News archive - [Event Review] The Value of Social Science & Humanities in Europe


The Slovenian Business and Research Association organized a topical conference on the value of Social Science and Humanities in Europe on December 6, 2018 in Brussels.

The long term objective of the conference was to support social sciences and humanities (SSH) so as they may receive their proper recognition in academia and society. Too often governments, European policymakers and research community refer approvingly to the undoubted contributions made by natural sciences, engineering and technology to wealth generation, economic prosperity, knowledge transfer, innovation, and the development of new businesses, products and services, while failing to acknowledge the equally important contributions made by SSH. Furthermore, SSH research is neglected and poorly utilized in Horizon 2020 (even in SC6) as evidenced by several reports. However, it is obvious that society’s most pressing challenges can be solved only by the successful interplay of all fields.

In such a context, the conference started with a historical perspective on the notion of innovation and invention to continue with the relevance of social sciences and humanities that was highlighted by several presentations and the discussions.

To see the full programme please click here. Find below our review of the event.


The COST Action “ENRESSH” has the objective to make robust cases for how the SSH contribute to the societal challenges, to improve the evaluation procedures and to help scholars to better coordinate their research agenda and overcome fragmentation. Jack Spaapen from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences presented the way the COST Action brings together researchers connecting them to stakeholders (policy, politics, industry, public organisations and the general public). There are still tasks to be done to improve the understanding of how SSH fields generate knowledge, scholarly and societal, to identify interactions with stakeholders and impact pathways and to improve the ways of dissemination and outreach. Already 32 national evaluation systems have been analysed, with most of them dominated by the technical sciences, only few give room for disciplinary variety. The peer review is the traditional way to evaluate, but more involvement of stakeholders (also into the panels) is needed. More qualitative evaluation and / or using bottom-up approaches has advocated for. Narratives are most important, the Research Excellence Framework in the UK and to some extent in the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries use such approaches. National evaluation systems should pay attention to the quality of research but also the relevance to society. In the humanities, QRiH is a portal ( where this approach can be studied and tools are made available.

The European Alliance for SSH, having 56 members, is another voice in science policy. Its director, Gabi Lombardo emphasized the narrative of the spending in science and research, focusing on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), large scale challenges and social missions – i.e. some mega-trends and to support research with a focus on economic growth. In the common narrative, multi-disciplinarity, engagement, co-design, co-production and the triple / quadruple helix are prominent, i.e. broadly speaking the involvement of the private sector, government, NGOs and citizens in research.
Ms. Lombardo also emphasized that European funding has moved towards larger projects in need of also complementary funding. But the integration of SSH in the projects are not successful as projects show a lack of interdisciplinarity, sometimes even not fulfilling the call requirements. Societal Challenge “6” is often the place where societal concerns were addressed. Key areas have also disappeared such as legal studies, history and other SSH contributions.

Systemic problems that can be diagnosed for Horizon 2020  and seem also to be continued for Horizon Europe: the composition of advisory boards, missing relevant objectives focused on people and during call writing, disconnecting call design and call evaluation and the lack of SSH expertise in evaluators and evaluation panels. There is sensitivity in relation to the working.

Mimi Urbanc from the Research Centre of the Slovanian Academy of Science of Arts also raised several issues about the balance between challenge-driven and curiosity-driven research, combination of the different perspectives – local, national and global, the balance between relevance and excellence, quantitative and qualitative indicators to measure impact and in particular long-term impacts beyond the end of projects. The academic freedom of choice has been continued at the ZRC SAZU institute throughout the change of missions and outlooks. There is a cultivated diversity of people, topics, methods and output channels at the institution forcing to help knowledge grow and to create a meaningful impact.

The Vice Dean of the Faculty of Economics of the University of Ljubljana, Ales Popovic, highlighted the difficulty to win long-term grants and presented a case study to develop an interdisciplinary research group on digitalization at the business school focusing on policies and foresight and outlining interesting areas around sustainable sharing economy and society and issues of digitalization in jobs and the future of work, digitalization in organisations, ethics and also environmental behavior. Several new international projects are planned by the research group.

Another case was shared by Masa Repez presenting a perspective of a technical company working on e-mobility in several Horizon 2020 projects. Her point was clear: The long-term transition towards new mobility patters needs social scientists.

Nicole Birkle introduced in a presentation an initiative of German universities called ROSE which contributes to the development of Horizon Europe related to research on societies in Future European Research Funding. The focus is not on a list of disciplines but on the challenges. In Horizon 2020, the topics were highly oversubscribed as Societal Challenge 6 had only 6% success rates and the topic descriptions furthermore were not clearly encouraging the SSH researchers. Interdisciplinarity often failed in the projects and social scientists were often included in consortia only at very late stages. Making the exchange between researchers and stakeholders is still not developed enough. Horizon Europe is also no solution, citizen concerns are not fully addressed. The input paper of the group ( ) was followed by critical statements by the group on the draft proposal ( ROSE also organized workshops in this light with representatives of the European Commission, Programme Committees and other stakeholders and presented a poster at the #SSHimpact conference.
Excellent research relies on partnerships on equal terms with a focus on challenges.  Participation and leadership from SSH is thus important. Different funding lines such as proof of concept grants and a focus on social impacts are among the recommendations of ROSE. Lobbying work in Brussels and participation in stakeholder consultations are needed. The urgent topics need to be brought forward and awareness needs to be further raised through different instruments. ROSE further encourages all researchers to strengthen the position of SSH in the discussion. The initiative is also interested in expanding its outreach:

The European Commission, represented by Krzysztof Kania from DG RTD, highlighted the monitoring of SSH in the EU research programme report and announced an update of the report in spring 2019. He then gave in particular an input in relation to “how to improve in the future”. Co-design of calls and topics was his first point. The question of “flagging” was raised, and what these flags mean in terms of e.g. the mandatory participation of SSH researchers in successful projects. The inclusion of experts in the evaluation panels is also an important point. More SSH-related awareness activities would be needed and here across many different DG a network of liaison persons is under development. Horizon Europe also aims to integrate the SSH dimension into the missions, which is also not straight forward. The European Commission is looking for input from different communities, including the humanities and arts to increase also the participation of these disciplines. The geographical balance has also been raised highlighting the catching up process of several countries.

Lino Paula from the European Research Council Executive Agency highlighted that the ERC has no policy agenda but funds the curiosity driven research areas in key areas including the Social Sciences and Humanities. The projects focus on breakthrough science and crossing bounderies, thus also interdisciplinary emerging fields of research and the use of new methodologies. Fundamental breakthroughs in SSH are key to addressing societal challenges and he also highlights the importance of independent experts that can speak truth to power.

Last but not least, Bregt Saenen from the European University Association focused on the support to SSH integration as crucial element. The quality of integration is currently not sufficient as EUA members give the feedback that SSH is only a supporting discipline and an add-on with an auxiliary role. University networks have partnered to support these activities further.

The participants finally asserted that there are positive trends of further integration observed and success cases can be reported, so that the event ended on a positive note and with enthusiasm to continue further lobbying on national and EU levels to increase the visibility of SSH research.

Find below the presentations from the conference

·         Dr. Mimi Urbanc - Research and achievements of SSH at ZRC SAZU

·         Dr. Aleš Popovič - Digitalization as Driving Force for Sustainability of Individuals, Organization, and Society

·         Dr. Maša Repež Gril - Vision of long-term transition to e-mobility

·         Dr. Bregt Saenen - EUA Contribution to SSH in European Research and Innovation Policy

·         Dr. Gabi Lombardo - Interdisciplinarity from a science policy perspective

·         Dr. Jack Spaapen - Impact of social sciences and humanities on society

·         Dr. Krzysztof Kania- The Cross-Cutting Nature of SSH in H2020 and HE

·         Dr. Lino Paula - The importance of frontier SSH research for the EU agenda

·         Dr. Nicole Birkle -  Cotribution of German Universities in strengthen the role of SSH European Research Area

·         Dr. Nina Braun - Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) integration in Horizon 2020


Some photos from the conference are available at SBRA Facebook page, click here.  





Geographical focus
  • Europe
Scientifc field / Thematic focus
  • Humanities
  • Social Sciences

Entry created by Admin on December 9, 2018
Modified on December 11, 2018

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