Discussion – Key Debates, Viewpoints & Interviews

Research for the future societal priorities: the value of Social Sciences and Humanities today Gabi Lombardo

Research for the future societal priorities: the value of Social Sciences and Humanities today

Issue 47: Uncertain times and sociological knowledge Wed 22 Dec 2021 0

Today the role of research in the arts, social sciences and humanities in Europe is attracting the greatest attention than ever before. Following the dark times of low funding for work in these fields and the mobilisation of SSH researchers in Europe to reclaim their space which was in danger of disappearing in the design of Horizon 2020, today we have a much brighter dawn.

Thanks to a collective engagement of researcher organisations and the commitment of organisations like the European Alliance for Social Sciences and Humanities (EASSH), the contents of the social sciences and humanities research and its contribution towards society is emerging clearly and making its mark in the design of future Science and Technology policies at National, European and Global levels. More visibility of output, articles and coordinations of research trends to bridge towards political priorities have unlocked some long standing misunderstanding and resistance to support such research.

The narrative around research investment is evolving from a near central focus on supporting technology for economic growth since the post war period.  Policy makers seem to have responded to the pressure of researchers, and are adopting a new agenda:  to better support societal wellbeing, and addressing a wider set of common challenges as citizens of Europe and the world. This change in the policy narrative is starting to feel permanent. It gives confidence that new narratives around the need to have better understanding of the drivers of social transformations, and the focus on the impact on society of priorities like digitalisation and green development might be here to stay.  Policy making now turns to research in social and human sciences for the insights, the analysis and new ideas to support the emerging interests.

Of course, being cautious, it is hard to say yet if such new approaches will also being matched by relevant investment in research at National, European and International levels. Ministries across national research strategies are still resisting to recognise some forms of investigations as legitimate research fit for informing new policy design, and as a consequence failing to support vital new scholarship. Too few nations have made commitment enough to go as far as agreeing dedicated national SSH strategies. At the same time, we can comfortably notice a growing interest in discovering and understanding SSH research output and to draw it into the debate around formation of public policy priorities with a more human centred approach.

The news feels positive, but researchers must continue to work together to highlight and showcase their valuable investigations and the contributions to understanding and solving problems. The research community must work closely and in a more coordinated manner to create critical mass and support an effort which can be comparable to mirror the size of the SSH research community that it represents. Local and global impact of our research must find pathways to be showcased not just for our peers, but above all for a community of research stakeholders who live outside the academic world.

Today SSH scholars are working together to defining instruments, standards and tools to alert society and policy makers of the value added of SSH research, not in an instrumental way to solve temporary policy issues, but rather in informing foresight analysis to prepare fair and just societies for future generations. EASSH works with scholars of all disciplines to influence future science policy making to include the contribution of their insights remains central to more complex questions concerning our environment, health and to design collectively a brighter future.