the scientific community. Reformers conceptualize universities as part of and promoter of an open participatory society. They expect them to react to the needs of individuals, organizations, and institutions from the public sector, business, and NGOs (Neculau, 1997; Romanian Ministry for Education, 2000; Caliman & Teodosiu, 2002). There is also a public discussion going on with a similar focus. The dialogue between science and society is pursued in connection with increasing environmental awareness, educating the public on environmental and social issues, and developing and supporting non-governmental organizations.


The developing civil society in Romania can count much less on national public funding and private donations than in Western European countries, but international support has played a major role since 1989. In this context, the Dutch example of Science Shops received considerable interest at an early stage. The idea of founding a Science Shop dealing with environmental issues at the Technical University of Iasi was well received as a possibility to better connect to the socio-economical environment and to offer students the chance to deal with projects, to apply creative solutions, to develop skills related to teamwork and communication or transmit their scientific knowledge to the public (Caliman & Teodosiu, 2002).


In Spain, finally, it remains difficult to determine how many Science Shops exist, when they were founded, and how they operate. This lack of information points to a low level of institutionalization and networking among the various activities which can be recognized as Science Shops. Two factors have been important:


First, civil society, in terms of new social movements and of membership in associations, is rather weak in Spain. Political participation and protest is characterized by the traditional Left and by unconventional forms of participation (like strikes) but not by an associational culture (Koopmans, 1996; Kousis, 1999). Organizational membership is among the lowest in Europe: only one third of the adult population belongs to any association (Encarnación, 2002). The same applies to political interest: While in 1999, 21% of all Danes reported to discuss politics “frequently” and 62% “occasionally”, the respective figures for Spaniards were 7% and 43%, putting them at the bottom of all EU 15 countries (Eurobarometer 51, 1999). During the Franco dictatorship, civil society could not flourish. In the transition phase to democracy, there was a short boom of both trade unions and neighborhood associations. However, after the transition, union membership dropped sharply while neighborhood associations dissolved completely. Reasons are, on the one hand, the successful accomplishment of the transition which seemed to make activism obsolete, on the other the disillusionment with the new system and the resurfacing of everyday problems, exacerbated by a high rate of unemployment (Encarnación, 2002). Today, the NGO landscape is dominated by the large unions, which often have developed their own resources for research, and only a few smaller organizations which lack access to funding.  Science Shops are facing a difficult situation for co-operating with citizens, since there are few organized citizen groups and NGOs to relate to.


Secondly, the idea of intermediaries between science and society is not intensively discussed. The term “Science Shop” itself is largely unheard of. Scientists complain about the lack of public interest in scientific work. Political actors are preoccupied with developing an active science policy at the national level, and with laying the necessary foundations for a quality R & D system, like appropriate funding, clear priorities, and transparent and efficient organizational structures. Though science policy has developed a stronger focus on the applicability of science and on co-operation with other societal actors during the 1990s, this focus has been almost exclusively on private business (Otero Hidalgo, 1997; Ballart & Subirats, 1997; Bellavista, Turpin, Hill, & De Miguel, 1998). For this latter purpose, a network of so-called Oficinas de Transferencia de Resultados de Investigación (“OTRIs,” that is, Offices for the Transfer of Research Findings) has been created.


To sum up, there are different cultural and social roots to the Science Shop idea in the six countries. The range reaches from protest movements and institutional interests (as in the Netherlands) via social volunteering (UK) to the construction of a civil society in a transformation country (Romania). In order to find successful strategies for promoting the Science Shop ideas on the European level, one should take these differences in context into account.


3.3 The funding of Science Shop activities


Across all countries under study, successful Science Shop work and satisfying co-operation with NGOs is dependent on the available resources. Secure funding is an important prerequisite for continuous Science Shop work. It allows long-term planning and the use of qualified personnel. The less time and energy has to be invested in fundraising, the more a Science Shop can concentrate on its core tasks.


A number of different funding mechanisms are available to Science Shops. University funding is available to many shops attached to universities, like in the Dutch, Danish, British, Austrian, Romanian, and one of the German cases. Its importance ranges from additional funding (in Austria) or free use of infrastructure (in Romania) via a substantial part of the funding (like in Denmark) to complete funding (like in the case of the Kooperations- und Beratungsstelle für Umweltfragen in Berlin). University funding, however, makes Science Shops susceptible to university budget cuts, as shown in the case of the Science Shop at the Natural Science Faculty at the University of Copenhagen, which was closed as part of a major budget reduction some years ago.


Other public funding is in most cases only available in a pilot phase, like in the Austrian and Romanian cases. In the UK, Denmark, Germany, and Spain no continuous state funding for Science Shops exists.


Project based funding is very common for most of the shops. Sometimes customers are charged, sometimes the shops apply for project based support from grant giving bodies, and sometimes the shops react to public tenders. Project based funding plays a substantial role in Denmark, Austria, Germany, and the UK, and an essential one in Spain and Romania. Finally, a little additional income is sometimes generated by donations and membership fees.


A common problem is the lack of infrastructural funding. Only the Dutch, the Danish, and one of the German shops receive basic infrastructure support. Consequently, a considerable amount of time has to be spent on fundraising, and Science Shops sometimes have to compromise with regard to their goals in order to receive funding. Science Shops often do not meet the requirements of funding programs, because they do not neatly fit into any of the given categories, like science, education, NGO, or social work.


3.4  Science policy and the “knowledge society”


The six European countries examined converge remarkably in their future perspectives on science and society. In all these countries, discourse about the “knowledge society” is prominent. This new perspective can greatly influence Science Shop work. The importance of generating and distributing knowledge is stressed, along with a call for co-operation between science and society.


However, the awareness of ongoing changes does not automatically mean that the Science Shop idea gets supported. The dominant discourse differs from the discourse about Science Shops in two important respects. First, the range of possible knowledge producers is severely restricted in the official discourse. In addition to academic institutions, private business is usually considered to be the most important knowledge-producer. Citizens, NGOs, and other social groups are often ignored. Secondly, the purpose of knowledge production is often reduced to commercial competitiveness. There is still little discussion about knowledge being used to improve the quality of life, boost human emancipation or support equal opportunities. In short, dialogue between science and society usually means dialogue between science and business (e.g., Political agreement on principles for research in Denmark, 2000; House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology, 2000; Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung & Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Technologie, 2001).


This becomes clear when we look at the specific tools applied to implement the “knowledge-based society”. In Denmark and Germany, “science parks” are heavily stimulated in order to establish better links between educational institutions and private business. Communication is encouraged by special funds or by information dissemination policies, and the arrangement of events, exhibitions, and fairs. Students receive support for founding their own business. In a similar way, “technology transfer centres” have been established at Romanian, Spanish, Dutch, and German universities. Like Science Shops, their task is to communicate to society, but their target groups are mostly private enterprises and business organizations. Sometimes they work together or co-exist with Science Shops (like in Dutch cases), but in general, the upward trend in technology transfer seems to displace Science Shops.


These processes go hand in hand with processes of university reforms on a structural and curriculum level in several countries. In Germany and Denmark, the autonomy of universities is strengthened in the financial domain, while at the same time democratic self-governance principles are replaced by hierarchical management principles. In Germany and Austria, curricula have been streamlined, straightened, and shortened. Students have less freedom of choice and there is a tighter system of quality control. Internationally compatible B.A. and M.A. programs are introduced, which are usually shorter and more practically oriented than the former programmes. These developments deprive students of the free time and energy for working in community-oriented projects.


An important counterweight is nowadays provided by EU policies. A major goal of the EU White Paper on Governance has been formulated as bridging the gap between the European Union and the citizens. Therefore, the Commission commits itself to enhancing openness, participation, accountability, effectiveness, and coherence (European Commission, 2001, page 10). Part of this effort is directed towards science.


A work group was appointed by the Commission which conducted a workshop and wrote a report “Democratizing expertise”. The stated goal is to “improve the interactions between expertise, policy making and public debate” (Liberatore, 2001, page i). The Commission aims at promoting participatory procedures in order to include civil society and at broadening the notion of expertise in order to include stakeholders’ practical knowledge. It recognizes the importance of intermediaries for “translating scientific findings into policy issues […] or translating policy and social issues into ‘researchable’ questions.” (Liberatore, 2001, page 22).


Such ideas were further developed through the conference “Science and Governance in a Knowledge Society” in Brussels in October 2000 (; European Commission, 2000). The activities of the Commission culminated in its recent “Science and Society Action Plan” (European Commission, 2002). A “dialogue with the citizen” is recommended, for example by conference, fora, and also via “developing the European network of Science Shops” (European Commission, 2002, Action 21, page 15).


The impact on Science Shops of the general commercialization trend described above is, on the one hand, negative. Resources for knowledge transfer are used in other projects instead of Science Shops. Pressure on Science Shops to open up for commercial clients is growing. Students are busy with coping with their straight study efforts and can no longer afford to spend time on “alternative” projects. However, on the other hand, this trend marks a general interest in the issue of knowledge transfer into society. Activities aimed towards bridging the gap between different societal spheres (like science and business) and investing resources in co-operation and networking might in some respect also be useful for Science Shops. In the course of higher education reform, serious attempts are being made to foster practical experience and the application of results. Students are called for to work in projects and co-operate with external partners. Though these ideas originally came up in order to serve the needs and interests of business, they could also indirectly support Science Shops’ work.


4. Conclusions


4.1 Changing coalitions

While the early Science Shops of the 1970s and 1980s relied on protest movements, during the 1990s and at the turn of the century the coalitions have changed. Science Shops have little support from local citizens or movements in making claims on the budgets of local policy makers. Their clients are mainly small associations and organizations that do not have political power. Without a public lobby, the decline of public funding, trends toward privatization and business-orientation make Science Shops one of the first institutions to be victimized in the case of budget cuts within the university system.


However, while on the local level tighter budgets and the trend to business orientation dominate science policy, on a supra-regional level the public attitude towards science and technology seems to have gained a stronger effect on policy. Distrust in science and technology has moved from social movements (in the 1970s) into the general public consciousness, for example, in the case of genetically modified food. The tighter public budgets also generate pressure on science-policy making for opening up to public scrutiny. The costs and benefits of science have to be accounted for and to be legitimated in the public domain. The discourse on the “knowledge society” emphasizes the need for usable scientific knowledge — visible for example in the career of concepts like transdisciplinarity and “Mode 2” in science policy-making (Shinn, 2002). This makes the science-society dialogue an important topic.


These tendencies partly explain why at the EU level one observes a re-discovery and an increasing support for Science Shops. It remains open to what extent the EU will be a partner for a longer term coalition. Critics suspect that the emphasis on “participation” in science is a strategic response to a temporary fashion and may not play a long-term role in EU-policy (e.g. Abels, 2002).


4.2. Policy implications: Science Shops at a crossroad

Science Shops today seem to be at a crossroad. On the one hand the concept of the Science Shop as an intermediating agency without a financial threshold is more up to date and relevant than ever before. Most research programmes nowadays demand an inter- or transdisciplinary orientation and the applicability of research results. Furthermore, steps are taken towards fostering intermediary organizations like Science Shops on the actual policy level in Europe.

On the other hand, Science Shops will remain continuously under pressure because of the marginality given in the very concept. In addition to budget cuts and a general commercialization tendency, a further hindering factor is that the Science Shop movement is no longer connected to larger social movements. Developments in civil society are different and asynchronous among European nations. There remains little public pressure at the European and national levels in favour of Science Shops when it comes to funding and policy making.


From this diagnosis, some conclusions can be drawn for universities and for the Science Shops themselves. First, it needs to be stated that the Science Shop model is potentially an interface institution providing options at various levels:


  1. At the level of the community, a Science Shop can provide a point of entrance to the knowledge production system with a relatively low threshold. This point of entrance can be used, for example, as a follow-up and concretization by a client group after a more encyclopedic orientation about one’s research questions in the Internet.


  1. At the level of the university, a Science Shop provides a window on the surrounding society and can thus strengthen the commitment and public legitimization of the academic institution. Universities today are increasingly embedded in networks of university-industry-government relations. Their public function can easily become associated with industrial interests and bureaucratic practices. However, they can partially reclaim their critical function by making themselves relevant to their city, their region, citizens, environmental groups, trade-unions, etc. (Leydesdorff & Etzkowitz, 2003). This can be organized in the form of Science Shops and similar mechanisms of community-based research and learning.


  1. In terms of innovation policies, Science Shop questions can be systematically assessed on whether they provide options for new lines of research and social support.


  1. At a generalized level, Science Shops may provide a science policy instrument for raising awareness of and commitment with the increasing knowledge-intensity of ongoing transformations in a knowledge-based economy.


However, Science Shops need to deal with the fact that the general idea of “citizen science”, somewhat analogous to a number of other claims of the 1970s movements, has moved from the periphery further to the centre of the political discourse. It therefore follows that Science Shops have different options in choosing their future strategies.


First, Science Shops may want to reconsider their coalitions. In order to profit from EU policies, they may have to establish a more professional and visible appearance and a homogeneous profile in order to fit into programs and function as “one” partner in European RTD. This does not mean that the activities of the Science Shops should no longer exhibit a wide variety. But the Science Shops have to be recognizable as one form of institution with a clear common goal and common identity. This change in coalition is first of all a political decision: Do Science Shops support the step from grassroots orientation towards “established” policy-making?


Secondly, it is a question of building up an international Science Shop network, of marketing and lobbying. Since many small Science Shops do not have the resources to build up and maintain active co-operations on an international level, the funding of an international Science Shop office by e.g. the EU would be a great support. This would allow the Science Shops to work in a network, but still remain active near the citizens.


A third possible direction would be the accommodation to the trend towards profitable science. Science Shops may consider diversifying their portfolio, serving small and medium enterprises as well as civil society organizations, and engaging in commercially profitable projects. Some Science Shops are already successfully working with small enterprises and entrepreneurs (for example planning bureaus, research institutes and labs for environmental analysis). The Chemistry Shops at some universities have been successful in developing commercial relations by providing advice in environmental and toxicological issues. With selling career counselling and job-seeking help in the social and ecological field, the Science Shop in Bonn has developed a commercial pillar. However, Science Shops are aware of possible conflicts between social and ecological goals on the one side and business interests, on the other. In order not to compromise their original goals, the commercial activities need to be embedded in an overarching vision.


A fourth possible development would be the recollection of their roots. Science Shops would then get involved in new social movements and promote a citizens science through the pressure of a wider public support. A promising starting point are recent social movements like the anti-globalization movement.


If Science Shops manage to adapt to the changing environment, and if the knowledge society becomes the dominant paradigm for science policy, then without a doubt Science Shops will offer a promising model for moving participatory science from the level of discourse to the level of practice.




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[1] This article is based on results of the EU-funded project INTERACTS (Improving Interaction between NGOs, Universities and Science Shops: Experiences and expectations). For further information about this project see The authors acknowledge the discussion with their partners in this project and in the preceding SCIPAS project. We especially thank Annette Wallentin for her major contributions and Mark Brown, Arlena Jung, Henk Mulder, Wolfgang Endler and anonymous referees of the journal SPP for helpful comments.

[2] Cf.

[3] See also

[4] The European Commission in its Science and Society Action Plan of December 4, 2001, speaks of Science Shops in France, but Mulder et al. (2001) state that all have been closed down.

[5] Two shops are already operating for some time. In August 2002 a Science Shop at Brunel University in London was founded and there is also discussion about founding one in Glasgow.

[6] Cf.

[7] Cf.