OECD Science and Technology Policy Ministerial

Parallel break-out session A

Apr 24, 2024 | 9:45 AM - 11:00 AM



How to engage society in science, technology, and innovation for green and just transitions.
Key issues

Far-reaching transition policies and technological shifts require diverse inputs, widespread acceptance, and legitimacy, for which reason many actors in society should be engaged in science, technology, and innovation (STI) processes and policies. Stakeholders across society possess diverse and unique sources of knowledge that can help to inform the choices of researchers and policymakers, and better understand the possible repercussions of policy decisions. Indeed, in some spheres, so-called ‘collective intelligence’ has been shown to outperform other forms of knowledge generation. In addition, the value of citizen science has long been recognised in environmental and health research. and transdisciplinary research that engages different societal actors and disciplines can make an important contribution to solving complex societal challenges. Widespread engagement can also help identify the needs of different social groups, including those otherwise underrepresented in science, innovation, and policy spaces. 

Engaging society is also essential to counter the documented erosion of trust in traditional authorities among certain groups in society. The erosion of public trust in institutions has been precipitated, at least in part, by the impacts of social media, where research shows that false information circulates more rapidly than true information. Trust in government is lower among individuals in certain socio-economic groups, such as those experiencing greater financial instability, an issue of concern if transitions cause some groups to experience greater precarity. While scientists globally remain one of, if not the most, trusted groups in society, national surveys indicate that this is not universal and is sensitive to demographic characteristics and political affiliation. Specific concerns about trust in science came to the fore during the COVID-19 pandemic and have been heightened by the emergence and spread of disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI). 

Transparent and inclusive engagement practices are needed to increase the legitimacy of policy decisions. Clearly insufficient today is the historically prevalent one-way communication model whereby information flows from policymakers and scientists to the public without sufficient opportunity for feedback or dialogue. A significant share of the population across countries, from 64% in China to 35% in Japan, believe that scientists do not know how to communicate well to the public (Edelman, 2024). In response, there is increasing recognition that scientists and policymakers require different approaches to communicate scientific results and evidence-based policy decisions to the public. Digital technologies provide opportunities to engage with stakeholders from across society in new ways but can also accentuate divides. Broad inter-disciplinary approaches, where scholars in the humanities, sociology and other social sciences collaborate with researchers in natural sciences can also help to develop and implement technologies in human-centric ways. 

Engaging society in STI involves several challenges. Policymakers often lack sufficient time and resources to develop, implement, and evaluate engagement initiatives to ensure they are fit-for-purpose and context-sensitive. Important disparities and deficiencies exist in knowledge and awareness of STI on the side of the public, and policymakers and scientists do not always appreciate public concerns and interests. Institutional incentives also limit motivation for outreach among many scientists. Such deficits can hamper public communication, as well as efforts to increase engagement. For example, at the height of the COVID crisis, a lack of understanding of basic concepts of probability increased susceptibility to misinformation about vaccines among some members of the public. In addition, attention-based business models associated with the news and social media industry can incentivise biased or polarising coverage of STI.