Tag Archives: Grassroots initiative

Research and civil society: joining forces for addressing societal issues meaningfully

Interview with Lionel Larq , General Delegate of ALLISS , on 29 August 2018 in Paris, 9th .

I met Lionel Larqué in March 2018 when the Scientific Committee of the VILCO – a project which dealt with cooperation between public authorities and citizens in the context of a research and experimentation project funded by the Co-Create programme of Innoviris – which I contributed. His interventions prompted me to meet again to discuss his experience of collaboration between research and civil society and vice versa. Here are some notes of this discussion.

2018-08-29 20.45.18A trained oceanograph, Lionel Larqué has a PhD in physics and political science, and is an activist and actor of popular education since the 1980s. He was successively   : Federal Commissioner for Cultural affairs at the national Léo Lagrange Federation, Deputy Director of the French Association of Small Hustlers (2003 -2012), founder and leader of the Global Forum sciences and democracy (2007-2013), founder of the European Network YPSSI and coordinator  of “Youth, Science, Europe   During the French presidency of the European Union (2008), initiator and executive secretary of the Alliance Sciences Société ( since 2012), co-director of the book “Science, it looks us” (2013).

I was intrigued and quite in agreement with the comments you made at the VILCO Scientific Committee meeting. These were aimed at clarifying the research objectives we had, including the extent to which we worked together with the beneficiaries of our research – the citizens – by involving them in all the levels of project: agenda-setting, methodology development, research conduct and analysis. You were praising a real collective work beyond an approach dominated by knowledgeable experts and intermediaries. I wanted to explore this question further in order to discuss with you how we can do research differently while avoiding and overcoming conventional biases, whether we are researchers from academia or other sectors, independent of all our good will and of our good intentions.

I have reviewed your profile and if I understand correctly, your ambition is to strengthen the link between research and civil society, to provide a value and meaning to research for it not to be siloed and not searching for the sake of searching, but with a stronger societal vocation. From the side of civil society, it is about giving it the opportunity to do its own research (with his own agendas and his own research). I think that globally, we talk increasingly about the opening of research to the contributions of civil society (for example with the quadruple or even the quintuple helix). Not to mention the way it actually works, I’ll come back to it, I have the impression, but tell me if I’m wrong, that you insist less on the dimension of openness of the civil society to the scientific research?

I need to first clarify that I do not address the opening of research from a methodological point of view as you do in an article of your blog. What interests me is the link between civil society and research and more specifically, How to equip non-industrial civil society so that it becomes a reliable partner in research?” and to see how we can act on the ground with a variety of stakeholders. My analysis is the result of twenty years of work on research policies. Research policies date back in developed countries, outside the USA, to the early 60s, it’s not old. At this time, the priority was to rebuild the country and strengthen the industry potential. Research and Development (R & D) is a concept that allowed the business world to structure its research departments and develop research adapted to the market economy and large companies. Research within the framework of civil society is precisely non-industrial. Since the 80s-90s, its place is increasingly important with the collapse of the job market, the ecological collapse, and we realise that the industry is not the only solution even for some analysts it is not at all. Civil society must therefore be interested in research because it is about its vitality, its ability to think and act on the world.

But in reality, the question of how civil society has opened and reopened itself to research is not in itself relevant. We have conducted a survey to identify to which extent civil society was involved in research projects. It turns out that this has always been the case and that we have a plethora of example. A significant part of scientific research is based on civil society but we do not see it: in health, education, agronomy etc. In the case of the emergence of fish farming in the nineteenth century, for example, the academic researchers were unable to grow trout eggs without them becoming necrotic. The solution came from the Vosges fishermen, who were not mentioned by the scientists. Gradually, the scientific world has constructed a narrative where it became, the guard of true knowledge monopoly and thus holds great power. This attitude led to some form of institutionalisation of “real” knowledge, and the profession of researchers.

What do you think are the biggest obstacles to opening up research to cooperation with civil society actors, in the co- creation of research projects (whether in their agendas, data collection?, analysis, … )?

As I told you earlier, it has always existed. However, currently, the social and political situation is more favourable, because we need each other. Civil society members are better trained. Researchers also act in civil society. However, there are still institutional barriers.

Where it works best and where it is most natural and obvious, it is in natural sciences (ecological sciences, chemistry, biology, physics, mathematics, computer science …). On the other hand, it is, from my point of view, more difficult in the SHS contrary to what one might think.

Research is first and foremost the ability to ask questions, good if possible. The incubation of an idea takes time. In co- creation processes it is often denied: a researcher comes with their research question already established. It is rarely considered in scientific methodology. To establish a research question, we have three possibilities: in the academic silo according to his lab; in the context of a breakthrough; and in a historical phase and a particular cultural bath. For the latter, the soil is society, it is a dialectical struggle between the actors of research and civil society. However, civil society is not aware of its richness in today’s debates.

Coming back to the VILCO project, how can collaboration between public authorities and civil society be improved?

If we consider the citizens who work with municipalities, we must see who plays what role and when. Each has their own quality, function. It must also be remembered that a local authority, an institution that innovates does not exist. There can only be changes in spaces of freedom. Innovation comes only from places and times where it is unplanned. Innovation comes from the vitality of the actors of civil society which imply a change in the institution, which allows it to make it live in the long term. It acts in response. It is a receptacle for creating conditions to institute other relationships, to incorporate new values ​​and new principles.

Civil society has a destiny to change things, it is its playing field. Institutions are late compared to what happens in civil society, that is the rule of the game.

Finally, how do you see the ability to change practices, how to make things happen?

We must let the vocations burst. Make sense of everyone’s game (researcher, civil society, political actor, public actor …). We often lack analysis by acting at certain times or thinking that our action will have no impact: maybe there will be no immediate change but at a particular political moment, it will evolve. It always evolves, even if we do not always understand in what sense or how it has evolved. Activists are extremely sequential, thinking that a proposal ‘a’ results in action ‘b’ for results ‘c’. Yet, societal transformations rarely have a causal explanation. A movement here often leads to changes in unanticipated places. Disturbing is also to acting at various levels.

Activists are always frustrated but, in fact, things change all the time. Agendas are not synchronous. You have to be able to take a step back and look at things more analytically.




Faider_Fêtes de voisins

Being a citizen professional or a professional citizen?

Two years ago, I launched a citizen initiative in a park close to where I live. My motivations were to act as a responsible and engaged citizen – as I had been working on this field for quite some time – and to experiment moving from a passive attitude to an active one: the park seemed to be abandoned from the City Council, it looked really dodgy and I became scared of going there to throw away my compost. After having read the book on the Incredible edible, I thought to myself that I could maybe become an actor of change. That was the beginning of a personal transformation, learning about what makes citizen activism possible and pushing city administrations to evolve. Continue reading

Que pensent les acteurs publics et les initiative citoyennes des moyens d’améliorer leur collaboration ?

La collaboration entre autorités publiques et initiatives citoyennes ne fonctionne pas bien. Pourtant, elle peut s’améliorer. D’entrée de jeu, le ton de l’atelier « gouvernance » organisé par l’équipe du projet VILCO dans cadre des Rencontres des initiatives citoyennes durables à Bruxelles du 13 mai 2017 au BEL est donné.

Pensez-vous que cette collaboration puisse s’améliorer?

Pensez-vous que cette collaboration puisse s’améliorer?

Pensez-vous que la collaboration entre acteurs publics et initiatives citoyennes fonctionne bien?

Pensez-vous que la collaboration entre acteurs publics et initiatives citoyennes fonctionne bien?

C’est à travers des dynamiques locales que les autorités publiques, régionales et communales, et les initiatives citoyennes établissent des modalités de coopération qui cherchent à augmenter la résilience de la ville. Malgré le score sévère du premier baromètre, les participants présents ont d’abord présenté de nombreux exemples de modalités de collaboration qui fonctionnent. Continue reading


Exploring the conditions for shared urban spaces with high human value

This was the topic of the first Forum Camping organised by Yes We Camp , as a deep immersion at les Grands Voisins in Paris from 14th to 15th June 2017, day and night. Project holders, makers, artists, researchers, experts, public institutions from all around France and beyond exchanged on what makes a space move from being “public” to being “common”.

How come some spaces bring about a sense of legitimacy, welcoming feeling and invitation? Which systems can combining freedom and trust, to provide space where we are allowed to test, expand and open ourselves to others? What are the ingredients enabling to learn from one another and reduce the boundaries between social groups? These were some of the questions that guided our exchanges during those two days Continue reading

Saillans'City Council building ©Marcelline Bonneau

What can cities learn from the participatory democracy experience of Saillans?

In 2014, a group of citizens of Saillans – 1 200 inhabitants in Drôme, France – concerned about acting directly for their city, and in the light of increased well-being, presented themselves, apolitically, for the mayorship of the city. They won the elections and paved the way for a new type of city governance. They particularly sought to address two main caveats in the traditional way city councils and city governance in general work: on the one hand the Mayor and the deputy mayors’ appropriation of all the city power;  on the other, the low participants of inhabitants,  merely asked to express themselves through elections once every 6 years.

The city governance focuses on three main pillars: Continue reading

Graines à partager Incroyables Comestibles Cabourg

Goodwill as a vector of social innovations

tod-cover-for-web-pagesPam Warhurst and Joanna Dobson’s book on the Incredible Edible was my holiday book last summer. The wealth and details accounting for stages, encountered difficulties and envisaged solutions soon appeared to be a crucial case to analyse and try and understand the dynamics behind citizens’ movements which seek to improve the world.

Throughout the world, the Incredible Edible movement  represents groups of citizens planting in towns and in walking areas, giving free access to herbs and plants to all. These are sometimes rich and beautiful gardens, inviting walker to help themselves, sometimes they seems abandoned. Some people complain about the fact that planting next to the road or in wheels is unpretty and worst for health than products from (conventional) agriculture.  All in all, it launches debate and acts for (re) action. Continue reading

Upscaling social innovation or the process of maintaining grassroots initiatives


The Spiral of Innovation ©R. Murray, J. Caulier-Grice, and G. Mulgan.

“Upscaling social innovation” is the main concern of all those dealing with the need to operate a transition towards a more sustainable society. How do we ensure that social innovations are maintained and do not fade in time? How can they be supported in their expansion? Should they grow? Should they be replicated? How can new initiatives emerge while learning from the others, but without reinventing the wheel? Continue reading