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Bridging Science and Society through Scientific Social Responsibility

Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, released the Scientific Social Responsibility (SSR) Guidelines on 11th May 2022 to ensure greater integration of science and technology with society at institutional and individual levels. SSR is the convergence of scientific knowledge with visionary leadership and social conscience. SSR, a singular term, has come to the fore of the public sphere in the last few years. It is analogous to the phrase corporate social responsibility (CSR), wherein all companies and corporations need to abide by such practices and policies that would positively influence the world. Comparably, SSR refers to the role of scientists in educating the public and society, besides working to generate new knowledge. The concept of SSR is based on the moral and ethical obligation of the scientific community to 'give back' the benefits they derive from science to the less endowed stakeholders of Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) and society. It also stems from the Constitution of India, which requires every citizen of India to develop a scientific temper as a fundamental duty. SSR, an institutional mechanism, is a noteworthy headway to reach out to the broadest spectrum of stakeholders of S&T with knowledge, human resources, and infrastructure to make effective use of existing assets for the benefit of society.

 India has taken significant strides in building the STI ecosystem since its independence. Despite the advancement in STI, the transfer of scientific knowledge and its benefits to society remain nominal. Previous Science and Technology policies, such as Scientific Policy Resolution 1958, Technology Policy Statement 1983, Science and Technology Policy 2003, and Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy 2013, focussed on the utilisation of science for the welfare of the people, but in new-age India, there is a need for greater integration of S&T with the society. The 104th session of the Indian Science Congress held in 2017 emphasised the need for inculcating SSR for engaging science for societal welfare. This required the development of a framework to facilitate the integration of science and society and build synergy among the stakeholders, thereby ensuring the transfer of scientific knowledge for the benefit of society.

The main objective of the current SSR guidelines is to harness the latent potential of the scientific community to strengthen science and society linkages by bridging the science-society (transferring the benefits of scientific work to meet the current needs of society), science-science (creating an environment for sharing ideas and resources), and society-science (working with communities to identify their problems and developing appropriate scientific and technological solutions) gaps, and indoctrinating moral and social responsibilities in the practitioners of science. SSR aims to create an ecosystem for the optimal usage of existing resources to empower the marginalised and exploited sections of society by enhancing their capability, capacity, and potential. The SSR guidelines involve four categories of stakeholders: beneficiaries (any community group, entity, or individual benefitting from SSR activity such as students, teachers, women's groups, communities, small and medium enterprises, start-ups, non-governmental organisations), implementers (public and private institutes, universities, colleges, laboratories, science centres, central ministries, state governments), assessors (internal assessment cells or external agency assessing the SSR activity), and supporters (funds provided by government, corporate bodies, non-resident Indians, alumni associations, philanthropic organisations, or any other agency).

To implement the listed activities, "an Anchor Scientific Institution (ASI)" needs to be identified in every district of the country. The ASI will map the societal issues/problems requiring immediate scientific solutions and establish links with all implementers (educational and scientific institutions) with a well-defined catchment area. All the ASIs in a state will be linked to their respective State Science and Technology Council (SSTC). A national digital portal will connect all the ASIs and SSTCs, serving as a platform for linking stakeholders. Further, all central and state governments must plan and strategise SSR as per their mandates. The knowledge institutions need to prepare their SSR implementation plan in consultation with the ASI to achieve their SSR goals. All knowledge institutions would publish an annual SSR report and undergo periodic assessments. The SSR activities would be measured in short-term, medium-term, or long-term time frames and incentivised with budgetary support. Further, the knowledge workers must contribute at least ten working days in a year towards SSR activities for which they will be awarded due weightage in performance evaluation.

Science and society share a mutualistic relationship, and SSR will comprise the scientific impact on society and the social implications for science. SSR will further connect leading scientific institutions with all stakeholders to create an environment of ideas and resource sharing. It will enable the transformation of the mindset of the scientific community and augment the social reputation of scientific organisations while also encouraging students into science. Inculcation of moral responsibility amongst the scientific community through SSR could increase entrepreneurship and start-ups, affecting the S&T ecosystem and society. Further, it will strengthen the knowledge system and enhance the efficiency of harnessing science for societal benefit. The SSR guidelines anticipate an ecosystem with a two-way engagement between science and society with the potential to metamorphose society by enriching people's lives while simultaneously helping the nation achieve its goal of sustainable development.

For more information related to SSR Guidelines, visit https://dst.gov.in/document/guidelines/scientific-social-responsibility-ssr-guidelines-2022