The POIESIS Focus Groups Report

The POIESIS Focus Groups, a major survey that took place in the 7 Consortium countries (Denmark, UK, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain and Greece) with the participation of dozens of research and science communication experts has been completed. The discussions were extremely interesting in each of the 21 Focus Groups held, with the influence of the wider social context of each country evident in most of them and led to some very interesting findings.

Most of the participants suggested that there is no general crisis in trust in science; however, increasing, and complex challenges related to trust between science and society were identified. Questionable or detrimental research practices, irresponsible science communication, “disruptors”, and the influence of private and political interests are some of the main factors contributing to these challenges.  

Additionally, while participants were relatively divided on the effects of public engagement in science, they agreed that fostering a culture of participation requires a mobilisation of all actors in the ‘chain of mediation’: non-institutional actors in science communication are already involved, but other actors, especially institutional ones, should play a more active role in supporting the development of participatory projects by the scientific community.

Finally, regarding the role of institutions in promoting social integrity and social integration, the idea that each scientific organization should be able to systematically identify the conflicting moral imperatives to which it subjects its staff seems to be an essential task. But it is important to stress that these institutional actions will remain ineffective if they are not coordinated at both national and European levels.

You can read more about our Focus Groups by reading the Focus Group Findings: Exploring Institutional Roles in Fostering Public Trust in Science (D3.2) document here.

POIESIS at the 12th SciComPT Congress

POIESIS-PT team attended the 12th Congress of SciComPT, which took place at University of Minho, in Braga, May 8-10.

The team presented two talks. In the talk “The role of scientific institutions in public involvement in science: voices from institutional stakeholders” the team presented the main findings of the Focus Groups with Institutional Stakeholders, which took place in Lisbon in February 2024. This talk discussed the need to reinforce the capacity of science communication offices with resources to establish long-term relationships between scientific institutions and society.

In the talk” Science communication by scientists in Portugal”, the team discussed perceptions of researchers working in Portuguese research institutions and universities about their role in science communication and how this may affect public’s opinion and trust in science.

SciComPt is the Portuguese Science and Technology Communication Network, aiming to promote science communication in all its aspects, to promote exchange between Science Communication professionals as well as the informed participation of citizens in all issues involving Science and Technology.

Greek Focus Groups review

The influence of financial and political interests, and competition between researchers and RPOs are the main negative factors that affect Research Integrity and Trust In Science, according to most of the participants of the three Focus Groups that were conducted in Greece.

The sessions were organised by the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA) research team that included Dr. Panagiotis Kavouras, Dr. Eleni Spyrakou, Nicole Sarla and Leonidas Ananiadis. Dr. Olga Tzortzatou-Nanopoulou, Prof. Manolis Patiniotis and Prof. Pavlos P. Sotiriadis served as co-investigators with Dr. Vassilis Zogopoulos moderating the conversation on the SI Focus Group.

Social Integration proved to be a topic that gathered more diverse views, but even when participants rated it high and even linked it directly with the issue of trust, their recommendations mainly focused on issues of communication and dissemination rather that citizen science. This, most probably, reflects the fact that initiatives, like citizen science, are not still that popular in Greece.

Overall, the Focus Groups were very fruitful, involving engaged participants and in-depth conversations, representative of the local paradigm and peculiarities.   

POIESIS Focus Groups in Spain

The INGENIO (CSIC- UPV) POIESIS team, Dr Irene Monsonís-Payá and Dr Richard Woolley, together with three local co-investigators, undertook the Spanish focus groups with institutional stakeholders from public and private organisations. The three focus groups were hold online in March 2024, and a total of 16 professionals were invited and joined the conversations on research integrity, social integration and public trust.

Participants generated informed and considered discussion about the relationships between institutions, researchers and scientific communities, and public trust in science. They affirmed that trust in scientists, as a socially valued profession, had been historically high in Spain and remained so now. However, it was very evident throughout discussions that this strong level of public trust was considered to be under threat. It was consistently argued that social media platforms had opened up a space in which scientific credibility was undermined by ‘vocal minorities’. These alternative voices were viewed as having superior capability and technique to attract attention to alternative views of socio-technical controversies, with the Covid-19 pandemic often cited as an example. 

A consistent view emerged that the institutional and organisational development of research ethics and integrity (REI) in Spain was in an early stage of its development and professional institutionalization. A consensus also emerged in relation to the barriers and difficulties that accompany efforts to enhance citizen participation in research. However, a general sentiment regarding the mutual benefits that can flow from bringing science and society ‘closer together’ or into better alignment, was expressed across all focus groups. Participants in institutional roles that are the most distant from research voiced a strong alternative opinion – that social integration in science was not a priority, believing that experts should continue to take responsibility for science-related decisions. These participants leaned toward questioning whether it was appropriate to expect citizens to assume roles and responsibilities in such highly technical domains.

Danish Focus Groups round-up

The AU team has completed the Danish part of the POIESIS focus group study, which overall explores perceptions of the science-society relationship and how institutions can provide policies and procedures that contribute to enhancing public trust in science.

In February 2024, project members Tine Ravn and Christina Løth Andersen conducted three onsite focus group interviews in collaboration with co-investigators Marianne Gauffriau, Mia Ulvgraven and Lone Bredahl. Across the three interviews, 18 professional stakeholders working in areas of research support, public engagement with science, research funding, science communication and open science discussed the current state of trust in science in relation to research integrity and citizen involvement within institutional and national contexts.

Participants highlighted a complex relationship between science and society, emphasizing increasing pressure on the legitimacy of both research performing organisations and researchers. Despite a general high level of trust in Denmark, and no distinct crisis of trust, the emergence of ‘cracks’ in public trust was identified and viewed as negatively influencing an increased politization and ideological instrumentalization of science.

Responsible research was perceived as a means to increase trust, with professional standards related to research integrity generally considered high. The global nature of research was seen as presenting both enablers and barriers to promoting a culture of research integrity. Participants recommended shared research integrity standards across institutions and countries and highlighted a set of principles and practices conducive to fostering research integrity. 

The POIESIS Focus Groups with Institutional Actors in Germany

Another round of interesting discussions and findings from Wissenschaft-im-Dialog (Germany)

In February 2024, POIESIS member Dr. Anne-Sophie Behm-Bahtat from Wissenschaft im Dialog organised three online focus groups with different institutional actors from all over Germany as part of Work Package 3. The participants in the three groups – university communicators, research integrity officers, and members of research funding organisations – discussed the role of institutions for public trust in science and what can be done to improve conditions for research integrity and societal integration in institutions and beyond.

The three different groups of institutional actors had lively 2-hour long discussions exploring the topics of trust in science, integrity and integration from different institutional angles. Altogether, participants did not so much see a crisis of public trust in science but rather a crisis of trust in public institutions. They underlined the importance of a comprehensive ‘culture of integrity’ at all institutional levels and also discussed why the ‘how’ of societal integration might actually be more important than the ‘how much’. 

The POIESIS Focus Groups around Portugal

Another round of interesting discussions about Trust in Science

The Portuguese POIESIS team, led by Professor Marta Entradas and supported by Dr. Inês Sousa and Dr. Feng Yan, has just wrapped up an insightful focus group study to investigate questions of research integrity in universities and public trust in science!

These engaging discussions with institutional stakeholders, happened in February 2024, in Lisbon, with two sessions hosted at Iscte – Instituto Universitário de Lisboa and one conducted online. With a total of 20 institutional stakeholders participating, the discussions were moderated by three local co-investigators.

The focus group delved into the crucial topic of building trust in science and here are the main discoveries:

Participants widely agreed that public trust in science remains high in Portugal. There isn’t a crisis of trust, but there’s growing scrutiny of the scientific process among an increasingly informed and educated public. Science communication plays a vital role in shaping this perception.

From the participants’ viewpoint, discussions on integrity in science are starting in Portugal and are much needed. They emphasized the importance of training in integrity practices, well-defined guidelines, and effective communication to foster a culture of open science and responsible research practices.

Participants discussed the need to increase the proximity between scientists and society by using new and attractive tools to communicate science. Who are the emerging voices in science? Looking ahead, exploring new mediators beyond scientists and science communicators could be fascinating.

The POIESIS Focus Groups around the UK

The LSE POIESIS team Dr Bankole Falade, Hannah Bunt and Professor Martin W Bauer have completed another round of focus groups discussions, this time with professional staff at British universities. In February/March 2024, local co-investigators had invited 6 men and 20 women who joined the conversations in Glasgow, Bristol and Loughborough and at LSE.

We talked about a ‘crisis of trust’ in science-society relations, about the ‘good researcher’ and their fall from grace in misconduct which could jeopardise the reputation of the institution and the research system. Support for research integrity and public engagement were discussed as levers to build, maintain and restore public trust. Each group detailed their own views and activities to support good research and public engagement.

According to the general view, there is little evidence for a crisis of trust in science; but punctually sensitive topics bear public concerns and risks to trust, and media misinformation can fuel this. Misconduct happens but mostly out of incompetence or negligence rather than moral turpitude and malevolence. But the problem might be underestimated and vigilance is called for. Structures are being built and strengthened to monitor, prevent and report incidents of scientific misconduct locally and nationally.  We explored tensions in this emerging system of vigilance, in particular any misalignment between REF [research excellence framework] 2028/29 and efforts to support world class research and effective public engagement.

POIESIS General Assembly in Portugal

The POIESIS Consortium latest meeting confirmed our dedication and high standard approach in fullfilling POIESIS research ambitions.

The POIESIS 3rd General Assembly was successfully held on February 22nd and 23 in CIES-Iscte, Lisbon. There were plenty interesting things to discuss such as the implementation and a short summary for each partner on our Focus Groups, our preparation for the 112 interviews on researchers and science communication experts and a very interesting primary discussion on the outcomes of our 2nd Expert Workshop.

The impact of the POIESIS research activities and its eventual recommendations were also on the centre of attention, while the Assembly opened with a presentation of the early findings of a very interesting and big research that the CIES – Iscte team has conducted, about Integrity among Portuguese Researchers.

All 7 partners of the POIESIS Consortium (Aarhus UniversityWissenschaft im Dialog, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), Centre national de la recherche scientifique, CSIC, CIES-Iscte, National Technical University of Athens) left the Assembly very ambitious about the implementation of all the remaining POIESIS engagement activities and outcomes and their impact on fostering Trust In Science!

POIESIS’ 2nd Expert Workshop on Dynamics of Recovering Trust and Reputation after a Crisis (WP1)

On the eve of the last General Assembly in Lisbon, on the 21st and 22nd February 2024, the LSE and WiD POIESIS members organised the second POIESIS expert workshop, this time with a focus on dynamics of recovering public trust and reputation after a crisis in different contexts.

To discuss why public trust is actually important in real life scenarios and how to rebuild it after a scandal or another kind of internal crisis, the workshop brought together six international experts with academic and corporate backgrounds and POIESIS members from different institutions. For two half days, they discussed national and international case studies each of the experts presented. The case studies ranged from crises in private companies to public universities and inspired interesting comparisons of different dynamics and mechanisms of crisis management and communication.

Discussions were lively and fruitful and will not only inspire further reflections for the work of POIESIS but also certainly lead to a common publication led by the POIESIS team.