The Seventh Research Framework Program of the EU entitled „Science in Society“ specifically calls for a rapprochement and dialog between research institutions and stakeholders in society with the objective “... to stimulate thought and discourse on science and technology across the European Union and how they relate to the overall social and cultural spectrum.” (EU Commission 2006, p.40, unofficial translation)
Since not every area of scientific research is directly related to current social issues, service learning can serve as an impetus for this type of rapprochement between universities and society. Service learning can contribute to identifying applications for scientific research or help initiate applied research projects. Insights gathered when scientific research is directly tied to its fields of application can also have an impact on which issues should be subject to further research, e.g. when it comes to deciding which methods to apply or how to interpret scientific research results.
In the course of service learning, community partners, students and faculty engage in an exchange which often reveals discrepancies between scientific concepts or findings on the one hand and real life framework conditions for action and their outcomes on the other. Researchers as well as community partners can benefit from addressing these differences in a scientific manner, for example
- by identifying empirically relevant questions and issues, which were, to date, neglected in scientific research
- by identifying scientifically-based solutions, which correspond with real life social framework conditions for action
- by (further) developing scientific instruments and procedures
- by delivering an impetus and suggestions for solutions to social challenges and assessing the limitations of theoretical concepts
- by encouraging interdisciplinary action and organization
- by scientifically analyzing and reflecting on service in action
- by explaining the causes for differences between theory and practice
As a result, in the course of service learning students may discover new subjects areas to address in their final papers or they may decide to produce more in-depth research papers after having been exposed to concrete social challenges or conditions.