As We Now Think

Reflections, commentary and analysis from Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University.

The Vilnius Declaration*

Edward J. Hackett

The advent of the Horizon 2020 research-funding program offers social sciences and humanities scholars (SSH) in the European Union (EU) an unparalleled opportunity to collaborate with science and engineering to address profound societal challenges while advancing knowledge. How they respond to this opportunity will matter greatly for scholarship, for science, and for society. More than Euros and European scholarship are at stake: in the United States, the SSH have suffered a debilitating decline in fortune and public esteem.

Over the next seven years, Horizon 2020 will invest about €70B to support research and innovation, with €28B earmarked for seven major societal challenges. … While EU funding is only one component of research support in Europe—funding is also provided by the European Research Council, national research ministries (agencies, councils), and private sources—the EU framework program influences others.

On September 23 and 24, more than 400 representatives of SSH disciplines, organizations, and agencies assembled in Vilnius, Lithuania, to ready themselves for the opportunities presented by the Horizon program. Eagerness, uncertainty, and anxiety rose and fell over the course of the meeting, as those present explored the meaning and implications of the new framework program. Reflections later published on the web convey the tone of the meeting: one author asked ‘‘Integrating the Social Sciences and Humanities in Horizon 2020 Societal Challenges: Will it work?’’ for a second the SSH were ‘‘unsure of prospects in Horizon 2020,’’ and a third observed that the ‘‘Humanities fear ‘business as usual.’’’ In counterpoint, Helga Nowotny exhorted ‘‘Don’t just complain, take the lead!’’ We share her view.

The meeting closed with presentation of the Vilnius Declaration, a document available here: http://horizons.mruni.eu/what-follows/ (along with much else about the meeting). Its nine points will surprise few but bear repeating. The first five list the benefits of collaboration among fields of science, engineering, and SSH: (1) every technological innovation has social and cultural dimensions, (2) a systematic capacity to reflect on values and social dynamics is vital for democratic deliberation and governance, (3) SSH concepts and methodologies strengthen policy making, and research, and (4 and 5) cultural assets and pluralistic thought are valuable in and of themselves. Achieving such benefits, the Declaration continues, will require successful collaboration, which in turn depends on mutual intellectual and professional respect, appropriate working arrangements, interdisciplinary training, and the infusion of values into the evaluation process. The Vilnius Declaration is an admirable and timely statement of principle, but what is to be done and by whom? What, in particular, can STS contribute? Here are a couple of suggestions.

Innovative patterns of research organization and interaction will be needed to initiate and sustain collaborations among engineers, scientists, SSH scholars, and those outside academe who have the practical knowledge and know-how to effect change.  … Synthesis centers and other new forms of research organization that operate in several fields of science around the globe can be adapted to meet the requirements of Horizon 2020 challenges.

Assessment is essential for adaptive guidance of inquiry and innovation, and offers a rich topic for collaboration among SSH and with our colleagues in engineering and the sciences. … Assessment of every sort must go beyond asking ‘‘how much’’ a collaboration produced to consider the more important but less-readily-measured qualities and implications of the output for various groups in society. STS scholars can assist in the design and use of assessments that are both attuned to the substance and process of research and strongly grounded in sound human values and principles of justice.

In the Nichomachean Ethics, which Aristotle framed as advice to his son, three virtues stand above all others as guides to the good life: episteme, techne, and phronesis. The first two—science and technology, or knowledge and know-how—are familiar to STS scholars, but the third is possibly less so. Translated as practical or situational ethics, phronesis amounts to knowing the right thing to do in a particular time and circumstance. It is ethics come to ground and put into action, and it is hard to do. By placing phronesis alongside science and technology, Aristotle alerted his son that science and technology are incomplete without a sense of justice. Horizon 2020 and the Vilnius Declaration reissue this call, urging us to bring what we know and can do to bear on societal challenges that are shared, in one form or another, around the globe.

*Excerpts downloaded from sth.sagepub.com at ARIZONA STATE UNIV on January 14, 2014

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This entry was posted on February 27, 2014 by in Futures, Science Policy, Technology and Society.
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