Conference Report: Horizons for Social Sciences and Humanities

Conference Report: Horizons for Social Sciences and Humanities

Helga Nowotny, Professor of Social Studies of Science, President of the European Research Council, and well known to EASST colleagues, welcomed participants to this important and timely conference with a call to ‘operationalise’ the ambitious goals of integrating the social sciences and humanities (SSH) in the Horizon 2020 grand challenges for research and innovation. Held in Vilnius, on September 23/24 the conference was part of the Lithuanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union to discuss the role of social sciences and humanities in the upcoming EU Framework Programme Horizon 2020 which will focus on societal challenges.

Robert-Jan Smits, Director-General of DG Research & Innovation, in his keynote address, stated that ground breaking interdisciplinary research with ‘full embedding’ of SSH was needed to successfully address the grand challenges of Horizon 2020.

The ensuing conference dialogue between researchers and European Commission officials revealed both the opportunities and the difficulties of translating these ambitions into reality. The commitment is real enough but the legacy of ‘science-push’ framing of research agendas remains very tangible. Several conference participants, including EASST Council members, past and present, expressed the need to draw on the transdisciplinary experience and capabilities of the science, technology & innovation studies community to make a real transformation happen.

The outcome of the conference was the ‘Vilnius Declaration’ which we reproduce below. It articulates the need for a broader model of innovation with a participative, reflective approach to define a distinctively European path for research to address societal challenges.

This development opens up new opportunities for EASST and our members who are extensively involved in the EU framework programmes. We need to proactively shape the emerging Horizon 2020 programme to enable it to fulfil its interdisciplinary social science & humanities aspirations. This will be an issue discussed at an EASST convened meeting of national STIS associations in London in late November. In the next issue of the review we will propose a strategy to address this.

Vilnius Declaration – Horizons for Social Sciences and Humanities (

Europe will benefit from wise investment in research and innovation and Social Sciences and Humanities, SSH, are ready to contribute. European societies expect research and innovation to be the foundation for growth. Horizon 2020 aims to implement inter-disciplinarity and an integrated scientific approach. If research is to serve society, a resilient partnership with all relevant actors is required. A wide variety of perspectives will provide critical insights to help achieve the benefits of innovation. The effective integration of SSH requires that they are valued, researched and taught in their own right as well as in partnership with other disciplinary approaches.

The value and benefits of integrating Social Sciences and Humanities
European Social Sciences and Humanities are world class, especially considering their diversity. They are indispensible in generating knowledge about the dynamic changes in human values, identities and citizenship that transform our societies. They are engaged in research, design and transfer of practical solutions for a better and sustainable functioning of democracy. Their integration into Horizon 2020 offers a unique opportunity to broaden our understanding of innovation, realigning science with ongoing changes in the ways in which society operates.

1. Innovation is a matter of change in organisations and institutions as well as technologies. It is driven not only by technological advances, but also by societal expectations, values and demands. Making use of the wide range of knowledge, capabilities, skills and experiences readily available in SSH will enable innovation to become embedded in society and is necessary to realise the policy aims predefined in the “Societal Challenges”

2. Fostering the reflective capacity of society is crucial for sustaining a vital democracy. This can be achieved through innovative participatory approaches, empowering European citizens in diverse arenas, be it through participation as consumers in the marketplace, as producers of culture, as agents in endangered environments, and/or as voters in European democracies.

3. Policy-making and research policy have much to gain from SSH knowledge and methodologies. The latter lead to new perspectives on identifying and tackling societal problems. SSH can be instrumental in bringing societal values and scientific evaluation into closer convergence.

4. Drawing on Europe’s most precious cultural assets, SSH play a vital role in redefining Europe in a globalising world and enhancing its attractiveness.

5. Pluralistic SSH thinking is a precious resource for all of Europe’s future research and innovation trajectories, if it can be genuinely integrated. H2020 offers this opportunity for the first time.

Conditions for the successful integration of Social Sciences and Humanities into Horizon 2020

7. Recognising knowledge diversity: Solving the most pressing societal challenges requires the appropriate inclusion of SSH. This can only succeed on a basis of mutual intellectual and professional respect and in genuine partnership. Efficient integration will require novel ways of defining research problems, aligned with an appropriate array of interdisciplinary methods and theoretical approaches. SSH approaches continue to foster practical applications that enhance the effectiveness of technical solutions.

8. Collaborating effectively: The working conditions of all research partners must be carefully considered from the beginning and appropriately aligned to set up efficient collaboration across different disciplines and research fields. This includes adequate organisational and infrastructural arrangements, as well as ties to other stakeholders in civil society and business. Budgetary provisions must be appropriate to achieve this goal.

9. Fostering interdisciplinary training and research: Integrating SSH with the natural and technical sciences must begin with fitting approaches in post-graduate education and training. Innovative curricula foster a deepened understanding of the value of different disciplinary approaches, and how they relate to real world problems.

10. Connecting social values and research evaluation: Policy-makers rightly insist that the impact of publicly funded research and its benefits for society and the economy should be assessed. Accurate research evaluation that values the breadth of disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches is required to tackle the most pressing societal challenges.

Agreement with the principles of the Vilnius Declaration should be made the basis for the integration of the SSH into H2020.

September 24th, 2013
Vilnius, Lithuania