This project began with the changes in the names of the European Commission’s action plans for the relationship between science and society. Analysing the main relevant documents in the last four European science policy framework programmes (FP5, FP6, FP7, H2020), we asked how much terminologies, meanings, and foci of attention have changed. A more detailed look confirms the growing importance attached to this area of intervention and the transformation in the priorities and conceptions orienting these policies. This gradual change not only largely reflects the academic debates on the need for more participatory and dialogical ways of bringing science and society closer together, but also poses new challenges when interpreting the ultimate goals and potential implications of the plans. Issues of governance of science and the transformation of scientific institutions are gaining ground compared to those of science education and public communication of science. Equally clear is the progressive incorporation of the questions of innovation and the markets into this area of political action, in a way reconfiguring the balance between aims related with democracy and participation, on the one hand, and economic competitiveness on the other. The range of social actors involved in these actions has also changed. Employing a discourse that is often vague, these plans tend to call for a certain de-differentiation of the roles traditionally attributed to the various institutions (scientific, political, business, media), valuing some, omitting others, and repositioning several.