European Consortium for Humanities Institutes and Centres

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1.            Social science and humanities research – ‘cross cutting issue’?

The first concern, is the question of social sciences and humanities as a cross cutting issue.  In the consultations circulated over the summer and in recent communications, SSH has been addressed as a cross-cutting issue, like gender, and as a result there are indications that efforts have been made to ensure it is included ‘everywhere’. This is a critical misunderstanding of what the ‘embedding’ of SSH in the research should include.

SSH researchers undertake scientific research and scholarship and examine the same issues and ‘challenges’ as are identified in Horizon 2020.  Involvement in research ought to be determined by the requirements of the research question at the heart of each research project. Each question requires a different set of approaches and contributions from research across a range of disciplines’; from natural and technical sciences to social sciences and humanities.  Where the research challenges or tasks in the work programme are well constructed, the teams of researchers, which are brought together, will determine the appropriate blend.  In many cases specific SSH research is integral to successful outcomes. Research, which is well designed to address a question, should be evaluated on that basis. 

Embedding of SSH will occur ‘naturally’ if the process for designing the H2020 work-programmes includes appropriate expertise.  Embedding will happen when appropriate expertise is a part of the evaluation of proposals to ensure that well designed research is selected.  SSH provides science and knowledge, ensures analytical frameworks, data and deep understanding of process and procedures that affect social related issues. Therefore, SSH scientists should participate on equal terms with other researchers to resolve societal challenges.  It I not simply about translating or communicating STEM research outputs to the general population.

The SSH component therefore may not be identifiable in all aspects of research needed by the calls, as SSH provides a specific type of knowledge in addressing solutions for the challenges and should be deployed as and when required by the research question. At the same time, if the challenges identified have the same importance and value on the scale of addressing major issues for our society, then they must be resourced in comparable terms. Challenge 6 has been heavily penalised by a lack of funding sending a clear message that it is not as relevant and important as the others. Also in challenge 6 there needs to be space for other views, maybe from other disciplinary backgrounds, about how this challenge needs to be addressed.

 

2.            Content – from Advisory Group reports to Scoping Papers. A more detailed analysis

The first comment which needs to be made is that the scoping papers are very uneven; some are well focused and defined, others are much more unclear.  This makes it more difficult to assess the issue of whether the contributions from social science and humanities researchers are appropriate or have been informed by the more detailed work of the Advisory Groups. 

A consistent theme, which emerges in all of the papers is the dominance of the ICT/technology based approaches, which often seems quite out of place and simply ‘imposed’.  Societal needs and concerns are critical for successful implementation, so a technology-push should not be dominant.

There is a common issue with the ‘translation’ of the observations and recommendations from the reports produced by the Advisory Groups into the scoping papers, and are highlighted in this next section.

The scoping paper for the SC1 – ‘Health, demographic change and Wellbeing’ is perhaps the most successful in its attempt to draw on the Advisory Group report in drafting the scoping paper.  This challenge has core issues, which are fundamentally social and so should engage social researchers in examining issues and helping to develop insight and understanding.  The AG report has more detail in setting out research questions and many of those are framed as question for social research.  Others are more clinical but do include the need to research into understanding of ‘behaviours’ and the concerns around the personal delivery of medicine and care etc. 

Across the other Challenges there is a reversion to the traditional limited vision for social research contributions in fields that are often seen as inherently ‘technical’.  In a number of scoping papers the major contribution of social sciences appears to be conceived as providing ‘socio-economic’ impact assessment or via the development and validation of new business models.  The weakness in this approach ought to be apparent.  The research expertise of social researchers which in some of the scoping papers is being asked to conduct the ex-post impact assessment and ‘validation’ would be as well placed, if not more appropriately placed being engaged in the design of projects and new approaches.  For SSH to be truly embedded it ought to be seen as contributing to framing and research design throughout (see Annex 1 for examples). 

The scoping paper for the Secure Societies challenge does not set out in any detail the likely areas for the 2016/17 work programme.  There are a number of issues which are repeated in the scoping paper as discussed in the AG report around ‘crime and terrorism’, ‘adaptation to evolving threats and needs’,  ‘privacy’ and ‘ethics’, which provide rich territory for the contribution of SSH researchers.  It will be interesting to have the opportunity to comment in more detail once the thinking which will feed into the development of the work programme for this challenge has been set out at some time in the future.

Information and Communication Technologies under LEIT ought also to be an area requiring significant contribution from SSH researchers.  Indeed in the ‘cross cutting issues’ section of the scoping paper it is stated that “SSH are expected to contribute to R&I activities by addressing ethical, legal, human, and social issues related to technological developments and by reframing and updating the concepts, meanings and expectations arising from the deployment of ICT technologies”.  It is critical that SSH is involved in the framing of the research questions themselves and not simply be defining new vocabulary or concepts.  Again, many of the issues, which the ICT programme will direct itself to find ‘technological’ solutions, have been described initially by social research.  The embedding of the social research perspectives in designing a programme that addresses ‘social challenges’ rather than ‘technological questions’ is essential. 

SSH are expected to contribute to R&I activities by addressing ethical, legal, human, and social issues related to technological developments and by reframing and updating the concepts, meanings and expectations arising from the deployment of ICT technologies.

Gap between scoping papers and calls

In the work plan 2014-15 showed a very big gap between the expectations raised by the challenges, descriptions and the definition of the calls. The challenges showed some understanding of the intertwining of disciplines in addressing research questions and solutions, some contained thoughts about the importance of viewing multilayer dimensions of problems. The detailed calls in most cases failed to attend any of these expectations.

In this case, we can clearly see the missed opportunity to ‘translate’ content from the AG reports into the scoping papers, we are concerned that once again the observations of the AGs will not transfer into the final calls. The calls are often too prescriptive and narrowly focused to encourage the necessary interdisciplinarity in proposal development.

We also recognise that this is not an easy task, and possibly the teams at the Commission to whom this final drafting task is delegated will not always have the tools to address the full complexity. Currently, no one really has. Researchers are still trained in the disciplinary context and individuals have a specific knowledge from a given angle. The overview required for the definition of the calls is far more sophisticated and necessitated inter-disciplinarity. The final work plan and its specific calls required qualified teams of officers with interdisciplinary backgrounds who are capable to read and integrate the feedback from the Advisory Group reports (once these have been produced with a more balanced share of disciplines participants) into the definition of research questions and therefore the description of the calls.

It would be reasonable, to specify clearly what are the policy challenges, what is the political context and define the pressure that our European public administration has to engage with. Researchers and other stakeholders could have a much better sense of what is required and deliver products which are much more adapted for the use of a public administration, rather than a set of papers than in turn will have to be translated more or less successfully.

 

3.            Humanities

Where there is clearly less opportunity is in the Humanities fields. Or if there is opportunity it has been given less explicit mention in either the advisory group reports or the scoping papers.  It is of course mentioned as a ‘horizontal’ issue but this is not set out in any great detail.  There are some key examples how the contribution of the Humanities could be spelt out better in the attached Annex, but more importantly, if more members of the Advisory groups have a Humanities background their knowledge would redefine some of the issues on the basis of the specific value added that these disciplines can offer.