On 23-24 September 2013, the Lithuanian Presidency of the Council of Europe organized the “Horizons for Social Sciences and Humanities” conference in Vilnius, Lithuania. The event focused on if and how social sciences and humanities can effectively integrate into research, in light of the soon-to-be-launched Horizon2020 programme, the new multi-annual funding scheme setting a budget of over €70 billion to support research and innovation throughout Europe. Andrea Ricci, ISIS Vice President, attended the conference and served as rapporteur of the Parallel Session on “Secure, clean and efficient energy”, highlighting the need for a tighter integration between Research and SSH (Social Sciences and Humanities), in order to make Europe more competitive.
In your presentation you stressed the importance of SSH contribution to achieve a true progress in research and innovation, in particular in the energy sector. Why will the energy sector benefit from such an input from social sciences and humanities?
Innovation is often associated to technological progress as such, with little consideration of socio-economic issues such as technology acceptance and affordability, the impacts of technological progress on the well-being of citizens, and the long-term sustainability of the energy systems. Addressing the socio-economic dimension of the energy system is in fact as important as striving to achieve technical progress, and should be considered as an integral part of research and innovation programmes.
Social needs have always oriented scientific discoveries, however we are far from achieving any real interdisciplinary, as science and humanities seem to speak two different languages. Which are the barriers preventing a greater share of knowledge/cooperation between different disciplines? Do you think those obstacles could be overcome in the future?
Research communities have a long and consolidated history of disciplinary specialization. While specialization can be highly beneficial for achieving scientific excellence, it often leads to working in “closed circles”, where researchers in different disciplines don’t communicate with each other, publish on different journals, follow strictly disciplinary carrier paths, meet at separate conferences and, more generally, are not encouraged to seek joint research objectives. A major overhaul of the entire research and innovation system is required to ensure that interdisciplinarity comes true.
Horizon2020 is a new flagship programme to boost Europe’s competitiveness. Does it encourage interdisciplinarity?
Horizon2020 has been devised with a radically novel approach: for the first time, research and innovation priorities are defined on the basis of societal requirements, which are inherently interdisciplinary. The main challenge is now to actually translate this new design into coherent implementation practice, overcoming the inevitable resistance that comes from the pre-existing organizational and institutional structure.
The Vilnius conference represents a first effort for an higher collaboration between social and scientific communities. Was the event useful? Which lessons did you learn and which are the next steps?
I believe the Vilnius conference was a great success, with more than 400 participants from a wide range of R&I communities, the clear and explicit commitment of R&I policy leaders to promote the role and scope of SSH research and its integration in EU research programmes across the board. I believe some lessons can be learned from the conference also in view of further improving the potential impact of such events, for instance by encouraging SSH experts to join disciplinary debates rather that remaining in the closed circles of the SSH community.
ISIS is an institute standing for “the integration of systems”. How is ISIS pursuing integration between social and scientific researches in its current activities?
The full benefits of interdisciplinarity can only be achieved if experts from different areas collaborate since the very early stages of a research endeavour. ISIS was established precisely to provide the venue for this to happen. With its highly multidisciplinary team of engineers, economists, planners, political scientists, statisticians, ISIS is committed to a truly systemic approach, where thematic and disciplinary knowledge, language and priorities feed into each other all along the innovation process.
ISIS Vice President, Andrea joined ISIS in 1981. He received his engineering degree at Ecole Centrale (Paris, France) in 1977. His key qualifications include: sustainability policy analysis and impact assessment, forward looking analysis, energy studies and information systems, transport studies and information systems. He participated and coordinated many EU RTD projects, among which: EFONET (FP7); NEEDS (FP6), FLAGSHIP, PASHMINA and URBACHINA. He served as evaluator of EU RTD proposals within FP4, FP5, FP6 and FP7, and he also contributed to the ex-post evaluation of several EU RTD Programmes (International Cooperation, Environment, Bioeconomy). Counting more than 100 international publications, he is also author of a number of EU reports (DG RTD) (“Assessing the Social and Environmental Impacts of European Research”, “The overall socio-economic dimension of community research in the fifth European framework programme”). He has recently served as the Rapporteur of the EC Working Group “Global Europe 2030 – 2050”, as Member of the Transport Advisory Group established by the European Commission (DG R&I) to provide inputs on H2020, and as Rapporteur of the Integrated Roadmap on SET Plan (Strategic Energy Technology Plan). Fluent in Italian, English and French, He has also a very good knowledge of Spanish.