Promoting the role of academia in empowering participatory and collaborative action

The role of academia in empowering participatory and collaborative action, plenary session at SIS2016

Global partnership for development. The role of academia in empowering participatory and collaborative action. Enric Senabre Hidalgo (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya), Xavier Serra (Dept. of Information and Communication Technologies, Universitat Pompeu Fabra), Davinia Hernández Leo (Dept. of Information and Communication Technologies, Universitat Pompeu Fabra), Bruno Raimbault (Médecins Sans Frontières), Xabier Barandiaran (Barcelona City Council)


Session organised with the support of the DTIC-UPF María de Maeztu Units of Excellence Programme (MDM-2015-0502) by Guillem Francés & Aurelio Ruiz (María de Maeztu DTIC-UPF)


Collaborative and participatory processes have already demonstrated their strong potential in bringing about transformative effects in several societal challenges, unlocking the potential of large numbers of citizens willing to contribute their time and knowledge to issues of interest to themselves, to their communities or to society in general. This change in scale has been to a large extent enabled by recent technological advances. Nowadays, provided access to an Internet connection is available, any citizen (often without any significant previous knowledge) can contribute, annotate and process all sorts of data and resources, participate in all sorts of processes and discussions, as well as share their specialised knowledge.


Researchers from academic institutions already lead and contribute to a number of initiatives sharing these characteristics, usually either as large collaborative scientific projects, or by using crowdsourced mechanisms to carry out their research (such as ). A relevant number of researchers working on topics of direct social impact are also active participants in these citizen platforms as part of their research and personal interests. Academia has a strong capacity to create and transfer knowledge which results in positive social change, but its full potential to drive and facilitate collaborative and participatory processes is often hindered by too narrow a focus on scholarly indicators such as traditional citation metrics or economic return. Universities have since long lost the “monopoly” and central role as creators and disseminators of the knowledge needed for action, but still preserve a number of characteristics that make them potentially unique contributors to galvanize many of the collaborative and participatory processes ongoing around the world, increasing their impact and positive return.


Academia nowadays relies on a series of mechanisms to give credit to members of the community based on e.g. citations from peers, assessment from supervisors or generation of economical income, but hardly based on social impact. This limitation is particularly relevant for collaborative and participatory processes, where the role of the leader and the participant can be equally relevant for the overall success, and no credit can be often specifically assigned in the creation or exploitation of a collective body of knowledge and its associated results; when this credit largely falls outside the academic environment (for instance, when the university or its members are just contributors to initiatives led by external entities and cannot therefore claim credit or direct access to targeted agents such as policymakers and funders), or when this credit is given from members from a community outside academia. This lack of incentives (or better said, this different “philosophy of work”) exists at the level of individual community members, but also at that of the institutions, as universities often exhibit complex internal power relations that pose a significant barrier to fostering participatory processes both within and outside the campus.


This symposium aims at discussing and exploring the existing opportunities and challenges to overcome and unlock this potential with the discussion of several examples where scholarly expectations can be aligned with social transformation driven by communities formed mostly by people outside academia.




Slides from the presentations