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Background on Science Shops

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Background on Science Shops and
Community-based Research

"Community-based research" aims to empower community groups and citizens to address current and future problems by building upon the wealth of knowledge among local people who have direct experience and expertise with the problem at hand. Rather than direct the research, university or government researchers tend to facilitate or supplement research in ways that are appropriate for, and applicable to, local situations.

"Science shops" are one model of community-based research that aims to establish productive, mutually beneficial collaborations between community organisations and research institutions. Science shops were first established in the Netherlands during the 1970s. The idea was to provide a specific location at the university where citizens and community groups could link directly with researchers to help solve community-related problems. The term "science" was used in the broadest sense, including the natural and social sciences and humanities. The term "shop" was chosen to reflect the idea that the university was open to everyone, and all services provided by the original Dutch science shops were free of charge.

Today many Dutch universities have one or more science shops, and there is a growing network of international science shops . In the U.S.A., the Loka Institute has established a broad Community Research Network based on the science shops model.

Although they may differ in design and scope, most science shops function in similar ways. Community groups or citizens who are looking for assistance in answering a research-related question contact the shop directly. To date, most questions have concerned environmental issues, for example water testing, noise measurements, or interpretation of environmental assessment documents.

Depending on the nature of the request, the shops can initiate several types of activities:

  • Requests for specific information about an issue (e.g., inquiries about existing data) may be answered directly by the shop staff, or referred to another appropriate resource person.

  • For questions that cannot be answered by existing data, the science shops can help establish a new research project at the university. Often, these projects are carried out by graduate students as part of an existing research program. This arrangement can be appropriate if the community does not wish to engage directly in the research process.

  • Alternatively, the science shop's role could be to facilitate a community-led research project, where community members design and conduct a study, drawing on university researchers and their facilities, as needed.

Regardless of the process, the results of all science shops activities are openly shared with community members, and made available for future community use. Results may be also published in academic journals and other general publications. In addition, most science shops hold community workshops and seminars, and publish regular newsletters reviewing all of the shops' activities.