VOICES was a year-long EU-funded project with the goals of gathering public opinion on the topic of urban waste and providing insight about the specifics of how to engage the public with defining the European research agenda. From the outset, the European Commission was committed to accepting the opinions gathered through this program and formally including them as a part of Horizon 2020, the main policy document that would shape the priorities of European research for the next several years.
Community consultations to gather information about public opinion took place at 33 museums and science centers (28 of which were members of the European Network of Science Centres and Museums) across 27 countries, and involved roughly 1,000 citizens. Each of the locations had moderators trained in skills like interpersonal communication, process management, and knowledge of the topic being addressed. The locations then recruited participants that were intentionally diverse in sex, age, education, and other dimensions of diversity. Three-hour focus groups were held at each location and followed a semi-structured script involving an introduction, four main exercises, and evaluation. These focus groups discussed questions like: “What stops you from disposing of waste in better [more ecologically friendly] ways?” or “How could we achieve a ‘zero waste society’?” Each focus group was recorded, a notetaker was present, and all visual materials created by the group were photographed. After each focus group, the moderators produced a summary report and participants could add comments.
There was extensive documentation of the process itself including the methodology, training, focus groups, and analysis of results. The VOICES project found that the methodology of the focus groups and moderator training were successful at being flexible enough to work well in the different cultural contexts of the 27 countries. The information produced about urban waste provided input that defined the actual priorities for a new work program on ‘Urban Waste’. Many of the public opinions about urban waste supported previous research priorities in the European Union, such as the reduction of packaging, increased regulation of manufacturers, and more convenient recycling locations. The focus groups also produced some new ideas for consideration, such as a desire for devices to facilitate waste sorting in the home, and incentives to separate waste. You can learn more in the VOICES Final Report Summary.