Co-creation, Collaboration, Community: The InSPIRES Kick-Off Meeting

Ana Ferreira Cirigliano – Huacareta, Chuquisaca, Bolivia, May 2016: The community meeting has been extended until the evening. An assistant tries to find out about the topics that are discussed inside the enlightened room.

The words projected on the wall were big, and getting bigger. A few minutes earlier, we had been asked to think about the topic “Science Shops 2.0

Co-creation. Collaboration. Community. The words projected on the wall were big, and getting bigger. Innovation. Change. A few minutes earlier, we had been asked to think about the topic “Science Shops 2.0”. Work networks. Interactive, inclusive processes. Gradually, we developed a definition. Commitment. Digital project. As the words were fed into an interactive presentation program, the concepts that received the most votes started expanding to take up more and more space. Democratisation of science. Impact. Dynamic activities like this one, led by Marjolein Zweekhorst (Athena Institute, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam), were the order of the day at the kick-off meeting of Ingenious Science shops to promote Participatory Innovation, Research and Equity in Science (InSPIRES). 

InSPIRES is a multidisciplinary research project that brings together scientists and the public to tailor research to social needs. The kick-off meeting, held on 9-12 May 2017 at CaixaForum in Barcelona, was attended by representatives of the project’s Advisory Board: Colombe Warin (Project Advisor, European Commission), Maria Karamitrou (Policy Officer, European Commission), Itziar de Lecuona (UNESCO Chair in Bioethics, University of Barcelona), Gerard Straver (Science Shops Manager, Wageningen University) and Belén Perat (”la Caixa” Foundation).

The meeting was the first opportunity for the InSPIRES team to get to work on the project and participate in team-building exercises. In addition to the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), which is coordinating the project, the team includes the Environmental Social Science Research Group (Hungary), Université de Lyon (France), Athena Institute–Vrije Universiteit (Netherlands), Università degli Studi di Firenze (Italy), IrsiCaixa (Spain), Institut Pasteur de Tunis (Tunisia), and Ciencia y Estudios Aplicados para el Desarrollo en Salud y Medio Ambiente (Bolivia).

The first science shops were set up 40 years ago by universities in the Netherlands to carry out scientific research prompted by questions asked by citizens and civil society. The model has largely been developed by members of the Living Knowledge Network, who are based in 21 different European countries. InSPIRES has received funding from Horizon 2020, the European Union’s research and innovation programme, on the strength of its proposal to “build effective cooperation between science and society by supporting the growth of Science Shops and furthering the expansion of responsible participatory research and innovation in Europe and abroad in order to tackle key societal challenges that affect the world population”.

A Collaborative Dinner

While some guests sautéed vegetables for the paella, Advisory Board members followed a chef’s instructions to prepare romesco sauce. Doctors learned to flip a Spanish omelette, and researchers learned how to caramelise the sugar on a crema catalana. A normal dinner just wouldn’t be right for InSPIRES. The experience was conceived as an exercise in participative collaboration in the kitchen of a specially equipped restaurant in Barcelona’s Ciutat Vella.

From one cooking project we moved on to another. InSPIRES is also a project being prepared step by

step involving collaboration, patience and creativity at every stage. Over the course of three days, InSPIRES’s principal investigator (María Jesús Pinazo of ISGlobal and Hospital Clínic de Barcelona) and project manager (Anne-Sophie Gresle of ISGlobal) facilitated a discussion that allowed the group to confirm or redirect the project’s various proposals.

A Role-Play Activity to Foster Commitment

In this activity, a group of participants were asked to use their imagination: “Let’s pretend you’re an association of families in Bolivia affected by Chagas disease.” Turning to one member of the group, the trainer said, “You’re the president of the association.” He then continued around the room: “You’re a political activist who is tired of scientists approaching one underprivileged group after another, only to disappear after publishing a paper about them. And you’re a relative of a patient who needs a pacemaker but can’t afford it. And you’re a practitioner who has been working with the association.” Then, turning to the rest of the participants, he said: “Okay, scientists, what do you have to say to these people?”

The trainer, Davy Lorans (University of Lyon), has been with the project since its inception. By exposing us to this sort of situation, he helped create an open, empathetic mindset as we started building the project.

Much work lies ahead. How can we reach vulnerable groups who do not recognise themselves as such? Can we co-create a research process working together with these groups? How can we successfully spread the reflections prompted by these methodologies throughout the scientific community? These questions—and others—are commitments on the InSPIRES agenda. 

InSPIRES receives funding from Horizon 2020, the European Union’s research and innovation programme (project number: 741677). This article reflects the author’s point of view. The European Commission is not responsible for its content.