Spotlight: Shauna Stack

Shauna Stack is a Junior Researcher at IHS and part of the institute since 2020. As a member of the research group Science, Technology and Social Transformation she focuses mainly on the democratization of research and innovation.

You are leaving IHS at the end of march after four years at the institute. Looking back, what research projects shaped your time the most?

I would say that two projects were highlights for me. The first was the “NewHorrizon” project, which I joined midway when I began working at IHS in 2020. Not only was it my first research project, it was actually about researching the European commission’s framework for research and innovation and the social implications, so it was a very intensive introduction into how these projects are structured and how they are run. I also liked how international it was with 19 partners spanning across all over Europe. Another highlight was the “CLIMAS” project which I was part of from the proposal process onward and which began in February last year. This project is focused on getting citizens involved in climate policy making through citizens assemblies so is a bit more thematically focused than NewHoRRIzon was which I like.

What are the thematic focal points of your research?

I would say that all the projects that I have done touch in some way on the democratization of research and innovation. I am very interested in how we as a society produce knowledge that values and valorizes certain kind of scientific outcomes. My master's thesis also dealt with how knowledge is constructed to measure social impact. For me, this connects very well to research and innovation because downstream, outcomes of research lead to innovation which greatly effects the direction society goes in the future. This happens not only with technological innovation but also in policy decision making about sociotechnical issues, so it’s important that the social implications are reflected on and made more visible for democratic reasons and personally for me, for better innovation.  

Lets talk about the CLIMAS project you mentioned. What’s the aim of the project?

We got the project, which is funded by the Horizon Europe Framework Programme, in 2022 and started in February of last year. The aim of the project is to further improve the concept of climate assemblies, which is a kind of policy instrument and supplement to already existing democratic processes. The objective of this instrument is to bring citizens into a space where they are informed and can deliberate about climate change and the policy dilemmas that arise from scientific knowledge intersecting with practical options for policy makers. To me, it is an example of our democratic practices modernizing in response to a complex challenge. Climate change cannot just be tackled with technical knowledge, it must also be tackled by updating our institutions and providing an opportunity for citizens’ perspectives to be more involved and better represented in the process.  

­What stage is the project in and what are the next steps?

The first year was basically a research and planning stage. We developed methodological guidelines of how to initiate and set up a climate assembly and we did a mapping exercise where we mapped different experiences of climate assemblies across the EU. The next step is to conceptualize a toolkit for improving climate assemblies, which we are developing together with our partners.

Let’s talk about your personal future, what have you planned for your time after IHS?

I’m currently deciding what to do next in terms of merging research and practice. It is hard to continue in research without a PhD so that is an obvious option. However, I see more and more that there is a lot of very good knowledge already out there, and I'm thinking more about ways to practically leverage that knowledge and bring it to better use. And this relates also to my interest in evaluation and how our institutions could fund or support new kinds of knowledge transfer or translation activities that I think are desperately needed. So  I am currently exploring ways to work on that issue and if it is supported by a PhD program then I will pursue it. But if not, then I'm happy to continue that kind of mission in more of a practitioner role.

Lastly, what were your main learnings from your time at IHS?

I learned a lot. It’s an interesting time for non-university research institutions like IHS, because they can play more of an intermediary role for societal stakeholders and policy makers. I think that the research system in general is very well structured, however, sometimes this reaches a point where it can limit itself, because practices are so entrenched. There is a lot of institutional inertia and I think it’s important that institutions find a way to break out of these patterns and find new ways to address the challenges that we have.

Thanks for the interview and all the best for your future!