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.