Who participates in participatory research and innovation?


Authors: Marie Lena Heidingsfelder, Florian Schütz and Martina Schraudner

Interdisciplinary research
public engagement
participatory agenda-setting
participatory design
empirical social research

Technology and society are intertwined, mutually dependent, co-evolutive and co-constructive. Involving societal actors in the development and the design of new technologies and new “socio-technical systems” (Ropohl, 1979) is thus a fundamental task and challenge in democratic societies. The current speed of technological advancement and the transformative potential of new and emerging technologies reveal the relevance of public input and the necessity for the development of new methods of public engagement (e.g. Jørgensen et al., 2009; Loveridge and Saritas, 2009). In response, international research funding agencies have increasingly prioritised projects that promote social responsibility and encourage participation of the public in research and development (National Science Foundation, 2008; European Commission, 2011, 2013).

In this context, methods from participatory design can be used to integrate laypersons into the otherwise mainly expert-driven process of technology agenda-setting (Heidingsfelder et al., 2016) They encourage public reflection on potential ramifications of technological advances and equip social actors to fulfil a more fundamental role in the entire technology development process.

Based on these assumptions, we realized a research project – Shaping Future – that aims at fostering public engagement in research and innovation. The main purpose was to enable laypersons to articulate their needs and expectations with regard to technological advances and to utilise their input in research-planning and agenda-setting processes. The project was realised and evaluated in an interdisciplinary team of designers and social scientists and included methods and techniques from both disciplines (such as storytelling, material speculation or prototyping from design research as well as quantitative and qualitative analyses).

To address one particularly interesting aspect of democratic participation and policy innovation, our contribution will focus on the evaluation of fifty interviews with laypersons who participated in our project. What factors motivated them to bring in their perspectives? How did they experience the use of different design methods? Which requirements are important for participatory processes? And what kind of impact do they expect? To answer these questions, we conducted a qualitative content analysis (Mayring 2010) and identified different types of participants.


European Commission (EC) (2011), The Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: Horizon 2020 – The Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, Brussels.

European Commission (EC) (2013), Options for Strengthening Responsible Research and Innovation: Report of the Expert Group on the State of Art in Europe on Responsible Research and Innovation, Brussels.

Heidingsfelder, M.L., Schütz, F. and Kaiser, S. (2016), Expanding participation participatory design in technology agenda-setting, PDC 2016 Aarhus, Denmark.

Jørgensen, M.S., Jørgensen, U. and Clausen, C. (2009), The social shaping approach to technology foresight, Futures, Vol. 41 No. 2, pp. 80–86.

Loveridge, D. and Saritas, O. (2009), Reducing the democratic deficit in institutional foresight programmes: A case for critical systems thinking in nanotechnology, Technological Forecasting & Social Change, Vol. 76 No. 9, pp. 1208–1221.

Mayring, P. (2010), Qualitative Inhaltsanalyse. Grundlagen und Techniken, Beltz, Weinheim.

National Science Foundation (NSF) (2008), Broadening Participation at the National Science Foundation: A Framework for Action.

Ropohl, G. (1979), Eine Systemtheorie der Technik: Zur Grundlegung der Allgemeinen Technologie, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt a. M.

Presentation & paper

Posted Oct-2017


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Author(s) (20XX). Article title. In Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design (RSDX) 20XX Symposium. City, Country, Month X-X, 20XX.

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