It was the summer 2021 when the UNITA Alliance took up the challenge to submit a joint proposal for the largest European public engagement event: the European Researchers Night (NIGHT). Since 2006, the NIGHT has represented a much appreciated and awaited event by EU citizens who want to learn about the work of researchers. It has represented an unexpected surprise for those citizens who accidentally run into the event in unusual locations too. For young people, participation in the NIGHT is often also a source of inspiration for pursuing a scientific career. Over the years, the EU Commission has funded a growing number of events, allowing hundreds of thousands of researchers and citizens to meet and exchange ideas and expectations.
The U*Night proposal fully embraced this inclusive approach, as the project title itself underlies. In fact, U*Night is pronounced as Unite (recalling United, which is UNITA in English), but also as You Night (a strong call to action - and participation - for everyone who is listening or reading). In addition, it’s pronunciation recalls EU Night, and the reference to the NIGHT is immediate for all those who know the event. Choosing inclusiveness as a key concept of the project, along with the powerful impact that the Alliance action confirms to have, also in terms of knowledge cross-fertilization, brought to achieve an astonishing result, as the project achieved the maximum evaluation score (15/15), being funded for the next two years (2022 and 2023).
U*Night will involve researchers from 5 Countries and will entail the organization of 5 regional events with a programme of activities lasting the whole year and designed to enhance the European dimension of the event while giving value to local strength and experiences. The project has been designed to expand the outreach action of the NIGHT also bringing the event to new cities and to rural, semi-rural and mountain areas that are usually less involved in this kind of event. This will be possible thanks to the efforts of the members of UNITA, the European University Alliance strongly committed to the valorisation of rural and mountain areas, and to the coordination of UNITO, which has a many-years experience in the event.
The activities will be conceived to increase the public recognition of R&D in terms of impact on citizens and communities’ daily lives: to this aim, the project will adopt the approach of Horizon Europe Missions, framing the communication in a challenge-based narrative, to translate critical issues into concrete objectives and make the researchers’ work tangible and linked to real life. U*Night will also enhance the direct participation of people to the research process, by launching a transnational citizen science project to highlight the contribution that citizens can bring to science and the benefit they can get in terms of personal development.
U*Night will also promote the role of citizens as key stakeholders in the debate on societal challenges and will activate a constructive interaction with policy makers and scientists. To this aim U*Night will create concrete opportunities for opening this dialogue, by launching co-creation processes that lead to more inclusive decision policy-making. U*Night will also develop innovative training resources to support researchers in becoming better listeners to citizens’ needs and concerns and to build a stronger relationship with society.
In addition, U*Night intends to become an open laboratory for communication and outreach practices, where the partners can pioneer innovative actions but also nurture a stronger culture of public engagement within the European academia through the direct connection of UNITA with all the other European university Alliances.