First face-to-face Working Group meetings and current situation in the Western Balkan

At the first hybrid public event, the members of the Working Groups had their first face-to-face meeting, discussing important points regarding their objectives, which frame the aspects of RRI.

Jun 9, 2022

On April 7th, a hybrid public event and Working Groups meeting took place in Novi Sad, Serbia, bringing together the contracting parties. At the second part of the event, the Working Groups proceeded to some presentations raising important issues and points regarding their objectives, which frame the aspects of RRI.

  1. More specifically, the plenary of Working Group 1 (Gender and Ethics) discussed the difficulty to ensure the fostering of gender equality in organizational environments, and the “gap” that exists from theory to actual practice and implementation of gender equality initiatives. Maria Michali from the South-East European Research Centre (SEERC) talked about the efforts of the international community to deal effectively with relevant issues giving, however, prominence to the “paradox”, as she refers to, of gender issues remaining a “wicked problem” despite long-term international and EU efforts to foster gender equality. Then, gender equity issues in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and ICT (Information and Communication Technology) were raised during the second presentation of WG1 by Vera Shiko. Current status background and percentages as well as policy recommendations were given in order to decrease the gap leading to gender inequality.
  2. The plenary of Working Group 2 (Science Education and Public Engagement) discussed the interaction between the active research and innovation actors and society. More specifically, the first presenter, Dragan Stoiljkovic from the University of Novi Sad, talked about the interaction and communication between academia and the general public giving details about the challenges that science has to deal with due to disinformation. Afterwards, Nikica Mojsoska Blazhevski from Macedonia 2025 raised the issue of the crucial role of science communication regarding the engagement of women in STEM.
  3. The plenary of Working Group 3 (Open Access and Open Science) raised the issue of finding open access to data and managing them for educational and academic purposes. The first presenter, Dejan Pajić from the University of Novi Sad, indicated various open and free educational resources, accompanied by guidance on where they can be found. However, it was underlined that knowledge regarding open educational resources is insufficient and consequently edification of the pertinent actors is needed. Furthermore, Ilija Milovanović from the University of Novi Sad talked about information and data management, coming eventually to the conclusion that there is a gnostic vacuum in this domain and, therefore, a more targeted and efficient guidance, and even specific educational courses, are considered to be of great importance and should be initiated.

Overall during the meetings and drawing on relevant data collected during the WBC-RRI.NET project and providing an additional overview of the RRI situation in the WBs, the most active stakeholders in RRI are indicated to be governmental and academic actors. Although governmental actors seem to comprehend the dynamic in RRI practices and initiatives and the significant role that they can play in this specific field, their active engagement was a surprising fact. On the other hand, the latter’s engagement was anticipated considering that academic actors are more enmeshed, and ostensibly maybe more relevant, in RRI key areas. Therefore, it is important to mention that remaining types of actors of the Quadruple Helix, like Civil Society Organizations and industry, are indicated to be more engaged in the process, as well. Furthermore, the enhancement of the interaction between industrial and academic factors could be deemed of crucial importance in order to bring research and innovation to a next level, while a more active civil society will result in a larger number of more active and engaged in RRI anchor initiatives citizens.

According to WBC-RRI.NET project data and the European Commission’s country reports for 2021, some or significant progress in the area of science and research has been noticed in the Western Balkan region. However, it is underlined that there is room for more investments in the field, alignment with the policies of RRI and implementation of the relevant measures and the S3 (Smart Specialization Strategy).

In accordance with the WBC-RRI.NET data collected and the EC reports, the issues raised during the WG meeting on 7th of April depict a similar situation in the Western Balkan Countries (WBCs). As far as gender equality is concerned, it is important to understand first and foremost that it constitutes a substantial factor for the socioeconomic development and prosperity of the region. The importance of the establishment of gender equality comes from the efforts of both local and international sectors and institutions to bring about change through many action plans and strategies. However, despite those efforts and the changes in penal and labour legislation, in order to align with the EU standards, obstacles are being reported in the implementation of the measures. Among others, significant percentage difference in employment, exacerbated during Covid-19 pandemic for females, and payment between males and females and low women representation in the fields of STEM and ICT continue to occur, while improvement and decrease of gender-based violence is yet to happen.

However, the efforts that are taking place under the framework of science education in the WBs have the potential to enhance women’s engagement in STEM and ICT. WBs give remarkable emphasis in amelioration of science education with gender being a special element. There are many or enough actors that show relevance with science education, which seems to attract the most attention regarding the RRI practices followed by the key of public engagement. This environment creates a ‘fruitful ground’ for enhancing the RRI principles in the region. However, more systematic attempts are overall needed in order to raise awareness towards those RRI pillars. Significant progress should be made in the education system of all levels, especially in the higher one, while more funding in scientific research and development is needed. Whereas the EU’s recommendation regarding national funding in research and development is that at least 3% of the GDP should be allocated for scientific research, the relevant funding in the WB region stays far behind, being less than 1% of GDP (UNESCO Institute of Statistics). As far as the key of public engagement is concerned, the attempts of the WBs in this domain are expected to be fostered by the practices and initiatives of the WGs.

Open access and open science in the Western Balkan region presents limited progress and further efforts in the fields of open access and open data are deemed as necessary, to be accompanied by context-based activities in order to raise awareness of the opportunities that Horizon 2020 -and now Horizon Europe- has to offer. Infrastructures of open access in WBs could contribute to easier scientific communication and more transparent and efficient research through sharing openly and disseminating data and publications, changing the way of exchange of information and knowledge and prosecution research.

It can be finally argued that the Covid-19 pandemic potentially enhanced interaction between the quadruple helix dialogue, in order to deal with the pandemic’s repercussion and stipulate the ‘next day’; however, the challenge of a better communication and cooperation so as to bring the desired change in society and to deeply understand the latter’s necessities is still there. Thus, increasing funding in the field of research and development and systematic efforts for the implementation of the relevant principles will help the WB region to recover and grow both financially considering the adhesion of innovation with the Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans, and socially indicatively  by contributing  to dealing with the challenging phenomenon of brain drain. The WBC-RRI.NET consortium and WG Action Plan aims to detect the problems and recommend solutions in order to promote the principles of RRI in the region, leading to the aforementioned socioeconomic and scientific development and mutual cooperation.