Discover how Spanish scientist Ramon Flecha is redefining research. Through co-creation with diverse citizens, his innovative work is breaking down barriers and creating real social impact. Explore his journey as an interdisciplinary scientist at the University of Barcelona, elaborating co-creation and social impact criteria in scientific programs, such as the European Commission’s Framework Programme of Research Horizon Europe. Join us for insights into his approach to fostering inclusivity by harnessing the richness of the diversity of citizens to create a more impactful scientific community.
Which wall does your research break?
1. Firstly, among the different sciences, I chaired the co-creation with their representatives and established common criteria of social impact and co-creation for the scientific program of the EC Horizon Europe and other scientific programs. Previously, I chaired the co-creation of the communicative methodology of research which proposed these criteria. I have also published in scientific journals of economy, education, feminism, health, masculinities, neuroscience, and sociology. Now it is clear that the walls among sciences limit the discoveries among all of them.
2. I have been involved with scientists and citizens in elaborating the co-creation criteria and implementing them in the direction of four European Research and Technological Development (RTD) projects: FP5, FP6, FP7, and H2020, in addition to four Spanish projects. Later, chairing the collaboration of the inclusive communication of science, which is the co-creation between scientists and citizens of this communication. I have chaired the creation of the social media analytics methodology to develop this co-creation, including the identification of the activists in favor of science in social networks and providing them the evidence they need for their communication. This has been very useful during the first year of the pandemic for the communication of evidence in social networks about Covid and for overcoming the hoaxes.
3. Thirdly, my research has broken the walls between theory and practice. Flecha has taken the lead in implementing his scientific contributions, especially when faced with significant challenges and risks. As an example, I initiated the transformation of the poorest and most conflict-ridden “barrio” (neighborhood) in Spain. I even spent the first night in a flat without doors or windows. Years later, the residents of that area discussed the transformation, alongside the broader context, at the Hearthquarters of the European Parliament. The same successful actions developed there are now implemented in more than 4000 contexts worldwide and some of those actions (like dialogic gatherings) in more than 15000 contexts.
4. Fourthly, my research breaks the walls dividing various social groups, individuals, and identities. Within the communicative methodology of research, everyone’s voice is included, spanning diverse cultural, sexual, religious, and socioeconomic statuses and ages. The successful actions resulting from those studies are implemented by both the people from the most privileged and the most underserved groups, fostering dialogue among all of them. I always say “Pluralism is needed in democracy and in science”.
What inspired or motivated you to work on your current research or project?
While I was a secondary student at the most privileged school in the city where I was born, Bilbao, in 1952, I began volunteering to teach literacy in the poorest ‘favelas’ in the area. This experience is documented in the PhD dissertation by Elisenda Giner, as published in the book ‘Creative Friendship’. At the age of 17, I excelled as a student in Spain’s first business school of that time. A year later, I juggled my studies with a job offered by a business school in a multinational company, involving intensive work to support democracy and engaging in numerous diverse cultural activities. By the age of 20, I made the decision to transition and dedicate my professional life to collaborating in the creation of exceptional scientific knowledge that enhances the lives of every citizen—both those affluent friends from the business school and the friends I had met in the ‘favelas’.
During my time at the university, I sadly discovered walls that limited both intellectual and scientific excellence, but also the potential impacts on enhancing the quality of citizens’ lives. Research was often confined within individual departments, lacking collaboration across different disciplines. With the support of the Rector, I created the first interdisciplinary research center and overcame those barriers within Spanish universities. Building upon our experiences, this effort led to the approval, four years later, of the initial regulations for interdisciplinary research centers. As a result, such centers have proliferated across numerous Spanish universities.
Breaking down those walls among individual departments allowed us to intensively increase the scientific impact of our studies, but it was not enough to achieve the same kind of improvement regarding social impact. We needed to “fall another wall,” and we did it, by collaboratively shaping our studies through equalitarian dialogues involving the diverse spectrum of citizens in society. The falling of this wall allowed us to create a social impact, but what was all the more surprising was that these dialogues magnified our scientific influence. The diversity of citizens provided us with different knowledge which enriched our scientific discoveries, entailing meaningful dialogues with them. This process was instrumental in co-creating the communicative methodology of research, thus defining the criteria for co-creation and social impact.
In what ways does society benefit from your research?
1. I led the co-creation of the scientific concept of schools as learning communities, a concept that is currently being implemented in 4000 schools around the world. Scientific journals from prestigious institutions like Harvard and Cambridge have highlighted these learning communities, which have achieved remarkable improvements in educational outcomes across diverse contexts. These achievements have even led some newspapers to refer to them as ‘miracle schools’. Additionally, I led the design of some of the successful initiatives, including dialogic gatherings focused on literature, music, and painting. These initiatives are now being implemented in more than 15000 contexts across all five continents.
2. I led the co-creation of the concept of Isolating Gender Violence, which has already gained approval within the legislation of the Catalan Parliament and the Basque department. It is also currently in the process of being adopted by other parliamentary bodies, including the Brazilian one. Additionally, this concept has received endorsement within the ethical codes of scientific organizations, such as the European Sociological Association, and other relevant institutions. This innovative concept is prompting a shift in stance in favor of those who provide support to victims and survivors, addressing a challenge highlighted by scientific literature: individuals are often reluctant to openly support victims due to fear of severe backlash.
3. I chaired the co-creation of the scientifically based model of social impact analysis of companies and organizations. This model offers industrial companies and various other organizations the means to assess their social impact and develop strategies for enhancing and refining it. Currently, this model is being implemented by both myself and my colleagues, ranging from multinational corporations to local community organizations.
4. I have chaired the co-creation of the Brave Clubs Violence Zero which overcomes bullying in schools, the Internet, and nightlife. Brave clubs violence zero had been included in the European Toolkit for Schools. They are part of the dialogic model of living together which led to my selection as the Chair of the European-funded document “Achieving student well-being for all: educational contexts free of violence” which is included in organizations like the Unesco Health Education Resources.
5. The theory of Dialogic Society I developed is a base for projects achieving unprecedented success, surpassing outcomes attained through the application of alternative sociological theories. This theory has obtained explicit and public support, not only from prominent social scientists but from scientists from very diverse scientific disciplines. Currently, there are discussion groups about this theory and its practical applications worldwide, from China to Mexico.
Looking ahead, what are your hopes or aspirations for the future based on your research or project?
One of the products of ALLINTERACT is two citizens’ scientific platforms: Sappho (gender) and Adhyayana (education). During the experimental phase, there were more than 100.000 participations. Beyond just quantity, the aspect of quality was even more significant. These innovative dialogues are falling walls. Someone wrote in ”Sappho” that the supposed tendency of the sons of the fathers making domestic violence to do the same in the future was a hoax, besides revictimizing children. In response, an important researcher provided a list of scientific articles supposedly supporting this claim, but when asked to specify the exact page of the demonstration, consensus was reached that it was indeed a misconception. These pioneering online dialogues, welcoming all perspectives, are fostering advancements in both science and society.
I have diverse hopes in relation to my diverse projects. In relation to the project ALLINTERACT, my hope is that all citizens in the world know that they have these platforms available to them, enabling them to access and collaborate freely. This accessibility aims to aid them in verifying scientific evidence related to various topics relevant to their lives, the lives of their loved ones, and society at large. An increasing number of citizens and scientists from all parts of the world share this hope and are actively working towards its realization in various ways. When they discover these two platforms, many of them think that this is one of their best real dreams.
Relevant scientists have called our attention to the relationship between science and beauty. Einstein related beauty to science: “Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas” Marie Skłodowska-Curie said, “A scientist in the laboratory is … placed before a natural phenomenon, which impresses her/him like a fairy tale.”
On March 27th, we witnessed a remarkable event at the Hearthquarters of the European Parliament: an 8-year-old girl took the stage to share how the use of these platforms has positively transformed her life, the lives of her peers, and their families. She was talking about the scientific evidence they discovered on the platforms and the impact on their lives. Her speech about science was incredibly beautiful, lighting up the faces of the entire audience. This is my hope: all human beings from all parts of the world in all conditions to have the opportunity to enjoy science in this beautiful landscape.