A new post is now available on ESPI's blog, 'Civil Society'. As the title suggests the blog post addresses the relationship between the space community and civil society , and what can be done to further optimise the dialogue:
The space community is rather insular and still very orientated towards technology push! We are so convinced of the excellence of our wares and their general utility that we sometimes forget to listen to the users, the potential users, the youth. By this we do ourselves a disservice and, even worse, we do society at large a disservice.
It is truism to talk about the transversal nature of space utility – we know that space assets are involved in such a great variety of societal activities, telecoms, weather, climate change and environmental monitoring, civil protection, navigation. Space is an enabler, and only space science can be argued to be, to some extent, an end in itself. Even human space flight has great enabling effect: it inspires the youth to get into STEM educations, for instance.
Given this prevalence of the enabling function it is curious that there is not more attention to the importance of listening to those who are enabled or could be enabled. This might be changing, but still push beats pull by a large margin. And transversal dialogue mechanisms are few and far between!
Of course, ESA has the Council and its programme board structure which through governmental representation ensure strong involvement of Member States and thus a degree of civil society representation, but truth be told the conversations are still very much space community conversations and the degree of transversality could probably be further optimised. The EU and EC involvement in space provides a necessary political dimension, but capturing all the enabling functions of space is not easy in administrative structures that naturally break down according to specialisations. The involvement of the European Parliament has been highly beneficial in terms of civil society influence, yet is but one prong in an approach that should have many, both at the international and the national level.
Regular meetings between the space community and the Chief Scientists of governments and the European Commission are one way to strengthen both transversality and civil society involvement. The same is true for regular meetings and dialogue with the important non-space international governmental and non-governmental organisations. It is noticeable that a number of structured dialogue mechanisms on space exist between the EC, ESA and important space-faring countries, such as the US, Russia, China, South Africa. But no such structured dialogues on space exist with the UN or its Specialized Agencies, NATO, OSCE, or with the Red Cross, the Gates Foundation, the Global Fund against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, World Wildlife Fund, Doctors without Borders, etc. And in an age of social media, much more can be done to structure dialogues with ordinary, interested citizens, not just to push space, but to hear their opinions and harvest their suggestions. Crowdsourcing is big in business, and should be so also in political decision-making!
In short, there are many things that can and should be done to reinforce the dialogue with civil society and foster cross-fertilisation across the many borders that society inevitably builds when it becomes more and more specialized. This challenge is not unique to space, but is very pronounced for space because of its incredibly wide societal reach and huge untapped potential! To unlock all the promise of space the ear must be to the ground on which the normal citizen treads!