Raquel Gomes is the coordinator of Ciência + Cidadã, a programme that aims to empower citizens through scientific knowledge, so they can use it to build a more resilient, healthy and sustainable world.
Ciência + Cidadã is a programme that promotes active citizenship stimulated by science. The initiative is the result of a partnership between the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC), the Institute of Chemical and Biological Technology (ITQB-NOVA) and the Oeiras Municipal Council and is part of the “Open Science in Oeiras” strategy.
The idea is to listen to citizens’ informed and thoughtful decisions on science-society issues and equip them with the tools and scientific literacy to use science and the scientific process for the betterment of their communities.
Learn more about Ciência + Cidadã through the words of Raquel Gomes, the “Face of Science” who is the coordinator of this programme and who aims to make science an active part of life for all citizens of Oeiras.
When and in what context did the concept of Ciência + Cidadã come about?
The Ciência + Cidadã programme was born in 2020, with the first deliberative citizens’ assembly in Oeiras. It arose from an ambition shared by the research institutes of Oeiras, namely the IGC and ITQB-NOVA, to make science more open to society, thus seeking to democratise it as belonging to everyone and being for everyone.
And I say everyone because, although it is scientists who contribute most to the generation of scientific knowledge, more and more citizens are participating in science. Some are driven by curiosity and the need to better understand the impact of science on everyday life, others because they see science as a tool that can be used to build a more resilient, healthy and sustainable world.
The Ciência + Cidadã programme, with the support of the Oeiras Municipal Council, proposes to be a bridge between science and society by promoting initiatives in which thinking, talking and practicing science become part of our lives.
What are the purposes and added values of the Ciência + Cidadã programme?
The Ciência + Cidadã programme is part of the “Open Science to Oeiras” strategy, an innovative, broad and ambitious strategy by the Oeiras municipality, which brings together research institutes, universities and companies in the municipality and places great emphasis on the active involvement of the citizens of Oeiras, by investing in science education and public participation.
The programme’s main mission is to bring the Oeiras society closer to science through participation, promoting dialogue between citizens, scientists and political representatives on issues at the science-society intersection.
We want to foster informed and active citizenship in which citizens discover and participate in the science of Oeiras and contribute to the protection and preservation of the biological and natural heritage of the municipality.
Opening up science and the scientific process to society is key to making access to science and scientific knowledge more inclusive. On the other hand, we are empowering citizens through scientific literacy, which will make them less susceptible to the phenomena of misinformation and fake news which have alarming repercussions in our society.
What are the main initiatives being undertaken by the Ciência + Cidadã Programme?
We have two types of initiatives, in particular. The deliberative citizens’ assemblies, which are part of the worldwide deliberative democracy movement and are an instrument we have adopted to listen to the citizens of Oeiras on science-society issues.
A group of citizens, selected to reflect the diversity of the population, discusses and draws up proposals on an issue; the proposals are presented to scientific and political decision-makers, who give their opinion and help to implement them.
The first deliberative citizens’ assembly in Oeiras took place on 8 and 9 February 2020 and 30 citizens attended. The event was very worthwhile. The participants showed themselves to be involved and committed to finding solutions to the problems exposed. Most have volunteered to participate in their implementation.
It was very enriching to listen to citizens’ perspectives and integrate their proposals into existing initiatives, as well as rethink certain approaches to involving the public in science. The programme aims to continue to give a voice to citizens through regular initiatives of this kind.
In order to encourage citizens to participate in science, we also promote citizen science initiatives, which put science in the hands of citizens, giving them a more holistic view of the scientific process and the generation of knowledge.
The programme’s first citizen science project, entitled Árvore de Carbono (“Carbon Tree”), challenges citizens to investigate the air quality in their communities and understand the impact it can have on health. It began in 2020, during the pandemic, and initially involved students from Sebastião e Silva Secondary School, who built their own air quality monitoring stations, which are portable, low-cost and accessible to any citizen.
Already this year these Árvore de Carbono ambassadors have presented their results at international conferences and will share their experience with the Oeiras community in October at the science festival, FIC.A.
What are the citizens’ expectations of Ciência + Cidadã?
The programme is still in its infancy, but the first citizen assembly has made it very clear that citizens place immense value on science communication and education and on active public engagement in these dialogues.
The people of Oeiras feel that science is part of their culture and identity and that there should be greater investment in this type of initiative that truly gives a voice to those who often feel on the fringes of scientific knowledge. Ciência + Cidadã is here to help create the necessary synergies.
What have you taken away from the Ciência + Cidadã Programme, since its creation, and how do you see its future?
The start of the programme has been very positive, not least because of the interest in continuity shown by citizens who have already participated in it in one way or another.
Science has to be increasingly inclusive, participative and citizen-based, as only then will we be able to solve local and global problems related to biodiversity, climate change, sustainability and pandemics, which are inherent to human survival. Only with everyone’s involvement can we overcome present and future challenges and leave a habitable and healthy planet for future generations.