About Science Shops

Science Shops are not “shops” in the traditional sense of the word. They are small entities that carry out scientific research in a wide range of disciplines – usually free of charge and – on behalf of citizens and local civil society. The fact that Science Shops respond to civil society’s needs for expertise and knowledge is a key element that distinguish them from other knowledge transfer mechanisms. 

A Science Shop provides independent, participatory research support in response to concerns experienced by civil society.

In addition to the demands made on research and development by commerce and industry, ‘civil society’ organisations have their own research needs. Diffusion of knowledge often focuses on communication from researchers to society, but in times of facing the great societal challenges there is a demand for communication from society to researchers. This is the concept of ‘social demand’ for knowledge. The fact that Science Shops respond to civil society’s needs for expertise and knowledge is a key element that distinguishes them from other mechanisms of knowledge transfer. Nowadays, a straightforward publication of scientific results and one-way science communication will not suffice.

Different types of interfaces exist between researchers and society, one of which are ‘Science Shops’, organisations created as mediators between citizen groups (trade unions, pressure groups, non-profit organisations, social groups, environmentalists, consumers, residents association etc.) and research institutions (universities, independent research facilities). Science Shops are important actors in community-based research (CBR). There are many differences in the way Science Shops are organised and operate, as well as some important parallels.

There is not one dominant organisational structure defining a Science Shop. How Science Shops are organised and operate is highly dependent on their context.  The term ‘science’ is used in its broadest sense, incorporating social and human sciences, as well as natural, physical, engineering and technical sciences.

Science Shops are often, but not always, linked to or based in universities, where research is done by students as part of their curriculum – under the supervision of the Science Shop and other associated (university) staff. Over the last years international interest in the Science Shop model has developed, and similar organisations have been established in a wide range of countries.

However, many actors not linked to universities – such as community-based research centres – can be seen as similar to Science Shops as they do the same type of work. Despite their different names and differences in operation and organisation, basic principles and goals are comparable. Through this type of extension and support activity, Science Shops in their cooperation attempt to create more wide-spread possibilities of access to science, knowledge and technology for social groupings that would not or could not ordinarily interact with these disciplines.

In practice, contact between a civil society organisation and a Science Shop or CBR centre starts with a problem in which the civil society organisation is seeking research support. In the following collective search for a solution new knowledge is generated, or at least existing knowledge is combined and adapted – in a striven true partnership without ‘science’ prevailing in any way. Through their local, national and international contacts, Science Shops provide a unique antenna function for society’s current and future demands on science.

As a mission statement, Science Shops seek to:

  • provide civil society with knowledge and skills through research and education;
  • provide their services on an affordable basis;
  • promote and support public access to, and public influence on, science and technology;
  • create equitable and supportive partnerships with civil society organisations;
  • enhance understanding among policymakers and education and research institutions of the research and education needs of civil society;
  • enhance the transferable skills and knowledge of students, community representatives and researchers.

A variety of other tasks are sometimes performed by Science Shops, such as regular university teaching and research, contract research, education and trainings for civil society, et cetera.