From Science in Society to Society in Science

In the post-World War II period, two different paradigms have characterised the debate on science and society. One is about division of labour and separation between science and society, and the importance of maintaining them. The other is about interaction and societal dialogue, and prerequisites for stimulating them. Interactions, with the associated complexities and dynamics, are perspectives that have been particularly prominent in the European debates on science, technology and society for the past 20 years. Paradoxically, the germs of the interaction paradigm featured more strongly in the Norwegian societal debate of the 1960s and '70s than in the rest of Europe.

The Nordic model of governance

Research plays an increasingly larger part in everything surrounding us. However, there is little awareness in the public debate of the fact that this may also apply to what we perceive as grand societal challenges. We have a long tradition in the Nordic countries regarding science and technology as neutral instruments, or "clean power", for fulfilling political goals in different sectors of society. Separation and division of labour characterise the relationship between science and politics in what Kjell Eide (1996) called "the Nordic model of governance".

The relationship between science and society is not addressed to any extent in the Nordic studies of power and democracy. "The retreat of politics" from the established political institutions was diagnosed in the latest round of power studies (1998 – 2003). Power and politics are associated with law, the media, economics and business. But not with science, technology and innovation. This does not necessarily mean that the research system in Norway makes only modest contributions to political and societal development compared with other countries. But the fact that studies of power and politics tend not to discuss this, may imply a lack of understanding of the interplay between science and society and the challenges this presents.

However, the climate crisis and the financial crisis are beginning to feature in the Norwegian public debate, and this may prepare the ground for a different, more complex understanding of the relationship between science and society. For example, in an article in the Norwegian daily Aftenposten on 23 January 2008, on the relationship between climate and knowledge:

The connection between climate and knowledge is deep and alarming. The climate appears to be changing because knowledge and technology have undergone explosive development over the past two centuries. In the course of this period, science, technology and industry have ensured growth in prosperity and improved living conditions. As long as money, oil and health continued to flow in without visible problems, there was no reason to make them the subject of extensive political debate, either. There was debate, but it was primarily in the form of questions about distribution (Strand and Rommetveit 2008).

We have recently heard the Minister for Education and Research describe the climate and financial crisis as two events exposing our established knowledge as not good enough. It is important to stress that this neither mean that science and technology are regarded as the cause of climate, environmental, developmental and financial crises, nor that science and technology alone can "save the world". The point is that science seldom stands out in the singular these days, it can neither be studied nor developed in isolation. Science works together with or intertwined into other societal, cultural and historical factors. Frequently used terms are "co-evolution" and "co-production of science and society" (Nowotny et al. 2001, Jasanoff 2004). This interweaving makes governance structures based on conceptions of separation and a clear division of labour between science and socity, such as in the Nordic model, rather unproductive. We need a better grasp of the complexities and dynamics in the interaction between science and society. This is a precondition for the development of new governance styles, new institutions as well as solutions to the grand societal challenges of our times.

It is the so-called technosciences; information and communication technology, biotechnology and gene technology, together with materials technology, that most clearly call into question and erode the boundaries between science and society. These hyphenated technologies are characterised by a reverse logic, in that the knowledge has to be used in order to be tested (Beck 1996). In other words, the time and space between the production of knowledge and its application vanish. The technosciences can have relatively direct reality-shaping effects. Not only new understandings and maps are being produced, the terrain is changing: "Areas such as information technology, biotechnology and materials technology, demonstrate quite clearly that we are moving at full speed towards a society in which production technology builds directly on scientific research: a research-dependent society." (Sejersted 1989). The technosciences can thus provide a template for a change in our understanding of the relationship between science and society, given that the invasive aspects of the sciences come into focus is (Tranøy 1986/1991). Reproduction technology, from in-vitro fertilisation to cloning, is a classic example, while synthetic biology is a more recent illustration.

The critique of positivism and its impotence

It is not the first time that the duality of the scientific project has been pointed out. It received a great deal of attention in the 1960s and '70s, with the "participant-observer" distinction of the 1950s as a central enigma (Skjervheim 1976). Science and technology not only serve to integrate societal development; they are also already integrated in societal development. In the wake of post-positivism we got studies in sociology of science, history of science, anthropology of knowledge and politics of research. These relatively new "externalist" approaches have placed science in the wider societal contexts, but have been less successful in getting to grips with what is regarded as the internal aspects of science. This applies both to science as a cognitive field (Bärmark 1984, Elzinga 1986, Oden 1989), and to science as practice and culture (Wittrock 1989). Evelyn Fox Keller (1985) sums up the situation as follows: "Yet, while our sensitivity to the influences of social and political forces certainly has grown, our understanding of their actual impact on the production of scientific theory has not."

The ambition of the post-positivists of the 1960s and '70s has not ushered in new and different, more societally robust research (Gregersen and Køppe 1985, Kjørup 1985, Håkanson 1988). In Vitenskapen og vår hverdag [Science and everyday life], John Lundstøl (1977) discusses how the "internal relations between the development of science and politics" slipped out of focus, and thus disclosed a distinctive Norwegian feature: "This can in large part be attributed to the popular movement against Norwegian membership of the European Common Market which apparently strengthened the basis for direct political action."

From contract to dialogue

At the end of the 1980s, the Grøholt Committee, which drew up proposals for new governance structures regarding science, pointed out the need for a new contract between science and society. The breakdown of the old "societal contract", based on separation and division of labour between science and society, had resulted in loss of clarity. The committee argued for a new negotiation process and called attention to a number of the topics that have since characterised the international debate (NOU 1991:24). Today it is maintained that the time for thinking in terms of contracts is past (Guston 2000). Instead, it is argued that closer interplay and more interaction between science and society are necessary to foster "collaborative assurance". The legitimacy of, confidence in and "societal capital" of science must be recreated and constantly earned through various kinds of collaboration.

At the international level, discussions, experiments and development work regarding the relationship between science and society were intense in the 2000s. The temperature of the discussions indicates that fundamental investments – institutional as well as individual – are being shaken up. We are not merely going to have to learn something new that can be added to the knowledge basis forming the background against which we operate; this is about a paradigm shift with respect to basic understanding of the relationship between science and society. This shift is linked to a breakdown in so-called linear forms of understanding (Gibbons et al. 1994): First comes basic science, then applied science, and finally the product or action out there in society. This linear model or form of understanding postulates a separation between science and society making it possible to think in terms of division of labour between science and politics. The model also invites thinking about regulation and governance of the relationship between science and society in contractual terms, reference can (still) be made to various white papers on research.

Society in Science

Helga Nowotny, a central figure in EU research policy and head of the European Research Advisory Board (EURAB) for many years, has long insisted (Nowotny et al., 2001) that there is a high degree of reciprocity in the relationship between science and society. She has also argued that greater transparency concerning research and technological processes is needed (Nowotny 2005). It is no longer enough to promote channeling the results of science into society. Nowotny asserts that the research systems must open up. In particular, she stresses, it is essential to impart uncertainties, contradictions and contingencies; everything that cannot be guaranteed as "scientifically" verified and which therefore creates a problem for the perception of science as based on neutral and in part "objective" knowledge processes. It is necessary to develop a new kind of more mature partnership, Nowotny (2005) maintains, and this can only happen if research and technological development processes are made more transparent:

"Science can no longer expect unconditional support on the part of society for whatever it wants to do, nor unconditional acceptance of its authority. Society will have to become more involved in understanding better how research actually functions and why it is important" (my italics).

The same tendency is apparent in the UK, one of the foremost countries in Europe with regard to developing the societal dialogue. In the wake of the scandals surrounding Mad Cow Disease in the 1990s, great emphasis was placed on moving away from the so-called deficit model, in which a classic (public) enlightenment model prevailed. The informative and explanatory monologue from science should be replaced by dialogue. Following a period when emphasis was placed on developing various dialogue mechanisms, such as citizens' juries, stakeholder dialogues, consensus conferences and focus groups, to "help society to talk back to science", the focus is increasingly on the actual science and technology processes in a broad sense (Demos 2004). This move is often described as "upstream", and Demos (2005) expresses the challenges as follows in the report The Public Value of Science:

"Those who see upstream engagement as a means of providing earlier and better predictions of risks and impacts are missing the point. It is not a matter of asking people, with whatever limited information they have at their disposal, to say what they think the effects of ill-defined innovations might be. Rather, it is about moving away from models of prediction and control, which are in any case likely to be flummoxed by the unpredictability of innovation, towards a richer public discussion about the visions, ends and purposes of science. The aim is to broaden the kinds of social influence that shape science and technology, and hold them to account."

Upstream engagement is primarily about the reflexivity of the science and technology systems. A constructive societal dialogue presupposes that researchers are capable of opening up research processes as well as acknowledging the limits of their knowledge. In this way, the issue of governance becomes a question of whether the choices made in research and the premises for making choices are open to scrutiny and participation (Kallerud 1992). One of the main challenges in the struggle to develop the interplay between research and society concerns the research community's ability to make it possible and interesting for other key societal actors to become involved and engaged. Thus, developing the societal dialogue calls for major changes in expert systems generally and the research system in particular (Jasanoff 2003). One central precept relates to "bringing out the citizen in the scientist". In the preface to Sue Weldon's Public Engagement in Genetics (2004), Brian Wynne stresses how this challenge is developing:

"The only-recently recognised challenges of two-way understanding between science and its publics, replacing one way of understanding of science, are in their very earliest days. This is emphatically a long haul, of nurturing not merely policy shifts (valuable though they may be), but profound cultural change in such science fields, their policy and technological uses, and the assumption underpinning them. ...The bottom-line issue in the new climate of "public engagement" is not just seeking earnestly for 'public inputs' – preferences, values or knowledge. It is being encouraged, by public dialogues and questions among other things, to question the validity of our own scientific-institutional taken-for-granted assumptions and routines."

If science affects society more directly, it will be necessary to develop the legitimacy and responsibility of research on a broader base than by references to the fact that public grants for research are deployed and distributed through institutions and methods that ensure stringent internal quality requirements and professional ethics norms. The book Re-Thinking Science: Knowledge and the Public in an Age of Uncertainty (Nowotny et al. 2001) summarises the international debate on the consequences of the breakdown in contract-thinking and points out that societal dialogue is, of necessity, a continuing process:

"That the authority of science in the future will have to be established in an ongoing process that needs to be worked out again and again in each concrete situation is the meaning of the somewhat aphoristic title of this final chapter of the book, that re-thinking science is not science re-thought."

From science to learning

The metaphor of interplay represents an argument that closer interaction with the surrounding world will result in superior, more "robust" science. This is a claim that many researchers still find provocative. How far into research does the interaction arena extend, and what should interaction be concerned with? Relevance, quality, or perhaps both? Collaboration in more horizontal partnerships is a challenge for expert systems more generally. Perhaps this challenge is particularly huge for academia, which has to abandon its assumed neutrality and objectivity in order to create a new role as a visible, distinct societal actor. Developing a role as an interacting partner appears to require humility and a focus on one's own limitations that some find difficult (Jasanoff, 2003; EC 2007). It can in many ways be described as counter-intuitive for the research system to move away from a mastery and control mode and to open up its processes to greater scrutiny and participation from other societal actors.

In the 2000s, debate and experiments on other forms of and approaches to governance increased. The conditions for enabling more horizontal forms of governance to emerge are discussed under the heading Science-Technology-Innovation Governance (STI Governance). This is bringing research institutions close to playing a political part, and it is a prerequisite for constructive development of more horizontal forms of governance that this is recognised: "...the systemic nature of research, which among other things implies a rapprochement between governance and management of research and innovation on the one hand and policy and politics on the other", according to Arne Eriksson (2005), commenting on a study by Technopolis on governance challenges.

The approach to the governance of open, dynamic systems represented by the action learning and action research tradition is highlighted in a recent report by the EU Commission, Taking European Knowledge Society Seriously: Report of the Expert Group on Science and Governance (EC 2007). This tradition is also presented as relevant to the work on science and technology evaluation, for example, Christoph Mandl's "Evaluating Evaluations or the Case for Action Research" in Plattform fteval/Newsletter June 2007, entitled Excellence: to pick or to foster? These discussions indicate the need for science to double as learning processes. Emphasis is placed on the importance of being aware of the need to balance different types of knowledge involved in developing the interplay between research and society productively. In particular, synthesis and figuration signify forms of knowledge that are fundamental for inspiring (self)-leadership and learning in horizontal interaction (Eriksson 2005). The analytical knowledge valued by technocratic rationality does not function in relation to the complexity and rate of change which in most areas condition our collaborative processes today. Francis Sejersted (1991) formulated it as follows in the article "Er det mulig å styre utviklingen?" [Is it possible to steer development?]

"Thus we need a technology politics, in the real sense of the word. And politics in this sense does not only mean adequate funding to realise consensual objectives. What is required is that we work[B1] , through public reasoning, on our mutual understanding, our symbols and our dreams, and that we provide scope for expressive action as well as instrumental action."

A situation with increasingly open systems for knowledge production requires a focus on the direct reality-producing effects of research – its "context of implication" (Nowotny et al., 2001). Or as Donna Haraway (1997) puts it: "The relations of democracy and knowledge are up for materialized refiguring at every level of the onion of doing technoscience, not just after all the serious epistemological action is over". Neither sustainability nor any other values we might want to realise can be safeguarded retrospectively. It is such developmental trends that promted Ulrich Beck (1996) to ask whether the representative democracy is losing ground as the modern research complex develops as a political area in its own right: "Politics breaks out in a new and different way, beyond the reach of formal responsibilities and hierarchies. So we are looking for politics in the wrong place, with the wrong concepts, on the wrong floors, on the wrong pages of the daily newspapers."

Another indication that more interactive/network-oriented models are emerging, is to be found in the requirement that the ethical, legal, social and cultural dimensions and possible implications of research must be drawn to a greater degree into (techno)scientific research process (Fisher et al. 2006). In a European context, this is now being discussed in relation to the design of next generation ELSA research (where ELSA stands for Ethical, Legal, Societal Aspects of new and emerging technologies). At present, the societal aspects of this research are being discussed as though they apply primarily to the application phase,that is "downstream". To the extent that such issues also have to be handled by and in the knowledge-producing institutions themselves, in collaboration with other societal actors, this will represent major challenges with regard to expertise and demand extensive capacity for change. We see, not least, how the traditional role of the scientist is challenged (Wynne, 2006). In the next phase of ELSA, emphasis is placed on fostering experiments with new governance forms in order to make the knowledge and technology development processes transparent, so that fundamental challenges associated with values, evaluations and choices can be discussed as early as possible. In the aforementioned EU Commission report of 2007 on science and governance issues, this was put on the agenda as follows:

"This institutional focus on post-innovation, 'downstream' or output questions as the only ones of interest to publics marginalises legitimate democratic concerns about inputs (such as imagined social purposes, needs, benefits and priorities) that drive innovation in the first place. An important change in governance of innovation would be strategic development of improved European institutional capacity to deliberate and resolve normative questions concerning the prior shaping of science and innovation: over their directions as well as their scale and speed" (my italics).

Learning and development work are in the process of becoming a key topic in the debate on governance challenges. The report introduces its argument for a necessary culture shift in this way:

"Our conclusion that questions have to be kept in mind as an on-going element of policy itself, while we nevertheless have to act, suggests that science and governance institutions need to learn to make a shift in policy and practices towards more inclusive, reflective and open forms of learning".

Research quality at stake?

Science-society interaction models also call for changes in the concept of quality. The ERiC project, which is a collaboration between several policy organisations in the Netherlands, is motivated by the fact that they do not know how best to identify potential for productive interaction between science and society, how to advance such interactions through the means at their disposal, or how to evaluate them (Spaapen et al. 2007). In view of this, and by keeping the questions open, the organisations create opportunities for horizontal interaction, development coalitions and (action) learning. Contributing to effective and productive interactions between science and society becomes a measure of quality (EC 2007):

"Recent discussions of Mode-2 science (Gibbons et al. 1994; Nowotny et al. 2001) has (sic) pointed out that ways of producing technoscientific knowledge already extend well beyond the classical 'independent' mode of basic science. Stronger roles of applications contexts and imaginations in the very production of knowledge, transdisciplinarity, and socially as well as epistemically extended peer-review are but a few elements which indicate much broader social involvement in how knowledge is produced and validated. This co-production of science and society changes the very meaning of notions like objectivity and rationality."

It is not (any longer) enough to interact with other societal actors in order to identify what should be researched: for example, identify topics or areas to focus on, or major societal challenges. It is also important to address challenges concerning how research processes are developed as good and productive interactions between science and society; how we develop and how we evaluate societally robust innovation processes (Voss et al. 2006). A more complex, dynamic and, not least, open understanding of the relationship between science and society requires the development of new expertise and new skills in the research system. These challenges are institutional and organisational, as well as individual.