VERA – Forward Visions on the European Research Area

VERA is funded by the European Union's FP7 programme for research,
technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no 290705

Grand Societal Challenges

Grand Societal Challenges with Relevance for ERA’s future

There is little doubt that the Societal Challenges (SC) are increasingly important determinants of policy in general and of science, technology and innovation policy in particular. Addressing them requires commitment and investments on the part of societies not only in the short term, but even more so in the medium to long term. 
From the perspective of Europe and the European Research Area, addressing SC is a central policy objective, and constitutes an important pillar of Horizon2020. Although one might assume that there is a common understanding currently in place about the scope and characteristics of SC, an analysis of the VERA project not only shows that the understanding of SC may vary (in particular depending on geographical origin), it also reveals that the set of SC which might influence the future of the ERA is broader than the current focus of the European debate (Giesecke et al. 2012, Daimer et al. 2014). 

Within the VERA project we scanned SC in existing EU documents and discussion papers from inside and outside Europe that were published and discussed in related foresight and horizon scanning projects. This broader approach aimed to identify important challenges for a future European Research Area, and we can characterize the resulting set of 16 SC clusters in the following way: It has –compared to current policy strategies or programmes – a more global perspective, e.g. in the way it considers migration, impoverished regions, multipolarity and material resources, and it includes more fundamental societal realms or principles such as new values and lifestyles, the role of the state, the stability of public finance, the current economic model, education and EU competitiveness. 
The figure below documents the 16 Grand Challenges that were identified through subsequent clustering of the more than 750 individual issues found in the stocktaking exercise.

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How societal challenges shape the VERA scenarios

VERA developed “outside-in” scenarios, starting from global and European drivers, external to R&I in 2030 and considering ERA internal dynamics in a second step. Although only the title of scenario 2 makes clear reference to societal challenges (“Societal Challenges – Joint Action”), societal challenges play a major role as external drivers in all scenarios. 

First, some challenges are driven by trends. These macro trends, such as globalization, a multipolar world, or climate change, are assumptions shared by all the VERA scenarios with only slight variations in the emphasis given to them. Second, two external factors play a key role in the differences between the scenarios: the principal paradigm for societal progress and the role of the public finance crisis (see more on VERA scenarios here). 

These key drivers lead to substantially different high-level policy objectives in the four contexts described by the VERA scenarios, and these political and societal contexts frame the problem definition of other societal challenges, such as new forms of security threats, health challenges, sustainable forms of energy supply and production, transport systems, migration, education or poverty in the world. Not all of these challenges are addressed by the VERA scenarios; in particular, because the scenarios focus on research and innovation policies and governance, they had to exclude sectoral dynamics. However, in a small exercise for the energy sector, we illustrate how VERA scenarios can be linked to sectoral foresight studies (Loikkanen and Pelkonen 2015).