Bring Science closer to citizens


The ERA Plastic Pirates – Go Europe! citizen science initiative engages and empowers young people across Europe to monitor and tackle plastic pollution in rivers, coasts and sea. The initiative was first launched by the Trio Presidency of Germany, Portugal and Slovenia who mobilised more than 7,500 young people from around 320 schools and organisations in 2020-21 to sample and analyse plastic pollution of Europe’s rivers and coastal areas. In a next step, the initiative will be rolled out on a European scale in 2022 with support from Horizon Europe for a pan-European sampling campaign to assess the origins and pathways of plastic pollution, improve the scientific understanding of the problem and raise environmental awareness.

The ERA Policy Agenda has identified Plastic Pirates as part of the ERA action “Bring Science closer to Citizens” for the period 2022-2024. As such, Plastic Pirates will contribute to the key priority area: Taking up together the challenges posed by the twin green and digital transition, and increasing society’s participation in the ERA. Already in December 2020, the Council called, in its Conclusions on the New European Research Area, “on the Commission and Member States to further develop and implement the “plastic pirates” citizen science campaign as the ERA pilot action to foster “interaction” within the ERA in order to raise awareness among citizens, in particular young citizens, on the impact and benefits of R&I in their daily lives [as well as] encouraging cooperation with the proposed Mission on Healthy Oceans, Seas, Coastal and Inland Water”.

The Plastic Pirates will help to achieve the objectives of the Mission Restore our Ocean and Waters, in particular its ambition to prevent and eliminate pollution in European seas and waters, and is included as specific action in its implementation plan1 . The initiative also contributes to key European environmental policy objectives, notably the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, Water Framework Directive and the Zero Pollution Action Plan for Air, Water and Soil. Finally, the campaign will also serve as a showcase example for the European Year of Youth 2022.

To support the exchange of best practices and draw lessons for the launch of future citizen science approaches, a Mutual Learning Exercise (MLE) on “Citizen Science initiatives – Policy and Practice” under the ERA Policy Support Facility will be launched. The MLE will help to ensure good practices and impacts, maximise the relevance and excellence of citizen science, enable environments and sustaining citizen science, and draw lessons on how to scaling up citizen science across the European Union.

European Science in the City

The engagement of citizens, local communities and civil society will be at the core of the new ERA to achieve greater societal impact and increased trust in science.

Building on the key role of science during the COVID-19 pandemic, Member States, research organisations and industry should involve citizens in societal update of technology choices. To achieve this, leaders of R&I institutions, funders and policy makers need to agree on principles, recommendations and good practices for incentivising and rewarding citizen participation to promote trust and facilitate the uptake of science, technology and innovation. The ERA will enhance the communication to the broader public, and young generations in particular, on science addressing the twin transition and promote participatory actions concerning the transformation of our economy and society. It is also important to include the groups at higher risk of exclusion, such as persons with disabilities and older persons, their representative organisations and groups with limited, or no contact to science to address critical issues related to their low involvment or exclusion in the research.

To create stronger public understanding, connection and engagement should be promoted through regular citizen science campaigns and education and training activities. New R&I solutions need to be co-designed and coimplemented in consultation with citizens to ensure that there is societal uptake of these new solutions and approaches. One of the main goals is to strengthen the trust in the various ways society is influenced by science and, on the other hand, how science is influenced by choices, dilemmas and responsibilities that arise in society. There is scope for opening up science and innovation to Europeans in their cities, regions and countries.

It is important to pursue in all relevant initiatives a high involvement of earlycareer researchers, as they represent the future European researchers. Making research careers popular and appealing for the younger generations, will attract more people to research careers, to the benefit of the R&I system in Europe and of the labour market demand for highly skilled talents.

Finally, the European strategy for universities (Commission communication, 18-01-2022) proposes to organise an annual European Talent Fair bringing together students, early career researchers, scholars, start-ups, inustry and investors promoting talent, business and job opportunities across the EU, starting with the European Science in the City in Leiden 2022.