Cooperative and participatory research from the passersby to solidarity action

ESSRG facilitated a number of Science Shop processes in recent years. Here are six inspirative examples from the currently running projects.

ESSRG as a science shop is an experiment to practice and deepen the dialogue between science and society. We partner with a range of social entities. Typically with active informal communities that aim to formalise their activities or non-profit organisations, civil organisations, social entrepreneurs that have already a clear agenda and research need. Researchers in ESSRG are working together with these community partners on a number of themes. Our (research) approach is often sympathetic but also critical with the partner organisation and aims helpful collaboration, co-creation, and mutual learning. Six of these running science shop processes – as part of our InSPIRES project – are presented below.


Passer-by Researcher: a Hungarian citizen science tool to boost science-society interface 

Passer-by Researcher (“Járókelőkutató”) is a digital tool that has been co-designed by Environmental Social Science Research Group (ESSRG) and Passer-by Public Benefit Association (“Járókelő”). The latter owns and manages the Passer-by webpage (“Járókelő”) that has been repurposed and transformed into a citizen science research tool.

The Passer-by platform provides an open-access digital tool for Budapestians to spot and report damages and ongoing problems in public places. Through the online infrastructure, citizens can reach out to municipalities responsible for repairing the reported issue. Passer-by is successfully operating over a decade as an active citizenship platform. Due to its effective public engagement channels and well-established reputation in Budapest, ESSRG’s researchers initiated a citizen science platform development. 

The co-designed citizen science research tool under the name of Passer-by Researcher (“Járókelőkutató”) aims at providing a platform for Hungarian NGOs and researchers to initiate their own independent research projects. ESSRG is coordinating the development of novel schemes and supporting the implementation of citizen science principles. Also, ESSRG launched its own citizen science pilot on food-sovereignty

The pilot project invites citizens based in Budapest to map available food production alternatives through sharing photographs and videos from their gardens about their gardening habits and harvest. It also intends to spread food sovereignty-related good practices via an open-access database. ESSRG interprets and synthesises the gathered data to gain a better understanding of self-provisioning practices across Hungary.

Reading circles and roundtable discussion on food-sovereignty during COVID-19 

Several NGOs, organisations, scholars, academics, activists and volunteers based-in Hungary joined resources in the newly emerged Solidarity Action Group to foster transformation towards a solidarity socio-economic pathway after the onset of the COVID-19 crises. The Solidarity Food Working Group has emerged from the Solidary Action Group to coordinate co-creation of knowledge and transmission of food-sovereignty practices. The online discussions involve small-scale food producers, activists, members of the civil society and researchers alike. The Working Group members participate in online discussions and are actively engaged in the organisation phase: recommending readings and study materials, new participants, and reaching out to small-scale food producers in the countryside.

ESSRG with the InSPIRES project, as a member organisation of the Solidarity Food Working Group, contributes to public engagement by co-organising reading circles and roundtable discussions on food sovereignty-related topics such as economic globalisation, land-grabbing, critical environmental pedagogy etc. ESSRG helps networking and provides online infrastructure (Zoom, Online Learning Platform, Miro) to co-create knowledge with the principle of bridging the digital divide and disseminate online contents to a larger public. 

Research agenda-setting for HerStory, a feminist activist-research group

The HerStory activist-researcher bottom-up initiative grew out of the Solidarity Food Working Group in which ESSRG has actively been involved in the past year. While the Solidarity Food Working Group primarily represents organisations, HerStory brought individual researchers, activists, and civil society members together. The group wishes to shed light on women’s perspectives and experiences within the food sovereignty movement and agricultural production in Hungary.

The highly multidisciplinary HerStory initiative embraces a great diversity in terms of professional background and experiences. Diversity enriches cross-disciplinary research and co-creation processes. However, it has been challenging to arrive at a common ground in defining its research goals. ESSRG supports and facilitates the group’s research agenda-setting phase to contribute to its institutionalisation in the long-run. With the research agenda setting method, ESSRG aims at identifying the topical unknown, common ambitions and priorities of activists, researchers and other contributors of HerStory. At the same time, it gathers data on broader societal needs. 

Agroecology Mapping in Hungary

As a result of a 10-month-long mapping project in 2019-2020, commissioned by Agroecology Europe, Védegylet Egyesület (Protect the Future Association) with the research coordination of ESSRG produced a state of the art report on agroecology in Hungary. The primary research need of the Association was to uncover the local understandings of agroecology in the Hungarian context and identify meaningful collaboration spaces for advancing agroecology in Hungary. Védegylet and ESSRG have been contributing actively to research, education and capacity development of agroecology related initiatives in recent years, catering to the needs of grassroots organisations, citizens and farmers for advocacy and network organisation as well. Agroecology as a term is not yet widely used in Hungary, and often leads to confusion among agricultural professionals, civil society organisations and policymakers alike. Furthermore, cooperative research highlighted the prospects of a coordinated agroecological transition. 

Science Shop cooperation across borders: How can somatic approaches influence the wellbeing of vulnerable communities? 

ESSRG came in contact with AdniJóga in 2019 via Impact HUB Budapest, and after the initial discussions, it soon became evident that we could cooperate. AdniJóga provides access to yoga’s physical and mental benefits to those who would otherwise not be able to experience calmness through movement and breath. They follow a “trauma-focused” approach that allows their teachers to support participants affected by a diverse set of vulnerabilities. They are operating as a social enterprise. The income generated by their pop-up events and/or by offering yoga classes for companies, allows them to provide the benefits of yoga to an increasing number of vulnerable groups. Since their start in 2018, the organisation aims to build communities where people accept themselves and towards others.

On the part of AdniJóga, the need arose to understand better the impact of their yoga classes on the well-being of the various vulnerable groups they have been supporting. Thus a cooperative experimentation process has started to be able to impact this type of somatic approach. 

The current project that we are working on forms part of a Transnational and Transdisciplinary (TT) participative process together with the science shop team of ISGlobal. TTs are Research and Innovation projects that respond to similar social needs and demands identified in different countries, which are then implemented parallel in other Science Shops. Each phase of the research process is co-defined, co-analyzed, and co-implemented among participants working in different countries, intending to respond to the same societal challenges in other places. 

ISGlobal of Barcelona has partnered with Mujeres, Pa’lante, a space for accompanying women that provides information and support on 1) how to arrange your papers in foreign countries, 2) how to strengthen yourself in difficult circumstances, 3) ideas and tools to find work and how to undertake new paths that will allow you to assume greater work autonomy and 4) how to continue with your studies.  

By working with Mujeres, Pa’lante through the process of Science Shops, ISGlobal identified the theme of “Social Support” as a need amongst women and, with the help of community partners, was able to offer a series of dance movement therapy workshops to the women, to improve the emotional health of participants. 

As a transnational team, ESSRG and ISGlobal have collaborated on developing a shared methodological approach to analyse the impact of both of the Science Shops that have been offered comparatively. 

InVisible Green –  Participatory project for equal access to nature experience

Nature experiences contribute substantially to our mental and physical well-being. Exposure to any form of nature is proven to lower stress, has a restorative effect on our neurological and hormonal system. Visiting green spaces, hiking, and contacting animals have an essential role as health-promoting actions, providing free and effective mental health services to people.

However, nature experiences are not equally available to everyone. Blind and partially sighted people are seriously hindered in visiting and enjoying these. The barriers inhibiting their access can be, for example, the lack of available information on the accessibility and facilities in the site.

This raises serious concerns, as subjective well-being of blind and partially sighted people are even more compromised, being more prone to stress, crisis and isolation due to the psychosocial challenges associated with their condition.

In the recently started InVisible Green project, we are working closely with the Blind and Partially Sighted Association in Csongrád County (VAGYCSOME) to tackle equal access to nature. We reflect on how blind and partially sighted people experience nature. We also address the challenges of improving the quality of these experiences.

In the coming months, the ESSRG and VAGYCSOME co-researchers will talk, walk, hike, record sound notes, discuss and inspire the promotion of innovations to improve access to nature’s healing services for the blind and partially sighted.