Print

Print


                          Loka Alert 2-5 (March 31, 1995), Part 1
 
PLEASE POST WIDELY (where appropriate)
 
You are welcome to reproduce this Loka Alert in its entirety.
Exception: commercial reproduction requires prior permission from
the author.
 
                    RESEARCH FOR COMMUNITIES
                          Let's Do It!
 
               Copyright 1995 by Richard E. Sclove
 
 
Friends and Colleagues:
 
     The United States' research system is dominated by private
corporations, research universities, and a network of more than
700 national laboratories--all operating on an annual budget of
$150 billion.  This system is preoccupied overwhelmingly with
conducting research on behalf of the military, private
enterprise, and the federal government or else in pursuit of the
scientific community's own intellectual interests.  Taxpayers and
consumers foot the bill and experience the consequences, yet very
little research is conducted directly on behalf of citizens or
communities.
 
     This memo reproduces a short opinion essay that I have just
published in _The Chronicle of Higher Education_, calling for
creating a national network of community research centers
(modeled partly on the successful European "science shop"
system).  The essay focuses especially on universities--because
that is the Chronicle's focus--but ideally the proposed network
would incorporate the combined capabilities of colleges and
universities, national laboratories, nonprofit research
organizations, and agricultural and manufacturing extension
centers.  Indeed, over time such a network might ideally become
the decentralized, democratic core of an authentic, post-Cold War
national laboratory system.  (This broader vision is sketched in
my forthcoming book: Richard E. Sclove, _Democracy and
Technology_ [New York: Guilford Press, Summer 1995], chap. 12.)
 
     This is an idea that is practicable even during a time of
Republican-mandated federal budget cuts, because starting a
community-research network requires neither permission nor new
funding appropriations from Congress.  Indeed, this proposal is
made more urgently necessary by federal cutbacks, because
communities, workers, and public-interest groups are going to
need all the help they can get during the pending regime of
fiscal austerity and pared-back environmental protection and
social welfare programs.
 
     Even casual mention of the proposal to evolve a nationwide
community research system has elicited strong expressions of
interest in participating, including from leaders or staff
members at the National Center for Economic Conversion and
Disarmament, the Center for Neighborhood Technology (Chicago),
Appalachia Science in the Public Interest, the Massachusetts
Public Interest Research Group, Project South, as well as
professors or administrators at a number of universities.
 
     TO HELP MAKE THIS VISION A REALITY, contact the Loka
Institute ([log in to unmask]) or Prof. Patrick Hamlett, Chairman
of the Loka Institute's National Committee on Community Research
Centers ([log in to unmask]).  When getting in touch, kindly tell
us your name, title (if any--e.g., staff member, student,
director, professor, etc.), institutional affiliation, address,
phone, fax, and e-mail address.  If interest is significant, we
will establish an Internet listserve through which we can all
learn from one another and coordinate our efforts.  We can also
help you identify others in your vicinity who are interested in
trying to establish a local community research center.  (IF THIS
ISN'T SOMETHING YOU HAVE TIME TO WORK ON, PLEASE PASS THIS ALERT
ON TO SOMEONE WHO WILL.)  Thanks!
 
--Dick Sclove
  Executive Director, The Loka Institute, P.O. Box 355,
       Amherst, MA 01004-0355, USA
  Tel. (413) 253-2828; Fax (413) 253-4942
  E-mail: [log in to unmask]
 
     Note: This is one in an occasional series of postings on
democratic politics of science and technology from the Loka
Institute.  To be added to, or removed from, the Loka list,
please send an e-mail message to that effect to:
[log in to unmask]
 
*****************************************************************
 
From _The Chronicle of Higher Education_, vol. 41, no. 29 (March
31, 1995), pp. B1-B3:
 
             PUTTING SCIENCE TO WORK IN COMMUNITIES
 
                      By Richard E. Sclove
 
     A group of universities has devised a secret weapon to
stimulate student learning and at the same time address urgent
social problems.  Their method is low cost, popular on and off
campus, easily adapted to diverse local circumstances--and it
doesn't increase faculty work loads.  It has been working now for
two decades.  Why is it still a secret?  Probably because the
universities in question are in the Netherlands.  The idea,
however, is eminently suited to the United States.
 
     Dutch universities have established a network of 50 public
"science shops" that conduct, coordinate, and summarize research
on social and technological issues in response to specific
questions and concerns posed by community groups, public-interest
organizations, local governments, and workers.  Each shop's paid
staff members and student interns screen questions and refer
challenging problems to university faculty members and students.
The shops provide answers to several thousand inquiries per year.
 
     The shops developed independently in the late 1970's, when
small teams of interested professors and students began
volunteering their time; as a result, they vary widely in
structure, financing, and operational procedures.  During the
shops' formative years, faculty generally performed the research,
but now graduate and undergraduate students do much of the work,
under faculty supervision.  (A few shops have the staff to
conduct original research in-house, sometimes with the aid of
recent university graduates.)
 
     The students who participate frequently receive university
credit, in some cases turning their investigations into graduate
theses or adjusting their career plans to reflect a newfound
sensitivity to social problems.  Because students are doing
research and writing papers, and faculty are supervising and
evaluating their work, both groups are doing what they would be
doing as part of their regular workloads; thus the extra cost and
time are minimal.  The difference is that project results aren't
simply filed away and forgotten.  Instead, they help people in
the real world address important social problems.
 
     For a question to be accepted by a science shop, the
inquiring group must show that it lacks the resources to pay for
research, is not commercially motivated, and will be able to use
the research results productively.  Some shops also accept
socially relevant inquiries from organizations--such as national
environmental groups or local governments--that are able to
contribute to the cost of research.  However, the shops do not
pursue questions posed by individuals, thus avoiding
idiosyncratic concerns unlikely to have broader societal
relevance.
 
     Over time, many of the science shops have specialized in
different areas of research and now direct clients to the center
best suited to address their concerns.  Today, each of the
Netherlands' 13 universities has between one and 10 science
shops.
 
     The system has, among other things, helped environmentalists
to analyze industrial pollutants, workers to evaluate the safety
and employment consequences of new production processes, and
social workers to improve their understanding of disaffected
teenagers.  One science shop conducted a study for Amnesty
International to discover whether publishing graphic photographs
of victims of political torture would stimulate or repel
donations.  Another assessed the market potential for a proposed
women's radio station.
 
     In 1990, Amsterdam University's "chemistry shop" branched
out to undertake a study of air contamination on behalf of
environmentalists in the severely polluted city of Dorog,
Hungary.  About 5 percent of the questions are posed by Dutch
organizations that focus on the problems confronting developing
nations.  (As these examples suggest, the questions addressed by
the Dutch shops are as apt to involve knowledge and methodologies
from the social sciences and humanities as from the natural
sciences or engineering.)
 
     Research projects generally result in a printed report, a
summary in the shop's newsletter, and a press release.  The
resulting media coverage, in turn, has benefited universities.
As a result of their work with science shops, some professors
have conducted follow-up research projects, published scholarly
articles on new topics, developed innovative research methods,
forged new interdisciplinary collaborations, and modified the
courses they teach.  Through the shops, the Dutch university
system now serves society more directly, and, inspired by the
Dutch model, science shops have been created in other European
nations, including Austria and Germany.
 
     The time is ripe to try something similar in the United
States.  The end of the Cold War, which for decades dominated
American research, presents an opportunity to think creatively
about reorganizing the national research system to better serve
contemporary social priorities.  Establishing a U.S. network of
community research centers--adapted from the Dutch model--would
represent one constructive approach.
 
     Such a network would help university research become more
socially responsive.  During a time of Republican-mandated budget
cuts in federal programs addressing social and environmental
problems, the new centers would provide community groups, local
governments, and non-profit organizations with some of the
support they will need to help take up the slack.  By engaging
the talent and idealism of youth in social service, the centers
also would help universities fulfill their responsibility to
educate students for citizenship.
 
     Furthermore, community research centers would provide a
healthy counterweight to professors' deepening research ties to
industry, which are encouraged by both fiscal duress and
government policy.  Having community organizations and
public-interest groups as "clients" for their own or their
students' research would help faculty members maintain a balanced
perspective about both the beneficial and adverse social
repercussions of science and technology.  Universities, for their
part, would be likely to discover that more directly serving
communities is an excellent way to deepen popular support for
higher education.
 
     Above all, the nation as a whole would benefit from the
constructive use of what is now a colossally underutilized
resource: the vast pool of faculty-supervised college and
university students, whose budding research abilities could be
harnessed to aid communities at very low cost.
 
     The budget for a typical Dutch science shop is modest; the
small staff is normally paid out of the university's general
budget, supplemented by government and foundation grants or the
fees paid by client groups that have financial resources.  In
this country, foundation and federal programs also could help
support the activities of community research centers.  For
example, the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Policy,
Planning, and Evaluation has a state-and-local-outreach program,
and the social sciences division at the National Science
Foundation has several programs that can support community-based
research projects examining issues in science, technology, and
democracy.  Universities could contribute directly by granting
interested faculty members short periods of release time to help
start a community research center.
 
     Depending on local needs and funds available, community
research centers could perform a variety of useful functions.
Some might contribute to regional planning for defense conversion
or for environmentally sustainable economic development.  Others
might organize community forums on public policy or help citizens
participate in public- or private-sector research-and-development
projects.
 
     Encouraging members of the groups asking the questions to
collaborate in research projects can help insure that their
creativity and concerns are integrated into the process.
Including them also can help minimize costs.  For instance, some
U.S. communities, concerned about the risks of exposure to
chemical or radioactive wastes, have teamed with scientists to
conduct their own epidemiological studies.  Using community
volunteers to help administer surveys or to conduct environmental
sampling can dramatically reduce direct research costs.
 
     The impetus for a U.S. network of community research centers
could, in principle, come from any level of government.  But
individual universities--indeed, individual faculty members and
students--can help begin one on their own.  Some university
models already exist.  The School for Workers, sponsored by the
extension division of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, is
advising the national labor-management committee of the
custom-woodworking industry on ways to include workers in
designing and applying computer-aided production methods.  The
aim is to enhance productivity without compromising workers'
skills, wages, or safety.  Universities could alert potential
clients to their centers' existence by including representatives
from those groups on the centers' governing or advisory boards.
 
     To promote the idea of community research centers, the Loka
Institute, a public-affairs research-and-advocacy group concerned
with the social effects of science and technology, has begun
forming an interuniversity committee.  It is headed by Patrick
Hamlett, director of the Program on Science, Technology, and
Society at North Carolina State University.  The committee
already includes experienced staff members from several Dutch
science shops, who, using the Internet, are prepared to share
their expertise in organizing successful centers.
 
     While universities' resources and responsibilities position
them as obvious locations for such research centers, other
institutions also could become partners.  For instance,
Tennessee's non-profit Highlander Research and Education Center
has a track record of involving citizens in research on local
environmental issues and on the social consequences of regional
dependence on military spending.  Similarly, a group of
scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory is currently
investigating methods for reclaiming Brooklyn's severely polluted
Gowanus Canal and returning the surrounding area to productive
economic use.  Federal laboratories could address such concerns
systematically by establishing their own community research
centers.
 
     Clearly a vast range of groups and organizations could
benefit from the assistance provided by a network of
university-based community research centers.  Why prolong the
Europeans' monopoly on such a practical and inspired idea?
___________________________
 
     Richard E. Sclove is the executive director of the Loka
Institute, P.O. Box 355, Amherst, MA 01004 USA; Tel. +413
253-2828; Fax +413 253-4942; E-mail ([log in to unmask]).  Readers
interested in helping to establish community research centers
should contact the Loka Institute or Patrick Hamlett (Chairman of
the Loka Institute's National Committee on Community Research
Centers; Tel. +919 515-7999, Fax +919 515-1828, E-mail:
[log in to unmask]).
 
     This article is adapted from Dr. Sclove's forthcoming book,
_Democracy and Technology_ (New York: Guilford Press, Summer
1995).  The book can be ordered in paperback for U.S. $18.95
(plus shipping cost) from Guilford Publications, 72 Spring St.,
New York, NY 10012, USA; Tel. +(212) 431-9800; Tel. toll free
(800) 365-7006; Fax +(212) 966-6708.
 
*****************************************************************
 
     Note to Loka Alert readers: If you are already involved in
conducting or facilitating community-oriented research, we'd like
to hear about it (contact [log in to unmask] or
[log in to unmask]).  Let us know also if you would like to be
networked with other existing or aspiring community-research
efforts.
 
     This is the first part of a two-part alert.  Part 2 includes
a list of bibliographic references about community research and
some elaborating notes--about 4 pages total.  If you aren't
interested in these additional materials, simply delete the
second post.  If you receive only the first post, you can request
Part 2 from Patrick Hamlett ([log in to unmask]).  If demand is
sufficient, we will produce a manual of further information about
science shops, including reprints of some useful published and
unpublished articles.  Please let Patrick Hamlett know if you
would be interested in purchasing such a manual.
 
     People with World Wide Web access can access the Loka
Institute's Science Shop home page at URL:
http:\\www2.ncsu.edu\unity\users\p\pwhmds\scishop.html  (This new
home page should be up and ready within a few days of this
posting--3/31/95).
 
     Traffic on the Loka Institute e-mail list (Loka-L)--which
distributes Loka Alerts as a one-way news-and-opinion
distribution service--is intentionally kept low (an average of
one message every 3 or 4 weeks), to protect overbusy people from
unwanted clutter.  To be added to, or removed from, the Loka
list, please send an e-mail message to that effect to:
[log in to unmask]
 
     Embarrassing admission:  The Loka Institute lost some
computer files last week, including about 20 administrative
requests regarding subscriptions from the Loka list.  If you made
a request during the period March 20-24, 1995 that has not been
honored, please accept my apologies and send your request again
to: [log in to unmask]
 
     To participate more actively in promoting a democratic
politics of science and technology--or to communicate directly
with others on the Loka list--please join the Federation of
Activists on Science & Technology Network (FASTnet).  Just send
an e-mail message to:
 
     [log in to unmask]
 
Leave the subject line blank.  The text of your message should
read:
 
     subscribe FASTnet
 
 
     You will receive an automated reply giving more details.
FASTnet IS NOW A MODERATED DISCUSSION LIST, which protects
subscribers from receiving posts inappropriate to the list's
purpose.
 
     FASTnet, Loka Alerts, promoting community research centers,
etc. are activities of the Loka Institute's broader Technology &
Democracy Project, which advocates a strong grassroots, worker,
and public-interest group voice in science and technology
decisionmaking.  The project is made possible through the
generosity of individual donors as well as grants from nonprofit
foundations, including the Foundation for Deep Ecology, the John
D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Menemsha Fund, and
Rockefeller Family Associates.  FOR INFORMATION ON CONTRIBUTING--
and, believe me, contributions are essential to being able to
continue and extend this work--please contact me (Dick Sclove) at
the Loka Institute (e-mail: [log in to unmask]).
 
     There are currently 990 people and organizations worldwide
on the Loka e-mail list (plus others reading via the Institute
for Global Communications' electronic conference loka.alerts, via
repostings to other electronic lists, and via authorized
republication in various newsletters and magazines).
 
     My apologies for the multiple copies of this post that you
may have received through cross-listings.