What is societal engagement?

You might already have processes in place for user consultations to invite opinions and perspectives, but it offers no assurance that citizen concerns and ideas will be taken into account. This section is to explain the concept of societal engagement and how to find out in which way this can be a useful approach for you.

Societal engagement is about engaging citizens in specially designed activities to better address the challenges society faces today. Societal engagement is a way to keep technological innovation open to continuous social monitoring by taking the priorities, expectations and concerns of citizens into account. Reliable knowledge is not only created through scientific methods, but is highly dependent on its ‘reliability’ within a societal context. Therefore, to navigate the complexities between knowledge, decision-making, expertise and action in technology and innovation, it is of importance to consider experiences, attitudes, perceptions and vulnerabilities of citizens and stakeholders, alongside the knowledge required through scientific methods, in order to steer innovation towards desirable and acceptable goals.

How much should you engage citizens?

The level of engagement can vary from merely informing citizens to giving citizens full control over the innovation process. The former is often called pseudo-participation or tokenism, as it is a one-way process, whereas the latter is often referred to as working in partnership or giving full control to citizens, for example through co-creation. In this guide, we recommend you to start somewhere in the middle (depending on your previous experience) by engaging with citizens and taking their insights on board, and then if possible moving towards further engagement and potentially trying co-creation. We also encourage you to engage with a wider diversity of citizens, not just end users, in order to hear different perspectives. By widening your engagement, your company can expand the network and market reach and enhance its reputation.

Why does engagement with citizens matter?

Engaging with citizens matters because it provides space for discussing the ethical implications and the impact of innovative technologies on the day-to-day life and the potential future. Societal engagement can also inspire innovation and enhance your company’s profile:

    • You can profit from identifying new opportunities that could strengthen your products or technology.
    • You can make sure that your technologies are relevant to users because they reflect people’s needs and values.
      You ascertain the societal readiness of your products – societal readiness is the level of societal adaptation of a technology, a process or a product to be integrated into society.
    • You gain new opportunities to establish long-term visions, strategies, relations and profits.
    • You strengthen your market position by become more aware of local and global cultural, political and/or economic developments.
    • You prevent developing products or technologies that harm users or the environment.
    • You might benefit from learning about new competencies and skills that could enrich your company.
    • You explore opportunities to expand your network and its reach, as well as opportunities to collaborate with relevant stakeholders.

Societal engagement activities should be about:

    • Exploring with citizens diverse current and future scenarios, highlighting the challenges and opportunities that come
      with the implementation of innovative technologies.
    • Iterative reflection on your company’s ethical and social responsibilities.
    • Facilitating ‘tangible’ discussions on the impact of innovative technologies on the daily lives of citizens.
    • Creating a space for active participation and contribution from all actors involved.
    • Enabling all stakeholders to learn from each other.
    • Creating space for empathy and common ground.
    • Building and fostering sustainable relationships.

Engaging citizens in discussions about AI can help scientists who develop such technologies

Fernando Boto
Data Scientist, Tecnalia

It is the market and the users who decide what needs to be addressed with new technology

Birgite Schytte
Municipal Councillor, Lejre Municipality

Establishing continuous societal engagement around tech innovation requires critical reflection on underlying values and assumptions within your company. How would your company engage people? We are offering some questions for reflection throughout this guide to help you in establishing societal engagement within the standard procedures of your company. You can answer the questions directly in the downloadable PDF guide.


The Tech Industry’s Guide has been created as part of the EU-funded SocKETs project, which aims to align innovative technologies with citizens’ needs and values through societal engagement. This 3-year project is coordinated by the Danish Board of Technology with partners from six countries.

This guide and its contents reflect only their authors’ view. The Research Executive Agency and the European Commission are not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained herein.

The SocKETs project (Societal Engagement with Key Enabling Technologies) has received funding from the European Union´s Horizon 2020 Framework Programme for Research and Innovation under grant agreement no.958277.