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The Foundation

Date interview: November 6 2015
Name interviewer: Jens Dorland
Name interviewee: Science Shop coordinator (leader/manager) (SSC); University Partner/Science Shop project supervisor (UP)
Position interviewee: Coordinator University partner/science shop project supervisor

Societal crisis Social movements Providing alternatives to institutions New Doing Finance Emergence Connecting Civil Society organizations Business models Academic organizations

This is a CTP of initiative: Living Knowledge ‐ Science Shop DTU (Denmark)

Explanation of Science Shop DTU

A science shop is normally an initiative located at a university meant to offer research aid to civil society free of charge. Normally science shops do not conduct the research themselves, but connect clients with relevant people at the university, which may be students, course teachers, professors doing research in the area etc. Science Shop DTU was set up as part an interdisciplinary center that enabled them to host courses as well as other activities. The interdisciplinary center was a separate initiative though.  

Definition of this CTP – the application

This CTP relates to the very first formalization of this type of activity at DTU, participatory research aiming to help civil society. The CTP can be said to be tied specifically to an application to the university senate, which was approved, and thereby started Science Shop DTU. The actual formalization date was when Videnskabsbutikken opened in the summer of 1985. This was however the culmination of several events spanning more than a decade. The initiative was supported by four departments.   By formalization here is meant that Videnskabsbutikken was given university funding in the form of staff and physical space, as well as money for hiring student assistants. It was initially only a pilot project for 3 years, so it was not an “entrenched” formalization (see CTP on making the initiative permanent).  

 What the CTP entails

This does not entail that this activity did not take place earlier, according to the university partner (UP) in the interview, which was unaffiliated except as a sometimes supervisors of student projects coming from the science shop 2-3 years later, it was a type of activity they had done for years. According to the UP this was actually their hallmark:  

”The essential in the idea they (his department) did already, it was the hallmark among them, so why the science shop?” – UP  

SSC also pointed out that students had various cooperation’s with civil society during the 1970’ties in the form of cleaning staff, wharf workers, and gardeners. According to UP the department of urban planning supported the creation of the science shop because they thought this may spread this way or working, a way they already used, in other parts of the university. The Science Shop Coordinator (SSC) pointed out that although some parts of the university already had participatory research going on with civil society, civil society still had no formal way to engage the university, no open door.   One of the essential features is the open door, anyone can come and “shop” at the university. Therefore, the CTP and the innovation here lies just as much in the creation of a new formalised way to establish relations, a new process/procedure, the possibility for actors that earlier had no way to establish contact with researchers that might help them. The second perspective was the interdisciplinary centre, which was a distinct activity from the science shop, linked by the same persons

Note on the relation of the interviewees with the initiative

On a short note, both interviewees were involved in the founding of the science shop. The UP was not a founder, but in some ways a spectator of the happening and a supporter of the initiative, but was not directly involved at the time. The other interviewee SSC have been the coordinator for most of the lifetime of the initiative, but was crucially not employed by the initiative for the first couple of months, but was very active in the founding of it. He became involved because he as writing his PhD thesis at the time, and his supervisors who was involved in it thought SSC would fit very well in the initiative. SSC was directly involved in many but not all of the preceding activities, first as a critical student during the 70’ties, and later as a founder of the initiative. Therefore, some of the info on earlier related events is representation of information from third-parties, specifically the project with laid of wharf workers from Elsinore (se Related Events). 


The start-up was a very complicated process with many people involved.  

The inspiration. As explained by both interviewees the original idea/concept of a science shop stems from the Netherlands and became known at DTU through an associate professor who had visited a Dutch science shop. The activities taking place at the Dutch universities during the 70’ties also took place at DTU, but not as a university activity but through the students.  

It was not the first time, but it was a formalization in the university system. Not that you had not earlier been able to get credit for that kind of activities, you could create your own course modules, I had done that myself –  SSC  

Later, a group of students, none of the interviewees though, went to the Netherlands to study these science shops, after they got involved in the group founding the Science Shop at DTU. The founding group already had the idea before hearing about the science shops, and it is hard to say how it affected the nature of the science shop at DTU. The existence of other science shops however may have empowered their position in relation to the management.  

Civil Society Partners. Leading up to the application the founding group met with CSOs (civil society organizations) and asked for ideas for project proposals which could show that there was an interest and a need among different types of civil society initiatives. These proposals were then used for developing support and legitimacy of the science shop initiative.  

University partners. The crucial actors in the university were the university senate (konsistorium) and the VIPs in it. Many of the VIPs was supportive of the ideas. It also greatly strengthened the initiative that there was a group of institutes behind the application. Some of the VIPs were actually uninterested in the civil society collaboration, according to SSC, but were piqued by the cross-disciplinarity of the initiative.  

It was carried by some progressive VIPs who were interested collaboration between the university and civil society. Then there were some (VIPs) where it did not play a big role, who where triggered by the cross-disciplinarity – SSC                                                                                                                      

The university context. This is a bit fuzzy to describe and discuss, but especially UP explains how altruistic activities in civil society was seen as a natural and completely legitimate use of university working hours, at the university. This general ideological position shared by many at the university at the time, likely had a big part of the reason for the success of the initiative. A lot of students also supported the initiative, some of them as founders, and were willing to work as volunteers. Students at later stages in the lifetime of the initiative were less ideologically motivated, and saw it more as a student job to earn some money (see later CTPs, information from another interview).  

Societal context At this time in society there were several developments posing challenges for civil society, but also several initiatives aiming at contributing to a more sustainable development. New technologies like the various chemicals used in production and products, posing various environmental problems, also including work environment. This is a not specified in the interview exactly what developments caused problems and how, but problems in working environment, urban ecology and organic food production was named many times by SSC.   There was also a wider understanding in society, according to UP, that this type of activities belongs at the university, i.e. ideologically motivated activities meant to help civil society (this later changed, see other CTPs)

Related events

Preceding events – a CSO request

The biggest preceding event was a request from the workers union at a wharf in Elsinore in 1983. The wharf was closing down, the workers were naturally worried about their future, and the request was on what alternative uses there could be for their wharf and the specific competences of the workers. The request was linked to a much earlier preceding event, similar strategies for the war factories in the UK up through the 70’ties. SSC sees the request from the wharf as the crucial event that led to the discussion of an open door at the university where such CSO as the workers union at the wharf could contact the university and apply for help. As mentioned, SSC and other students had various cooperation’s with civil society during the 1970’ties in the form of cleaning staff, wharf workers, and gardeners.  

Emergence of Science Shop in the Netherlands

Another crucial event was the emergence of the science shops in the Netherlands in the late 70’ties. However, it is very unclear from the interview exactly how big an importance this had for the founding of the Science Shop at DTU. An associate professor, Thomas Jacobsen, had encountered the concept as part of the conference. The request from the wharf, and the discussion of an open door, came after that, but preceded a study trip to the Netherlands by a group of students. Science Shop DTU may have started anyway, although under another label. However, the existence of the Dutch concept affected the way Videnskabsbutikken was set up and operated due to the inspiration gained from the concept.  

Following events

Other later related events is the start of science shops at other Danish universities. During the next couple of years, most of the Danish universities had a Science Shop – DTU, RUC, SDU, KU, AAU. The only notable exception is Arhus University and Copenhagen Business School although business schools are not the typical location of science shops. SSC was directly involved in this diffusion of the concept by having meetings with the various universities.  

We did a lot to go out and council others on how they could create science shops, which considerations you had to go through – SSC  

The staff at KU who supervised some students that created the KU Science Shop had also been a researcher connected to Science Shop DTU for half a year.  

SF (socialistisk folkeparti), a Danish political party, also worked on a bill requiring all universities to have a science shop, but the bill was stalled during the initial negotiations. SSC do not have the details of what precisely happened.  

UP had no comments on related events. Their institute already did similar activities, they were in the “limelight” as described by UP, had no need of a larger network, and UP did before this CTP not know SSC. However, a professor from the institute of UP was involved during the founding and some of the events preceding it. The various events, meetings, and workshops that SSC arranged prior to establishing Science Shop DTU can also be seen as related events.  

Other types of related events is the subsequent creation of courses on methodology and urban ecology within the following 2-3 years.


(A note on this field, contestations has generally been hard to get enough information on in the interviews)  

SSC had no real comment on contestation during the founding of the Science Shop.  

Concerns about focus and priorities UP had a range of possible concerns, although if these can be termed contestations could be discussed. The first concern was if it would move focus away from other areas, what would happen with their positioning, would it take the “steam away from something, and then what”. UP did not experience anyone who was opposed to the science shop, but he did experience some staff at DTU as viewing it as something very far from what they were doing at their job.   On a related note, SSC explained that the rector who at this time was a member of the university senate and not an all-powerful leader, had voted against the initiative. He said to SSC not to hold it against him, not to take it badly, he was not opposed to the initiative, but had other priorities (I infer he had other things he wanted to spend the money on).  

Assumptions and inferences on contestation It seems that there were not opposition as the initiative largely did not threaten anyone. Many saw it as distant from their work, but it was not forced upon them anyway, so they would not have to mind it. I would infer that the only sticking point in the final decision was one of resources. None of the interviewees were present at the senate meeting where the final decisions was made, however Lauge Rasmussen who were the PhD supervisor of SSC was likely present, but the arguments for and against the initiative at the meeting are uncertain. 


Understanding at the time

The CTP was clearly understood as such at the time, as they now had a science shop, they had funding, staff, space etc. And now they could start activities like student projects. Before they did some of the same activities, but as volunteer activities and personal interests.  

Prior Anticipation of the CTP

The CTP was anticipated by the founders, or a CTP was anticipated, there was no way to tell exactly how it would fall out, depending on how far back you look. It is unclear though when exactly they became certain that something would be established, or if they were insecure about the outcome at any point. Before the early 80’ties certainly no one had expected it to be a science shop as the concept was yet unknown. The interview contain no details on discrepancies on what they expected the science shop to become, and what actually was approved by the senate and subsequently implemented.  

From the perspective of UP the CTP was unexpected, before he was invited to some meetings preceding the founding. Until that point, he had not heard about it, and had no anticipation of any such initiative coming. However a professor from the department of UP was involved from quite early in the process, unbeknown to UP. This discussion sheds a little light on how widespread the knowledge of the proposed initiative was before the founding.  

Impact and importance of this CTP

If the importance and impact of this CTP is seen in a large perspective, spanning the 3 decades since, then there have been aspects there were not understood at the time.  One of them is the impact on the career of SSC, who (like many in their 20ties) did not know that this would steer his professional career for the rest of his working life, as it has largely formed the type of research he has conducted, and that he became a researcher at all. The Science Shop also financed various PhD through project funding that resulted in new research areas and steered other people onto academics paths. However, this is not specifically related to this CTP, but as the founding CTP all later CTPs are dependent on this one, and as such all happening in the lifetime of Science Shop DTU stems from and can be attributed to some degree to this CTP. And hardly any of the later CTPs were anticipated at this early stage, except maybe the second CTP. Science Shop DTU however did worked on developing the two perspective of their initiative, the open door and the interdisciplinary center.   (Note, this question has been hard to fill out, likely because of the age of the initiative, it has been hard to remember exactly what had been anticipated before)


The change ambitions

”The whole purpose was to give civil society access to the university, to collaboration with researchers and students. It was a contribution to a democratization” – SSC.  

In relation to change ambitions for society. This democratization was a concept, an idea, that SSC returned to continuously. It seemed to relate closely to equality, to helping disadvantaged groups, helping trade unions etc. As mentioned, the founding of this initiative sprang out from a project trying to help a local workers’ union at a closing wharf. Closely connected to this idea was the strong resistance against helping companies or any type of commercial activity.

In relation to the university, the change ambition was stated as opening the university to civil society. However, the university was already collaborating (parts of it at least), the real change ambition was the formalised open door. SSC also explained more specific change ambitions relating to the university, hoping to change the structure, and make participatory research more widespread.  

Positive or negative impacts

The initiative had many impacts over its lifetime, however most of them not directly linked to this CTP, occurring much later in their lifetime. Of course, they would never have happened without the founding.  

The impact specifically connected to this CTP, happening during the 3 years before the next CTP, is the various projects with CSOs. These projects are detailed in a report used in the application for making the initiative permanent at the university (the next CTP), and this next CTP is the biggest positive impact.  

It would also be possible to talk about the various positive impacts of the individual projects, which have been archived, but they were not touched upon in the interviews. It is also such a long time ago that the only reliable source would be the archive.  

Another type of positive impact are the competence development of the involved students, both those conducting projects and the student assistants working as some of the staff at the science shop. The science shop facilitated the development and education of especially the student assistants, several of whom went on to do PhDs at the science shops and in this way bring in research areas of relevance to civil society and embed them at the university. On a side note, one of the original student assistants helped bring in research on organic food production, and is now a professor at AAU in that same area. That would have happened in society anyway, but would not have been a research area at DTU without the science shop.  

UP also judged the initiative to have a positive impact, saying that more people (at the university) now participated in this type of projects. However, UP did not see any real learning coming from the initiative at this time for their institute specifically (the institute of traffic and city planning).  

Don’t know if there was any learning, because essentially it was just a wrinkle on the road that now a science shop came. They (the institute) had their own networks of housing associations & workers movements that they were in a dialog with. – UP  

In short, in one of the areas of most importance in relation to impacts, students and CSO, it is next to impossible to evaluate impact, although we can certainly conclude that there has been an impact. 

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