EASSH

The European Alliance for SSH welcomes the invitation of the Commission to contribute to the development of the next Framework Programme. In response EASSH has prepared two position papers, with a thematic and a cross-cutting focus respectively. Both papers are displayed and can be downloaded below:

1. EASSH Position paper#

FP9 must invest in Research for a Democratic Union and the European Social Dimension

The European Alliance for SSH calls on the EU to make an ambitious investment in Democracy and the European Social Dimension. The 9th Framework Programme for European research 2021-2027 must address the changing nature of citizenship and democracy. These questions relate to concerns that preoccupy European citizens just as much as their elected representatives.

Academia Europaea endorses and supports the new position paper.#

Position paper#

The 9th Framework Programme for European research 2021-2027 must address the changing nature of citizenship and democracy. The future direction of the EU itself is under discussion and the ideological basis for an “ever closer Union” is increasingly being debated. We are confronted by critical questions concerning Europe’s role in a rapidly changing world, and the European Union as a democratic project based in the rule of law. The way in which the EU sees its role and place in the world is being changed by the same influences. EASSH calls on the EU to recognise the critical importance of economic, social and democratic dimensions of the challenges we face.

These questions relate to concerns that preoccupy European citizens just as much as their elected representatives. Eurobarometer surveys consistently put worries about jobs, rising social inequalities and secure societies at the top. Similarly half of the priorities in President Juncker’s agenda focus on democratic change, justice and fundamental rights, migration and human development. Whether identified by citizens or by political leaders, the major issues we face all have strong social and human dimensions. Europe's response to these issues demands a shared and renewed understanding of the democratic basis of the Union, and of the kinds of consent that political actors need to re-establish with citizens. It is vital that research is mobilized to shape engagement in these questions on the part of all relevant actors, and to mobilize civil society in a project that more than anything demands active and informed engagement on the part of citizens.

Therefore, FP9 should

  • make a significant investment to help understand how our societies can deal with issues of social justice and economic empowerment, while supporting environmentally sustainable innovation,
  • be a step-change in bringing to bear on society the depth and quality of insights provided by social, economic and humanistic research in close collaboration with civil society,
  • recognise that Europe and the values which shaped it are based on openness and partnership on a global scale. The new programme must acknowledge that Europe’s challenges are shared with other nations across the globe.

This paper calls for protecting and reshaping Europe’s global role as a union of democracy, citizenship, innovation and social progress. In order to achieve this goal it is essential to mobilize Europe’s world class research base in social sciences and humanities.

The European Alliance for SSH calls on the EU to make an ambitious investment in Democracy and the Social Dimension.#

Horizon 2020 was primarily designed to support economic growth in Europe through research and innovation. By and large Horizon 2020 has not, however, invested in gaining insight into the powerful economic and social processes which are changing European societies and the EU in more profound ways. Nevertheless, European social science and humanities research is already having important social impact. The latest research assessment exercises have provided evidence of social improvements of citizens’ living conditions as a result of implementing results from EU funded research projects or the policies influenced by their results. It is is vital that FP9 brings our the full potential of social science and humanities research for Europe.

In May 2017 Commissioner Thyssen and Vice-President Dombrovskis published their reflection paper “The Social Dimension of Europe”, in which they observe that “European societies are prosperous and affluent places to live. They have the highest levels of social protection in the world and rank highly in terms of wellbeing, human development and quality of life.” However, the report also notes that “when [Europeans are] asked about the future, many express anxiety and concern, in particular for future generations”. EASSH believes that this paradox of high levels of prosperity accompanied by growing social inequalities and anxiety is at the heart of the democratic challenge facing the EU.1

FP9 must invest in research that will provide the evidence base to design norms and policies to foster a union of people, cohesion, mutual respect, innovation and understanding, and social progress and wellbeing.

It is of paramount importance to developing responses to a major challenge that addresses the complex relationships between economic and political democracy, humanity and society. Europeans want to be active participants in and not mere observers of “democracy”. European citizens are educated to higher levels than in the past, and are highly capable of engaging with policy making, provided that their right to access and use information and knowledge are secured and enhanced. Individuals and communities are rightly seeking to participate in co-designing the economic, social and political environment they want to live in.

Deep changes in economic organisations, families, labour markets and social welfare are transforming our societies. They affect all generations; at the same time, their impact at different points of the life-course vary sharply and will demand informed and reflective thinking on the part of citizens and political actors alike. We need longitudinal studies to understand how we are changing, at what speed and whether change is universal or in response to local conditions. Research into these social and economic changes will help to equip European societies to meet these key challenges and will help to ensure that European democracy will be strengthened in the process.

Societal changes are closely intertwined with technological advances. The long-anticipated impacts of artificial intelligence are now on the cusp of being realized. Artificial Intelligencedriven automation will create wealth and expand the European economy in coming years, and we must ensure the majority will benefit. We must ensure that new technology generates improved quality of life and ensures environmental preservation. Above all we must work to ensure that it does not become a cause of greater inequality. We need to prepare for how the changes in technology will be accompanied by changes in the skills that workers need in order to succeed. Rapid and sometimes disruptive social change may be a challenge not only to social acceptance of innovation but also threaten the very cultural foundations that are key to European lifestyles. FP9 must ensure that we bring cultural and democratic heritage into the future. Proactive policy making will be needed to help Europeans, who may be disadvantaged by these changes, ensure that the benefits of AI and automation are developed by and available to all. These are fundamentally economic, social, cultural, and political challenges, and demand that the Union draws on Europe's world-class research base in the social sciences and humanities in responding to them.

Europe is increasingly a knowledge-based society. Within a generation, more than half of the European population will have completed a tertiary level education, and that will continue to grow. Knowledge is no longer just the driver of the economy, but it shapes social and political processes in Europe, and equips citizens to become more informed and more engaged stakeholders. There has never been a more important time to invest in research which promotes this self-awareness, shapes an empowering context for our potential, and sustains a commitment to a just society. There has never been a more important time to invest in research and knowledge creation for Europe’s citizens.

EASSH will be launching a consultation among its members and stakeholders to support and design a many-sided, ambitious and pioneering investment in a collaborative programme on economic and political Democracy to achieve the European Social Dimension in the next Framework Programme. EASSH calls on all other relevant knowledge, policy organisations and civil society in Europe to support this initiative.

EASSH next paper will respond to the EC request of feedback to address four technical areas of improvement for the European Funding Framework, namely Research funding instruments: integrative platforms; Social Impact; key performance indicators; and evaluation in interdisciplinary projects.

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2. FP9 ‘s ambitious aims for societal impact call for a step change in interdisciplinarity and citizen engagement#

The European Alliance for SSH welcomes the invitation of the Commission to contribute to the development of the next Framework Programme. In response EASSH has prepared two position papers, with a thematic and a cross-cutting focus respectively. This paper addresses the cross cutting issue. Its starting point is the mid-term review of Horizon 2020, in particular its finding that, although the Societal Challenges multidisciplinary approach offered benefits in comparison with previous funding programmes, there were two unintended effects; the calls appeared to promote projects with little or no innovation and, the evaluation process did not respond adequately to H2020’s ambitions for interdisciplinarity.

The on-going discussions in relation to FP9, including various high-level indications from the Commission, suggest that FP9 will continue to address societal challenges, will identify a number of key missions, will pay increased attention to social impacts and will include innovative approaches to promote citizen engagement and participation.

EASSH greatly welcomes these ideas and trends: the European SSH community, represented by EASSH, has been a strong champion of “real” interdisciplinarity and of concrete and innovative approaches to citizen engagement at various critical stages in the programme and project cycles.

Our concrete proposals are elaborated below, organized into three main groups of actions for FP9- especially its collaborative societal challenge elements. While we believe that each of our proposals will contribute to the above aims we are also convinced that by combining them within an overall strategic framework for interdisciplinarity and engagement FP9 can make an unprecedented contribution to the concerns and aspirations of citizens.

On the basis of our analysis and based on the review of papers submitted for the consultation, EASSH would like to make recommendations in three main areas: radical reform of instruments to support research; programme evaluation and key performance indicators; and dedicated evaluations of interdisciplinary proposals. The latter two sections also address the assessment of social impact. This paper also stresses that fundamental research in relation to the societal challenges has a central role, and should not be ignored but rather nurtured and encouraged.

1. Instruments to Support Multidisciplinary Research: Social Missions and Integrative Platforms#

EASSH encourages the expansion of the range of instruments to support multidisciplinary research in the 9th framework programme. First, we need to look beyond the short-termism of the current 3-year ‘project’ cycle. Many of the problems to be tackled through the missions will require contributions from across research fields and involve a wide variety of stakeholders. EASSH believes that such missions could be considered as being appropriate for longer-term investment in the form of ‘integrative platforms’, which bring together researchers and stakeholders in sustained collaborations. EASSH supports the introduction of ‘integrative research platforms’, which would be supported over 6-8 years, which will partners time to develop approaches to working across disciplines, to learn from early research outcomes and to respond to changing social dynamics in a context which encourages both research and innovation. These platforms will engage with bottom-up issues where there is emerging critical mass to enforce dynamic collaborations of different disciplines and different agents. This is where the real European Added Value for Research lies in sustained investment in key issues.

EASSH reiterates its position that research endeavours should be guided by the nature of the challenges being addressed and not by a limited number of predetermined ‘instruments’. EU-level collaborative research is not always best implemented by large-scale projects with many partners. EASSH believes that supporting more, and smaller, social missions can provide more targeted research insights for both local and European policy makers. Such missions should emerge from research stakeholders and users - such as policy makers, citizens and civil society organisations to provide momentum to address a relevant and pressing issue.

More focused social missions, on the one hand, and integrative platforms, on the other, are complementary approaches to address major research challenges. EASSH hopes that this is the meaning behind the HLG’s recommendations calling for adaptability in choice and the design of funding instruments. In fact, defining instruments and appropriate responses to the social missions should be primarily determined by those engaged in such missions, rather than decided in a rigid, top-down way.

2. Programme Assessment and Key Performance Indicators#

EASSH members have been involved in different projects to review the concept of impact assessments in different programmes. It has now been clearly established that impact cannot be expressed as a linear process. In-depth research has demonstrated that moving ‘from lab to market’ hardly ever occurred in such a simple progression and, more importantly, that it is not just a market ‘product’ that demonstrates achievement, but rather social uptake and scalability which also need to be taken into account.

We propose that assessment of research impact should be looked at on an aggregate level and not in relation to single projects. Assessment should take into account what the call design and the programme were originally intended to achieve. Impact of research, in fact, is not just about ‘fixing problems’ or ‘making things’. It is about generating new knowledge and evidence, and understanding how these are used for developing pathways and measures towards addressing an issue or a challenge, which may be relevant to European society now or in the future. Crucially, this process should also address the assessment of calls and of challenges, which will allow the unintended effects of research developments to be clearly identified.

In a similar view, we need to identify the right key performance indicators to measure whether a programme delivers what it has been designed for. We should not use or re-use indicators where the aims and purpose of a programme are new; we will need to identify appropriate new indicators. In Horizon 2020, the approach of the Societal challenges was innovative, but it continues to be evaluated on the basis of the same key performance indicators used in previous frameworks. This suggests that some of the aims remain consistent across FPs: namely, academic excellence and interplay between public and private research collaboration to produce new knowledge pathways and social and technical innovation. However, if FP9 is to introduce new approaches, like value for society, then we must recognise that we cannot rigidly apply the same sets of indicators. We must review and update these so that they can reflect the multiple dimensions of what the new programme is meant to achieve. For example, some of the current indicators remain far too remote in the attempt to assess whether research funding provided by the EU has a real value added for European citizens. A balanced evaluation must take into consideration academic publications, as they remain important for the dissemination and communication of science, but should be combined with tracking research communications beyond traditional journals into other media channels with a wider readership.

Patents and prototypes, as well as new products and process, are valuable indicators of the relevance of some research, but can tell us little about usage or market exploitation or social acceptance and benefits. Indicators need to address, among other dimensions, citizens’ involvement in the process of acceptance of products, or the reception of social innovation initiatives where entrepreneurs have been able to access freely the information generated within the project. Society does not just benefit from products, but more importantly from a fundamental understanding of the social dynamics that contributes to their success. Finally, we must encourage policy makers to play their part in recognising the influence of research by citing the emerging knowledge that has influenced a policy or an idea, directly or indirectly.

EASSH is working in collaboration with European civil society to facilitate more open access to knowledge on the part of those who can most benefit from funded research, with the expectation that they will then report back on the usefulness of the work they have been able to access and read. EASSH proposes a close collaboration between researchers and users of research for the purpose of generating a better social understanding of the role, importance and impact of research. Programme evaluations need in turn to engage with the research users to understand how projects have influenced a given sector or an area of specific interest.

3. Evaluation for multi and interdisciplinary projects#

In some preliminary analysis conducted by EASSH, we have come to the conclusion that it is questionable whether the current evaluation process for the selection of projects to be funded in H2020 is fit for purpose; whether the Commission has been able to create a pool of experts with the correct blend and depth of expertise; whether the conditions have been created to identify the best multi and interdisciplinary projects to deliver the overall aims of the Societal Challenges in the Horizon 2020 programme. EASSH provides below a set of technical recommendations for a more efficient evaluation of proposals.

For FP9 to provide a successful proposal evaluation process, EASSH proposes that the Advisory Groups that design the aims and purposes of the calls within the projected challenges should also contribute to the establishment of semi-permanent proposal evaluation panels. These must be populated with experts who have the full range of skills and expertise from all sectors of society to assess whether the call intentions are being fulfilled by proposed projects. We also call for greater stability in the membership of such panels, which will learn to work together over time and understand how to reward truly interdisciplinary projects in line with the aims of the calls. A certain degree of coherence and consistency emerges in this process too as those designing the calls can fully ensure that relevant expertise is brought to bear on the evaluation. Self-nominated experts and selection of reviewers on the basis of keywords are not efficient as we demonstrated in a previous paper on Evaluation in H2020 Societal Challenges.

Finally, proposal evaluation must reserve a space to assess - ex-ante - the potential for the impact of each project to be evaluated. This should include a declaration of objectives at the outset (i.e. relating to potential impact) on the part of the research consortium, highlighting how methodologically robust research is combined with a demonstration of relevance in society, via means of consistent engagement with the research subjects or beneficiaries. Alongside the scientific evaluation of projects, teams will also be expected to show evidence of their relevance in their direct or indirect influence over time of the social environment in which they are to be realized.

EASSH is working in collaboration with European civil society to facilitate more open access to knowledge on the part of those who can most benefit from funded research, with the expectation that they will then report back on the usefulness of the work they have been able to access and read. EASSH proposes a close collaboration between researchers and users of research for the purpose of generating a better social understanding of the role, importance and impact of research. Programme evaluations need in turn to capture from the research users how projects have influenced the sector or the area of specific interest. At the same time, the relevance of research must also be assessed according to the extent to which research has provided a fertile environment for ideas to develop and evolve, even through negative findings or the identification of unproductive pathways for future work.

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