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Lessons learnt at the Sparks Reverse Science Café in Brussels

  • Sparks Reverse Science Café Brussels post truth RRI

The Reverse Science Café “Post-truth vs. Science Engagement” was a key engagement event for the project, ensuring that Sparks’ outcomes reached a multi-stakeholder audience at European level, but also that these stakeholders were able to have their input from a policy perspective.

It was an important milestone in the life cycle of the project to test one of Sparks’ most innovative and novel formats in a European context with the participation of European policy makers.

Watch the video of the event!

The Reverse Science Café (RSC) [1] focused on the “post-truth” environment as an approach to explore public engagement in Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI). The topic can be seen as a danger or contradictory in terms of public engagement and is therefore particularly challenging and relevant within the scope of Sparks:
Citizens should be engaged in science and scientific questions but what happens if they cannot distinguish truth from fake news and base their decisions on information from science-like, emotion-driven sources? To what extent does that undermine responsibility? How can the public be supported in understanding and distinguishing real science from science-like but fake and emotion-biased propaganda? What is the role of increasingly-popular social media? And how should RRI stakeholders take this into account?

Five key topics were addressed during the event:

  • public trust in science;
  • research-based policy-making;
  • digital literacy and critical thinking;
  • defining public engagement;
  • the role of emotions in research.

Invited experts included: Michał Boni, Member of the European Parliament (PL), Prof. Chris Rapley, Professor of Climate Science, University College London (UK), Dr. Mark Alfano, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Delft University of Technology (NL), Antonio Gomes da Costa, Scientific Adviser, Universcience (FR).


Building on experts' initial questions to the public, participants co-created and prioritised a set of recommendations.

Recommendations highlight a number of critical elements to ensure that engagement in research counters the current “post-truth” environment. The most commonly-mentioned topic across all five discussion tables was the need for the research process to open itself up to multiple stakeholders, integrating societal voices throughout, much along the lines of the RRI model that Sparks focuses on.

Most-voted recommendations give particular insight into the methods to achieve this:

  1. Training and incentives for researchers to engage with the public providing emotional incentives for lifelong learning;
  2. Teach critical thinking and source evaluation in school curriculum;
  3. Do not try to change the system as a whole but cultivate “hotspots” that will grow and spread. Invest in people that will have a multiplying effect, such as teachers and leaders.

The outcomes of the event strongly support Sparks' policy recommendations, reinforcing the importance of public engagement in scientific research and innovation.


[1] A Reverse Science Café, as defined in the Sparks Handbook, is a discussion event focused on various ethical and societal topics related to local examples of research, technologies, innovations. Unlike in a regular science café, the dialogue is initiated by experts asking questions and listening to answers from the audience. Together they work in small groups to formulate their advice on making research and innovation more responsible

Events date: 
Friday, February 23, 2018