What does RRI look like at the youngest public university in Slovenia? And more specifically, in biodiversity? Find out below, where the STARBIOS2 team at University of Primorska share their experiences. Read more about it in our guideline.
The University of Primorska (UP) is the youngest public university in Slovenia. Therefore, at the beginning of the STARBIOS2 project, the connection between the university, the researchers and the local community was weak. Moreover, the concept of responsible science was not yet fully established in everyday research and academic work. There were several challenges to overcome, for example, there was no formal RRI training included in BSc and MSc programmes. There was also a lack of understanding of open access among scientists, and we did not have any official document, such as a code of conduct, covering ethically sensitive work in conservation biology.
Engagement and open access
We have focused our activities on public engagement. Through the action plan, the STARBIOS2 team was able to increase awareness of biological scientific research in the local area by organising various events. We also worked to increase the participation of different stakeholders in the activities of the faculty. The aim of our activities was to increase acceptance and make different applications of life science research more understandable for end-users and the general public. In particular, the organisation of events on the “Growing UP in the Universe” helped to strengthen the link with local actors. Indirect activities, such as meetings with stakeholders from industry, government representatives and authorities on the local and national level, international research institutions and other actors have contributed to increased awareness and recognition and provided opportunities for RRI implementation at the university, including open access publishing.
Many researchers were unaware of the importance of open access publishing. Many of them published in journals they knew well in their respective fields, without searching for additional opportunities to publish in open access journals, or deposit results in an open access repository. By organising a workshop, we were able to increase knowledge of open access strategies. Moreover, through negotiation processes at the university level, and the establishment of a working group on open access at the university, the team were able to raise awareness and argue for the establishment of a functioning repository at the university.
Action plans in action
During the four years of the STARBIOS2 project, we have conducted various workshops, lectures, training sessions and stakeholder meetings to strengthen the link between science, research, and society. We have mobilised key actors such as the Ministry of Labor, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, the university leadership, local society and representatives of the economy to help us manage institutional change. Most importantly, we have connected the university and research with the local community.
We have observed increased awareness and better recognition of our research by the increasing participation of local members of the public in our Growing UP in the Universe events. In addition, researchers have become more aware of the need for open science and open data, and their work is now publicly accessible in the university repository. We are training a new generation of researchers in conservation biology equipped with RRI-based knowledge to maintain and improve the open science concept and to further link science and society.
Our action plan was designed to be implemented in three main phases. First, at the beginning of the project, we wanted to evaluate the situation in all five RRI key areas in order to create a starting point and assess progress. Second, we designed activities for each key that were targeted at different audiences who are capable of implementing RRI and making it sustainable. In third and last phase, we aimed for institutional change and to make the action plan sustainable in the future. Each activity was aimed at achieving sustainability of the action plan by implementing RRI in daily work at the university. For example, we changed the curricula of three courses to include RRI in the formal education of students. We also promoted a university open access repository, and the university adopted a Code of conduct for biosciences.
What we learned
Our experience in the project showed us that in order for the implementation of some of the RRI keys we need to use not only a bottom-up but also a top-down approach. Strong cooperation with the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities was essential to support the sustainability of gender equality. It gave us the opportunity to establish new network connections with highly relevant actors in the country. The establishment of a network of “gender-oriented institutions in Slovenia” together with the Network Slovenian Academy for Science and Arts creates opportunities for positive changes in the future.