Sept 2013 | 3rd edition

This third edition of the bi-annual Newsletter “ISSUES - The voice of SSH in Europe” examines some of the issues regarding interdisciplinary research and the social sciences and humanities with a particular focus on the proposals outlined for Horizon 2020.  This includes interviews with Professor Helga Nowotny, President of the European Research Council, and Professor Milena Žic Fuchs, former Chair of the Standing Committee for the Humanities of the European Science Foundation.

In addition, ISSUES presents an update on humanities and social sciences research in Horizon 2020 and details of a NET4SOCIETY activity to investigate the lower participation of new Member States in Framework Programme research. The newsletter finishes with a selection of recent SSH publications of policy relevance.

In the world of today, there are numerous complex societal challenges of a transnational scale such as climate change or food security. In order to address these challenges research of an interdisciplinary character is needed that takes into account various aspects – including the “human factor” and knowledge from social sciences and humanities.

Social sciences and humanities (SSH) offer essential contributions to research on societal challenges by providing knowledge on behaviour, lifestyle changes, public awareness and acceptance, values, socio-economic and cultural preconditions for innovation as well as socio-economic and cultural impacts of innovations. At the same time, SSH produce fundamental ethical, social, historical, and cultural knowledge that may question existing economic and social models and goals.

Major parts of Horizon 2020, the upcoming EU Framework Programme for Innovation and Research, are structured along “Societal Challenges” and call for interdisciplinary research. Socio-economic sciences and humanities are explicitly included as crosscutting issues in all of Horizon 2020. At the same time, a number of obstacles to interdisciplinary research can be identified. They range from the disciplinary structure of the research and funding system to methodological problems.

To identify successful strategies for promoting interdisciplinary research and disseminate good practice examples from FP7 projects, NET4SOCIETY, the network of National Contact Points for Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities in the EU Research Framework Programme, held the conference “Learning by Doing – Making Interdisciplinarity Work” on 15 January 2013 in Brussels. Outcomes of the conference and further analysis of current literature fed into the NET4SOCIETY Policy Brief “Pulling it Together – On Interdisciplinary Research Design”. The Policy Brief provides a number of recommendations with regard to designing research environments that facilitate interdisciplinarity and the integration of SSH. It is available for download here:

Professor Helga Nowotny, President of the European Research Council, talks to ISSUES about the potential for increased research interdisciplinarity for SSH researchers in Horizon 2020. As chair of the conference steering committee she looks forward to exploring the key challenges and possibilities at “Horizons for Social Sciences and Humanities” which takes place on 23-24 September 2013 in Vilnius, Lithuania.

ISSUES: How would you describe the Vilnius Conference in the context of the discussions that have taken place so far concerning the role of Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities (SSH) in European-funded research?

Professor Nowotny: The conference tackles a paradoxical situation that we currently witness when we look at SSH at the European level. We have plenty of organisations in Europe that claim to represent SSH, in part or in entirety. But at the same time we see that SSH is not really at the table in Brussels when crucial decisions are taken regarding the design and programming of research funding instruments. Now, some claim that the policy makers in Brussels do not take SSH seriously and many in the SSH community feel that they are marginalised. But I also hear policy makers complaining that, when they want to speak to the SSH community, there is no one really to talk to. To me, this seems to point towards a deeper problem: there is a mismatch in communication between policy makers and the SSH community.

In a simple and straightforward way, the goal of the conference is to tackle this mismatch. It therefore has three aims. The first is to bring policy makers and representatives of the SSH community together with the focus on what is on offer for the SSH within Horizon 2020 for the next seven years. The second aim is to raise awareness among SSH researchers that they need to define common ground and find the means to join forces, if they are to overcome internal divisions. The third is to make everyone, I repeat everyone, aware of the conditions that must be met, if the foreseen and desired integration of the SSH into the Challenges of Horizon 2020 are to succeed.

ISSUES: At the time of the Vilnius conference, the main part of the Work Programme 2014-2015 for Horizon 2020 is expected to be finalised. How will it be possible to still influence the beginning of Horizon 2020, and what are the objectives of the conference in this respect?

Professor Nowotny:  As you know, the formal adoption of the Work Programmes under Horizon 2020 is only possible once the Framework Programme is legally in place. The earliest date for that is 1 Jan 2014. More importantly, we have not yet seen the final version of the Horizon 2020 legal text, and the European Council is still struggling over some budget details with the European Parliament. So, in a way we are still very early in the process.

But of course we are aware that many crucial decisions will have been taken by the time of the conference, simply because the Brussels bureaucratic machine is moving along as it has to do. These processes are continuous, while a conference is happening at a certain point in time, and we have to live with this.

Still, I believe chances are very good for having an impact and the timing under the Lithuanian Presidency is right. We succeeded in bringing the responsible heads of units and directors from DG Research & Innovation to the table together with representatives of SSH. It is the first time in the history of the Framework Programmes that this will be achieved! Even if this does not have much influence on the Work Programmes for 2014 and 2015, it may still have a lasting effect on the future shape of Horizon 2020 programmes. But then, once again, we have to remember that this conference is only a one-time event. I would hope, however, that it becomes the first event of a more frequent, maybe even annual come-together. I also hope that similar events and initiatives will take place, both at national and European level. Unless we succeed in instilling a sense for persistence, our more ambitious aims will not be realised.

ISSUES:  Organising the Vilnius conference can be seen as an exercise in transdisciplinary cooperation in itself - what have you experienced as the biggest challenges?

Professor Nowotny: Actually, there are many very good people from different SSH fields out there who are fully aware of what needs to be done. The biggest challenge is not to bring these people together, or convincing them to come to Vilnius and discuss the implementation of SSH in Horizon 2020. There are always new challenges on the way, and the biggest challenge right now is to deal with the many different, and sometimes wildly exaggerated, expectations towards this conference. It is certainly not the first conference on SSH in the European context; but it is the first time that it brings administrators and SSH representatives together and asks them to discuss seriously and in a highly professional way how the integration of SSH should actually take place. This is a major achievement in itself. We should remain realistic; but in particular, we should use the gathering in Lithuania to develop a long-term strategy.

ISSUES: What is, in your view, the most important measure to reach the ambitious targets of Horizon 2020 concerning the strengthening of interdisciplinary cooperation and the inclusion of SSH research in all parts of H2020?

Professor Nowotny: That representatives from SSH are involved at every step, from the designing of a programme to the definition of a common research problem to the actual evaluation of submitted project proposals. Only if SSH are treated equally like their colleagues from the natural sciences, there will be interdisciplinarity and full integration of SSH. Everything else is window dressing.

ISSUES: What inputs for the consultation process during the preliminary stage of the conference have surprised you most?

Professor Nowotny: Let me say that with more than 300 substantial contributions, the number of responses is higher than we have expected, and thus we are still in the middle of reading and analysing the results. But there are a few issues that I find remarkable after a first reading. Some SSH scholars seem to struggle with the “application” of their knowledge. The second pillar of “Horizon 2020” is about societal challenges, and it is quite natural that knowledge produced at universities should become practical in one way or another. I fully understand the hesitation to “apply” if that means something like social engineering; but frankly, I think the involvement of SSH into the “societal challenges” pillar will have a rather different effect – leading away from steering citizen to empowering them.

There were some interesting, though worrying issues mentioned as well. One concerns the practicality of internationalisation. We received quite a few remarks, from individual scholars as well as institutions, emphasising the difficulty of realising international research collaboration. For example, there are certain methodologies that implicitly rely on culturally shaped behaviour of citizen. So, in some regions of the world, a certain kind of interview cannot be conducted because the behaviour of people there differs completely in the interview situation. This is something where SSH have to adapt and refine their methodological instruments. We are also realising that to conduct SSH research outside of Europe runs into obstacles of ethical review that has not been designed for such a situation, thereby having actually a deterring effect.

One thing that also strikes me is an omission in the responses, as far as I can see now. There is an almost complete absence of concerns about the threats to social science research that may arise as the – unintended – consequence from an excessive interpretation of data privacy regarding data generated by the European Commission. To have access to such data is essential for social science research. Of course, privacy protection must be observed in a responsible way. But if this is over-interpreted, it will make certain kinds of research impossible. Only recently, a MEP of the Green Party made the suggestion not to exempt scientific research from the strict data protection rules. I understand the politician’s concern that this might be misused by industry to exploit this data for its own purposes. But publicly generated data, especially those generated at EU level, play an eminent role in building up a pan-European research base in the SSH. We have to argue this point much stronger in public.

Dr. Helga Nowotny is Professor emerita of Social Studies of Science, ETH Zurich and a founding member of the European Research Council. In 2007 she was elected ERC Vice President and in March 2010 succeeded Fotis Kafatos as President of the ERC.

The discussion on Social Sciences and Humanities in Horizon 2020 will be continued with the NET4SOCIETY conference "Achieving impact: Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities in Horizon 2020", which will take place on 26-27 February 2014 in Athens. This event will address the contributions that SSH can make towards a more competitive and sustainable Europe. It will demonstrate the opportunities for SSH funding within Horizon 2020. A brokerage event on the second day of the event will facilitate networking between potential research and project partners for the first calls of Horizon 2020. The event targets researchers and other stakeholders such as Civil Society Organisations, research policy makers or research managers.

Professor Milena Žic Fuchs, Chair of Linguistics at the Department of English of the University of Zagreb, offers her views to ISSUES on the potential offered by interdisciplinarity in Horizon 2020 and identifies some of the key challenges facing SSH researchers.

ISSUES: From your point of view, what contribution can the Vilnius conference make to foster interdisciplinarity and the embedding of SSH?

Professor Žic Fuchs: Although by the time of the conference, the main part of the Work Programme 2014-2015 for Horizon 2020 will be finalised, in my opinion, this conference may and, hopefully, will articulate positions and contributions that will be relevant for the entire span of Horizon 2020, and not just its initial stage. As is well known by now, SSH is seen as an integral part of the five initial Grand Challenges that date back to the Green Paper on Horizon 2020, as well as playing, naturally, a key role in the so-called 6th Challenge, devoted to the various disciplines that comprise the domains of the Social Sciences and the Humanities. What comes out of this brief overview of the embeddedness of SSH in all the Grand Challenges is the fact that this implies “interdisciplinarity”, which I use as a cover term both for interdisciplinarity itself, but also for multi- and transdisciplinarity. It is very difficult at this point to envisage all the multi-layered types of collaboration that are bound to evolve within the Horizon 2020 Research Framework.

In fact, one could say that the biggest challenge of Horizon 2020 is interdisciplinarity itself, because it is this concept that is embedded in every individual Grand Challenge, but at the same time it is the cohesive force behind Horizon 2020 as a whole.

Some of the big questions, of course, are - how can interdisciplinary research best be fostered? How does one set up interdisciplinary research? How does one interpret results achieved through interdisciplinary endeavours?

The big issues just mentioned, and these are but a few, will be reflected in different ways in the Grand Challenges that Horizon 2020 aims to cover. What should be noted is that in some areas of research and within specific topics, researchers have a history of experience in doing interdisciplinary research, while in others it will be a completely “new experience”, which implies that in such cases the initial focus will have to be on adapting and learning.

ISSUES:  What are in your experience the major challenges when working in an interdisciplinary context?

Professor Žic Fuchs: Being a cognitive linguist, interdisciplinarity has been an integral part of much of my research, but what is even more important, interdisciplinarity has been the backbone and starting point of cognitive linguistics as a theoretical framework. From its very beginnings, cognitive linguistics drew upon the interrelationship between linguistics and psychology, anthropology, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, etc. This means that during its history the major challenges inherent in disciplinarity have been faced, with varying success, of course, at different points of its development. At present, for instance, especially at UC Berkeley, George Lakoff and Eve Sweetser are doing fundamental research on metaphor, research deeply linked with neuroscience and computer modelling. They are coming up with novel, impressive insights and results on how metaphor functions, not only in language, but also in the human mind and brain.

In my opinion, the most difficult challenge of working in an interdisciplinary context is achieving “communication” and “understanding” amongst researchers coming from different domains. Good “communication” also implies mutual respect amongst researchers, that is, a full awareness that all those that contribute are equally important and that researchers coming from different disciplines and domains cannot be ranked as being more or less important for the endeavour at hand.

It is far more difficult to achieve “communication”, “understanding” and “respect” in areas where researchers meet for the first time and do not have a history of working together.

While I was Chair of the Standing Committee for the Humanities of the European Science Foundation, it was exactly areas such as these that drew our attention as  being especially problematic and hard. The Standing Committee for the Humanities instigated, and together with the Standing Committees for Life, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Physical and Engineering Sciences and Social Sciences organised a Junior Summit for early-career researchers on the topic of WATER, entitled Water: Unite and Divide. Interdisciplinary approaches for a sustainable future.

The idea was to see how interdisciplinarity could be fostered and communication achieved between young scientists who had not only never done interdisciplinary research, but were also, in most cases, completely new to the idea of collaborating across domains. I cannot go into details, however, from an initial scepticism that they could actually “communicate”, “respect” and “understand” each other, after a week of intensive discussions, lectures presented by leading names in interdisciplinarity, and provocative questions, the final outcome was that the 35 grantees left with a different view of the possibilities that interdisciplinary research could provide for the concrete topics that they had been working on before. The outcome has been collaboration amongst the grantees regardless of the domain of science they had come from, culminating in a special issue of the Junior Summit on Water published in the Journal of Water Resource and Protection.

Very simply put, in order to achieve “communication”, “understanding” and “respect” or, as we usually say, foster interdisciplinary collaboration, one has to organise and bring together scholars from different disciplines and enable them to present different views and different kinds of “knowledge”. It is through communication in its basic sense, as well as the exchange of views, that “communication” of the scientific kind can evolve.

Individual researchers have, and may in the future, stumble upon the need for interdisciplinarity. However, Horizon 2020 is, above all, an interdisciplinary endeavour in all its aspects, and this implies, in my opinion, coordinated efforts, especially in those areas which do not have a history of cross-domain collaboration. It is a misconception that things will simply happen. Interdisciplinarity in all its forms has to be a highly organised, well-thought out endeavour if the goals of Horizon 2020 are to be achieved and scientific answers to the Grand Challenges provided.

ISSUES:  How do you see interdisciplinarity within the European and international contexts?

Professor Žic Fuchs: This is an important issue, since Horizon 2020 is, of course, primarily geared towards European researchers. On the other hand, the Grand Challenges are by nature global and, of course, the question arises how this global dimension will be addressed in concrete research proposals. Colleagues from the so-called hard sciences will, of necessity, collaborate with researchers from all over the world. The specific question, which I find especially interesting in this context, is what is the role of SSH with regard to the global dimension of Grand Challenges research.

It is, of course, impossible to foresee the role of SSH at every stage that a research project will go through, as, for instance, in the case of climate change, personalised medicine, ageing, food security or secure, clean and efficient energy. However, in my opinion, SSH should play an important role at the very beginning when research questions are formulated, and especially at the end in the formulation of research conclusions and results, as well as their dissemination. All the aforementioned should be seen from the point of view of global geographic diversity, which implies cultural and social diversity. This, in turn, suggests that care should be taken in packaging “new” scientific knowledge into conventionalised ways inherent to a specific culture or a specific society, in order that these new ideas would be “accepted” and would ideally trigger off new behaviours, because, if answers to the Grand Challenges of different kinds are found and articulated, then the whole point of Horizon 2020 is to trigger off changes in mind-sets, lifestyles and behaviour of humans worldwide.

In general terms, it is SSH that addresses questions as to how innovation comes about, what can be done with it, as well as questions as to how knowledge is created, structured, articulated, used and, what is most important, communicated.

It is SSH that addresses global issues inherent in the Grand Challenges, but also identifies and researches cultural (national) differences or “different cultures of knowledge”. SSH research has to be fully coordinated with research in other domains of science because it is the interaction between different domains of science that produces „new knowledge“ or knowledge for the future.

Professor Milena Žic Fuchs is Professor of Linguistics at the Department of English of the University of Zagreb. She formerly served as the Croatian Minister of Science and Technology (1999-2000). From 2009 to 2012 Professor Žic Fuchs was the Chair of the Standing Committee for the Humanities of the European Science Foundation.

Horizon 2020, the new Framework Programme for Research and Innovation is scheduled to start in January 2014 and run until 2020. The formal adoption of the programme is expected this autumn and publication of first calls for proposals is projected for the turn of the year. The work programmes will spell out the topics for the next two years (2014-2015).

In principle, Horizon 2020 aims at a full integration of Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) research into each of the pillars of Horizon 2020. Still, in some parts of Horizon 2020, SSH will be more present than in others. For SSH researchers the question arises, on which parts of Horizon 2020 they should focus their search for funding opportunities?

NET4SOCIETY carried out a preliminary analysis of SSH integration in Horizon 2020. SSH research topics will be particularly present in Societal Challenge 6 “Europe in a changing world: Inclusive, innovative and reflective societies”. This will include issues such as the creation of smart and sustainable growth, social, cultural and behavioural transformations in European societies, social innovation, innovation in the public sector or the position of Europe as a global actor.

Furthermore, all other Societal Challenges of Horizon 2020 include SSH research aspects, to varying degrees. This is particularly the case for Challenge 1 “Health,  Demographic Change  and Well-being” as well as Challenge 5 “Climate Action, Resource Efficiency and Raw Materials”. Many SSH aspects can also be found in Challenge 2 “Food Security, Sustainable Agriculture, Marine and Maritime Research and the Bioeconomy” and Challenge 4 “Smart, Green and Integrated Transport”.

SSH relevant research aspects that are taken up in the challenges regard issues of behaviour, consumption and lifestyles, management and governance, public perceptions/awareness and public engagement and acceptance, policy development and decision support, policy impact assessment, social/economic innovation, market assessment & business development, and economic systems and instruments. It is noteworthy that the inclusion of humanities is rather limited.

In the Horizon 2020 programme part “Industrial Leadership – key enabling technologies” SSH aspects are less present than in the Societal Challenges part. Here, they focus on consumer behaviour, user preferences and acceptance, governance and management issues, risk assessment and management, and the creation of business models.

More information is available here:

The interim evaluation report of the 7th EU Framework Programme (FP7) highlighted as an issue of concern the relatively low performance of the new Member States.  The report noted that there were “no organisations based in the EU-12 Member States in the top 50 list” of successful research organisations that participated in FP7. The report promoted the idea of “full-scale involvement” of the EU-12 (now EU-13 since Croatia joined in July 2013) in the FP that would contribute to bridging the differences in research capacities among the Member States. NET4SOCIETY sets out to support EU-13 participation in the Framework Programme.

The report was followed by a Common Position Paper of the EU-12 Member States (2011) that sought more “inclusive solutions for a more integrated European Research Area (ERA)”, highlighting the different starting points of Member States and observing that the FP should be able to work for the “needs of all Member States.” In particular, it was suggested that the ERA instruments become more flexible and more voice be given to the new Member States in the process of evaluating proposals. A number of benefits, such as more active inclusion of new Member States in the FP Projects as inclusiveness, cost efficiency, relevance of research, and contribution to growth and jobs was mentioned.

In view of these observations and recommendations, NET4SOCIETY has initiated a study to analyse the reasons for low participation/success rate of participants from the EU13 countries. It is envisaged that a key outcome of this activity will be a set of recommendations on how to overcome existing barriers for participation of new Member States in FP research.

There are three main stages in the study.  First, the project team will undertake an in-depth analysis of the relevant documents, reports, and statistical data on FP7 funded projects as well as failed project proposals. The second stage entails an online survey of the SSH research community and other stakeholders to ascertain their observations relating to the key issues, including barriers and obstacles. This will provide  useful  comparative data to better understand the information already available from the existing documents. The online survey will be open for contributions until 15th October 2013. The third stage will involve selected personal interviews with SSH stakeholders including researchers, COM representatives and national level stakeholders.  These interviews will focus on the reasons for low EU13 participation in FP7, and identify possible initiatives for increasing this level.

The final report including recommendations for NCPs, the European Commission, key players and EU policymakers aimed at increasing success rate and the presence of all EU MS in the future Framework Programme (Horizon 2020) is expected in June 2014.

More information on the topic will be available under the following link:

Related documents and webpages:

  • Interim Evaluation of the Seventh Framework Programme, Report of the Expert Group -

  • SSH experiences with FP7 - a Commentary -

Co-creating European Union Citizenship: Policy review

Drawing on the key research findings of fifteen research projects with a bearing for understanding the genesis and evolution of EU citizenship conducted in the area of Social Sciences and Humanities under the 6th and 7th Framework Programmes, this Policy Review critically discusses the advances in the “co-creation” of European Union citizenship over the past twenty years, while highlighting the manifold remaining obstacles to the exercise of citizenship rights in the EU.  On that basis, the Review formulates some of the main policy implications emanating from the projects. This advice speaks to policy-makers in a set of domains, ranging from education policies to social policies, at EU, national and local levels.

With 2013 designated the ‘European Year of Citizens’, marking the twentieth anniversary of the entry into force of the Maastricht Treaty, which first introduced European Union citizenship into the Treaties, the Policy Review is timely given the socio-economic crisis that Europe finds itself in and the trends of declining support for the European integration process and of a resurgence of divisions and narrow nationalisms across the Union.  Written by Prof. Dora Kostakopoulou of the University of Warwick and published by the European Commission’s DG for Research and Innovation, the Review formulates a set of policy implications highlighting, among others, the need to involve citizens to a larger extent in EU policy-making and to reinforce the social dimension of EU citizenship.

Full text:



Joint database on intangibles for European policymaking — Data from Innodrive, Coinvest and The Conference Board

The research teams of the EU-funded projects Innodrive (Intangible capital and innovations: drivers of growth and location in the EU) and Coinvest (Compétitivité, l’innovation et l’investissement immatériel en Europe), together with The Conference Board, have set up a harmonised database on macro-level intangibles including all 27 European Union Member States, Norway and the United States.  The database can be accessed at The database is freely accessible and it is anticipated that it will improve research productivity in the field of intangibles and contribute to informed policy making in key economic growth areas.  Intangibles included in the database include: (i) computerised information (software and databases); (ii) innovative property (R&D; design; product development in financial services; mineral exploration and spending on the production of artistic originals); and (iii) economic competencies (market research; advertising; training; organisational capital).

The joint database was presented in Brussels at the conference ‘The Joint Database on Intangibles for European Policymaking — Data from Innodrive, Coinvest and The Conference Board’. 

Full text:


Scientific evidence for policy-making: Research insights from socio-economic sciences and humanities

This publication compiles a set of short policy papers developed by the EU-funded project SCOOP (2009-2012), aimed at strengthening the links between research and policy making in Europe. The collected papers summarise and provide a compendium of the main findings of EU-funded research projects in the field of social sciences, formulating research results in a way that targets policy makers, civil society organisations, business and the media. Presented as news alerts summarising EU-funded research results, the papers address key challenges regarding the social, economic, political and cultural make-up of Europe. The subjects covered are all of the SSH theme in FP7, including (i) growth, employment and competitiveness in a knowledge society; (ii) combining economic, social and environmental objectives in a European perspective; (iii) major trends in society and their implications; (iv) Europe in the world; (v) the citizen in the European Union; (vi) socio-economic and scientific indicators; (vi) foresight; and (vii) strategic activities.

Full text:


Social inclusion of youth on the margins of society - Policy review of research results

The policy review 'Social inclusion of youth on the margins of society' looks into the lives and aspirations of young people who face severe or multiple forms of social exclusion, such as young migrants, young Roma, long-term unemployed, homeless youth and young people in public care.  It analyses the causes and processes of their exclusion and focuses on policy solutions to break the individual and social glass ceiling. This policy review summarises the evidence of a cluster of five youth-oriented research projects launched in 2008 and broadens the evidence basis for stimulating inclusive growth in the context of the Europe 2020 strategy and its flagship initiatives 'Youth on the move' and the 'European Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion'.  The policy review was written by Dagmar Kutsar, Professor of Social Policy at the Institute of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Tartu, and Helena Helve, Professor of Youth Research at the University of Tampere and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Comparative Religion and Sociology at the University of Helsinki.

Full text: