Out of the Box – Participatory Research with People from the Region

RRI was included into the curricula of University of Vechta during summer term 2016 by Science Shop Vechta/Cloppenburg through a pilot course on participatory research with regional CSOs as partners. The course “Out of the box – Participatory research with people from the region” is an interdisciplinary optional course open for all BA and MA students and focusses on participatory student group projects with regional actors. In this course, transdisciplinary research regarding RRI-approaches and participatory research in different action fields take place. The subjects of participation and citizen science are processed in a way relevant to practice, since the students research on a question developed with the regional partners.

Students work in interdisciplinary groups, since each group consists of 4-5 students with different disciplinary backgrounds (e.g. social sciences, social work, business & ethics, geographies of rural spaces and much more), on research topics, problems and conflict areas introduced by the CSOs. They have to collaboratively develop their own research project (research question, research design, data collection and evaluation). Groups work on a different project with individual partners from practice for one semester.

Aim of the course is to show benefits of RRI for both sides – science (represented by the students) and society (represented by the partners). The participatory research project with regional partners helps students to get in touch with civil society and real societal issues. Researching for a real societal problem with a partner interested in results is very motivating for the students, who really appreciate the freedom in designing the research process and group work. Additionally they take part in a service learning activity. On the flipside, the partners from practice also benefit, since their questions are answered and research is responsible in the sense of practicing science for society. The students work on the partner’s research need and try to find answers to real societal challenges and problems.

Examples for student research projects are: food supply in everyday life for seniors, openness of rural and urban residents to new foods, attitudes on working hours of part-time workers in nursing professions, wants and needs for e-government, buying behavior on regional products, “assisted living”-institutions and their orientation on the DIN standard 77880, what do adolescents associate with the term home (“Heimat”), exercise offers for seniors in rural areas, “homeland” feelings of refugees, media reproduction of regional environmental problems and more. Some groups did qualitative research e.g. via questionnaires, others followed a qualitative approach (focus groups) or even a media analysis.

The course shows how science can tackle societal challenges even at an undergraduate level. It was developed as a part of the EnRRICH project and tries to include responsible research in the curricula of the University of Vechta by working with the Science Shop Vechta/Cloppenburg. The poster presentation aims to stimulate dialogue on service learning and RRI at HEIs.