EuroScience 2020-2024 : Strategic Development for the Future

EuroScience, the European Association for the Advancement of Science and Technology, is a unique institution in Europe with a specific mission :  represent the voice of the entire community of science professionals and interested citizens across the European continent, from all disciplines and from all sectors of activity, whether public or private, as responsible ethical actors in, with and for society.

EuroScience is therefore member-based and member-driven, composed of a diversity of individuals, including researchers, teachers, communicators, journalists, policy-makers and interested citizens, all committed to the goals and values of EuroScience independently of their employer, institution or company affiliation.

The EuroScience Governing Board, including the President, is elected by the membership to act on behalf of and in the service of the membership.  Corporate members, sponsors and partners contribute to the objectives and actions of the association because they believe in what we do and whom we represent.  Their support is essential and greatly appreciated, and we thank them not only for their financial contribution but also for their respect of the independence of the EuroScience governance elected solely by our individual members. 

The independence of EuroScience as an individual-member-based organization is at the heart of our mission and our reason for being.  Because we are independent and member-based, our voice, our positions and our public statements constitute a specific point of view on science from the perspective of the scientists themselves as responsible professionals and citizens.

EuroScience Strategy 2020-2024 : member focus and stakeholder engagement

In many ways, the most important Governing Board action of the current mandate was the decision in 2019 to undertake a major revision of the EuroScience strategy.  The resulting strategy document was adopted in principle at our Governing Board in Amsterdam in October 2019 and, following suggested editorial improvements at the Governing Board in Glasgow in March 2020, confirmed in its definitive form at our virtual Governing Board in May 2020.  The revised strategy constitutes our guide for orientation and action for the period running from 2020 to 2024.  It is a living document, open to amendment whenever necessary, but designed to be reexamined at least once every four years.

Development of the strategy document followed preparation of a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats).  The analysis confirmed the continued relevance of EuroScience as a grassroots member-based organization, but also at the same time showed the weaknesses of the current organization, particularly in the areas of membership size and active involvement with our members and other major stakeholders.

The goal of the new strategy is therefore to focus and align on our major missions and objectives, with emphasis on developing interactions with our members and stronger engagement with our stakeholders.

Mission statement

The strategy document redefines the mission of EuroScience by extending the scope of the association from its current role as the voice of science professionals to a more active role in professional development of the scientific workforce.  The new mission statement reads as follows :

“EuroScience acts to develop a scientific workforce that creates positive change for society”

The mission statement is intended to “express the desire of EuroScience to support development of a responsible scientific community that contributes to the well-being and prosperity of mankind and to the capacity of society to face the political, social, ecological and economic challenges ahead.”

Vision for the future

The mission statement is associated with a “vision for the future”, expressed as follows :

“EuroScience acts to create the necessary conditions to empower the scientific community to strengthen its societal engagement and accountability by integrating a role for citizen involvement and scrutiny, while at the same time preserving the fundamental values of research freedom :  open, exploratory, expert, curiosity-driven scientific investigation, with liberty of thought and expression.”

Priorities for action

The strategy document limits the scope of action of the association to two broad priorities :

Priority 1 :  Promotion of researchers and other scientists as responsible professionals

                This priority involves :

  • promoting the members of EuroScience as important actors for science in European society ;
  • establishing EuroScience as a representative voice for researchers and other science professionals as a recognized professional community ;
  • raising awareness of the need for better working environments and career opportunities for researchers and science professionals ;
  • accompanying the necessary changes in professional scientific practice, and the required adaptations to the Open Science agenda, Responsible Research and innovation (RRI), societal accountability and scientific integrity.

Priority 2 :  Promotion of science[1] as an essential component and contributor to society

This priority involves :

  • promoting excellent science in academia, business, industry and the public sector ;
  • encouraging science communication and science with and for society;
  • showcasing scientific advances and contributing to scientific debate.

EuroScience in 2020 :  alignment with the EuroScience strategy

The strategy document 2020-2024 promotes a leaner, more focused organizational structure, with emphasis on a limited number of major actions.

Science Policy Working Group :

A renewed and revitalized Science Policy Working Group, composed of sub-groups moderated by EuroScience members in association with elected correspondents on the EuroScience Governing Board, is a major initiative designed to enhance member involvement in the preparation of EuroScience’s public positions.  Following a membership survey in February 2019 regarding Plan S, the European initiative for promotion of open access publishing, engagement of members was strengthened through the renewed Science Policy Working Group, and an annual plan for Science Policy Working Group action was adopted by the Governing Board in March 2020.

EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) and European City of Science :

ESOF has been and will continue to be the flagship action of EuroScience.  The EuroScience strategy 2020-2024 foresees development of a more structured approach to “legacy management” and interaction among past, present and future ESOF cities.  In addition, the strategy document proposes to review the overall business model of the association, of which ESOF is a major part.  I will return below on recent developments in this connection that have allowed us to accelerate transformation in that direction, and that will have consequences as well for the way we develop and promote the label of European City of Science.

EuroScientist web magazine :

Due to budgetary restrictions, operations for the EuroScientist webzine have been centralized to the EuroScience Office, with the help of a voluntary EuroScientist Editorial Board responsible for editorial policy, proofreading and validation of EuroScientist publications.  The reorganization has been successful, and readership is constantly increasing.  The EuroScience Newletter has been combined with EuroScientist for simplicity and communication, and promotion of the publication through social media has improved visibility.  EuroScientist, like ESOF and the Science Policy Working Group, will remain an essential element of the priority actions for EuroScience in the framework of the new strategy.

EuroScience awards :

Another aspect of EuroScience action that the strategy intends to strengthen is the visibility of our various awards :  the European Young Researcher Award (EYRA), the Rammal Award and the EuroScience Award for Recognition of Lifetime Achievements for European Science and Society.  

ESOF 2020 and beyond :  from crisis management to strategic transformation

The year 2020, marked by the outbreak of the global Covid-19 pandemic, has been a pivotal year for EuroScience in general, but even more significantly for the organization of the EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF).  Faced with an unprecedented crisis, unforeseeable travel restrictions and massive changes in conference delivery and budget allocation, the 2020 edition of ESOF will be like no other.  The adaptation of ESOF 2020 to the crisis has been a major challenge, but has also been a significant opportunity for reflection and decision on how ESOF can and must evolve in the future, and how that evolution can already be put into place for ESOF 2022.

ESOF 2020 :  crisis management in action, faithful to the ESOF spirit

Given a completely unimaginable scenario putting into question the entire organization planned for ESOF 2020 in Treiste in July 2020, the EuroScience Governing Board and the Trieste organisers were faced with several major decisions regarding the conference.  First and foremost was the immediate decision in March 2020 not to consider cancellation of the conference but rather to use the conference in Trieste as an opportunity for the scientific community to reflect, exchange and debate the progress made and lessons learned from the pandemic experience, as well as its consequences and impact for all of society, including scientists themselves.  What better testimony to the spirit of ESOF, Europe’s largest forum for exchange and debate on science in, with and for society, than to maintain this year’s conference during the pandemic outbreak.  Naturally, it was necessary to postpone slightly the dates of ESOF 2020, from their initial schedule of 5 to 9 July, to the definitive dates of 2 to 6 Septembre 2020, but the event has not been cancelled.  In addition, given the travel restrictions still in place, associated with restrictions on the size of physical gatherings, it was decided to transform ESOF, in less than six months, from a physical conference to a hybrid physical/remote event.

The local organisers in Trieste, the EuroScience Office and all EuroScience Governing Board members and ESOF session organisers have spent endless hours converting the initially planned physical event into the hybrid format that we are experiencing today.  My sincere thanks to Stefano Fantoni, ESOF 2020 Champion, and to all of his staff, and my heartfelt gratitude to all those who have dedicated themselves to making this transformed event a true success faithful to the ESOF spirit.  Congratulations to all !

ESOF 2022 and beyond :  from strategic reflection to accelerated action

The EuroScience strategy 2020-2024 had already anticipated the need for profound strategic reflection on the organization and business model of the ESOF conference as the flagship action of our association.  I had proposed to the Governing Board the creation of a “Stakeholder Engagement Taskforce” to examine possible options for future action, including evolution of ESOF, in the years to come.  The EuroScience ESOF Committee, that met in March 2020 just prior to the major decisions taken by European governments to engage lockdown measures, began strategic reflections on how to improve and anticipate future ESOF editions, beginning with preparations for ESOF 2024.

Much of the strategic reflection was therefore in place, although not completely formulated, and it was expected to take several months before the Governing Board could examine proposals for changes going forward.

But Covid-19 created a window of opportunity for accelerated action.  The experience of the hybrid delivery proposed for ESOF 2020, combined with the awareness that fundamental changes in travel  practice and conference organization in the future, was a powerful catalyst for rethinking where EuroScience should be going with ESOF for the editions to come, not for 2024 but already for 2022 !

I presented to the Governing Board in May 2020 a proposal prepared by the EuroScience Office and Executive Committee and designed to transform all future ESOF conferences, beginning with ESOF 2022, to a new multi-site decentralized format.  The proposal was adopted by the Governing Board on 20 May 2020, in view of ESOF 2022.

The new ESOF format :  distributed, multi-site, networked and interconnected

The new ESOF format will be announced this week, in Trieste at ESOF 2020, and preparations for the new delivery will begin immediately in view of ESOF 2022.

The transformation will result in a move from the current physical, single-city event that we have known since 2004 to a new distributed, multi-site, networked and interconnected event including a central hub and up to eight regional sites operating simultaneously for the delivery of the conference.

The new decentralized format for ESOF beginning in 2022 is not as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic, but rather a true strategic reorientation regarding the way ESOF works and is delivered.  The decision of the Governing Board is based on the principle that an interconnected distributed format can be a positive improvement for ESOF, with the following objectives in mind :

  • a more accessible ESOF for participants with limited funding or other restrictions to mobility such as physical handicaps or family responsibilities ;
  • a more pan-European ESOF focused not only on a single-city but rather on a dynamic network of interconnected regional sites involving several cities from different parts of Europe ;
  • a more sustainable ESOF through a significant reduction in the carbon footprint and resource consumption associated with geographic mobility of all participants.

The new ESOF format will involve remote delivery through internet technology, and the experience of ESOF 2020 Trieste in this regard will be taken into account, but future ESOF events will not be totally virtual conferences.  The Governing Board and myself are convinced that it is indispensable to maintain the quality of the physical networking and interaction for which ESOF is known.  Each regional ESOF site will organize a physical event coordinated simultaneously with the other sites and the central hub, and travel grants will be made available so that participants from different parts of Europe can travel, while at the same time offering the possibility for those who cannot travel long distances to participate either remotely or through physical presence closer to their homes.

In addition, and as a corollary to the change in format, EuroScience will from 2022 onward award the European City of Science label as a separate decision, distinct from ESOF and without the current necessity of the European City of Science to assume total organizational and logistic responsibility for the ESOF event.

Leiden 2022 :  on board to inaugurate the new ESOF format

I am very pleased to inform you that we have received enthusiastic support from Leiden 2022 to develop with EuroScience the new format and approach to ESOF, and a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between EuroScience and Leiden 2022 was signed on 21 July 2020 to validate our agreement.

As European City of Science 2022, we have agreed to designate the city of Leiden as central hub for ESOF 2022, and Leiden has agreed to transfer responsibility for organization, committees, planning and coordination to the EuroScience Office and to share the ESOF conference with up to eight regional sites.

Much work is still left to be done to ensure that the new format and associated organization will be viable and ready for 2022, and for that purpose the EuroScience Office will begin preparatory work immediately following ESOF 2020 Trieste with our colleagues in Leiden.

Closing remarks

In closing, I would like to thank once again all those who have contributed their time and energy to EuroScience over the last two years.  Our association is still faced with many obstacles to its continued survival, including fragile finances aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic, but I am optimistic for the future and happy to see the promising first steps of our future development.

[1] including all research domains in the physical sciences, life sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities

Excerpt from the President’s report presented at the General Assembly in Trieste