Session Report: Health, Demographic Change and Well-Being


Parallel session, Tuesday, 24th September 2013, 09:30-12:30, Room I-414, 4th floor

Challenges to global health and wellbeing (including mental health) present significant economic,  societal and ethical burdens in the early part of the 21st century, and are associated with dramatic  demographic shifts occurring as a result of political conflict, migration, technological innovation, population ageing, and other factors. Social Sciences and Humanities disciplines harness, develop and innovate key theoretical and methodological approaches to develop solutions to these challenges that can be translated efficiently into applications for the benefit of society. As the final negotiations on Horizon2020 continued, this session brought together experts from a broad spectrum of health and demographic research areas, to discuss how to integrate Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) into the Horizon 2020. Speakers presented interdisciplinary approaches, models and paradigms to address concrete problems in the Health, Demographic Change and Wellbeing pillar. Some questions that were raised: How can efficient and productive cross-fertilisation of disciplinary expertise be accomplished in concrete work programmes? How will an emphasis on personalisation in health and healthcare interact with public health principles of equity, justice and the public good, and the new economic focus on ‘big data’? How can question-driven interdisciplinarity approach specific problems, such as children’s moral and behavioural development or students’ use of cognitive enhancers? Can we speak of a specific SSH-driven interdisciplinarity? What kinds of research and research collaborations are necessary to capture the global dimensions of demographic change in a way that appropriately respects and describes the experiences of individuals and families in their local contexts?

Chair: Danguolė Jankauskienė, Mykolas Romeris University, Lithuania
Rapporteur: Wim van den Doel, Leiden University,  Netherlands
Statement: Wolfgang Lutz,  Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital (Austria)
Statement: Illina Singh, Kings College London, United Kingdom
Statement: Line Matthiessen, European Commission, Belgium (PDF)
Coordinator: Katja Mayer, Office of the ERC President, Vienna

Horizon 2020: A bold new vision of research in Health, Demographic Change and Wellbeing?

During the conference, the Commissioner of Research and Innovation, Geoghegan-Quinn, declared that the Social Sciences and Humanities are more essential than ever. Under Horizon 2020, the commitment to SSH is renewed and strengthened. The EU has supported the Social Sciences and Humanities for two decades, since the Fourth Framework Programme in 1994; however, Geoghegan-Quinn declared: “We will, however, do things differently now. … The increasing importance, indeed the necessity of the Social Sciences and Humanities, has spurred us on to create a bold, new vision for them at European level.” SSH will not longer be an “add on”, but will be “anchored at the heart of Horizon 2020.” There will be a twin opportunity for the Social Sciences and Humanities: “First, new areas of research throughout the whole programme thanks to embedding; and second, greater scope for riskier, top class research through the European Research Council”. “Embedding” means that the Social Sciences and Humanities can make their contribution where they are most needed. It means that they can provide the necessary knowledge and understanding to tackle all societal challenges. The Commissioner stated that embedding SSH across the entire Horizon 2020programme means that “the social, political and human aspects are not forgotten alongside the technological aspects.”

  • Info Day for this challenge in Brussels: Nov 22nd, 2013
  • Adoption of the work programme for 2014/15: Dec 10th, 2013
  • Calls: Spring 2014

At the sessionHealth, Demographic change andWellbeingthe question was askedif the SSH research community canbesatisfiedwith the state of affairswithin the Health domain, given the policy statement of  the Commissioner.

The following conclusions were reached regarding the context and implementation of integration of SSH:

1)     Before speaking to the European Commission, the SSH community urgently has to address national governments and national funding agencies. These governments and funding agencies have to change their policies before matters can change on the European level. Embedding SSH within research programmes on health, demographic change and wellbeing should be accompanied by both innovative JPI’s[1] and the use of structural funds from the EU. It is vitally important to create a European Research Area(ERA) for SSH research. The state of affairs with regard to the ERA is disappointing at best, without effective or innovative JPIs.

2)     While embedding of SSH research in health research is necessary, we have to realise that interdisciplinary research is difficult and takes time before becoming successful. Funding agencies have to realise this and change their funding policies in order to support successful interdisciplinary research. The implementation of ERC Synergy Grants might be a good instrument in this respect and could serve as inspirational example for other EU funding instruments and national funding schemes.

3)     Stimulation of question-driven interdisciplinary research, with SSH embedded or in the lead, requires good examples; some are presented by Science Europe in a brochure[2].

4)     More truly interdisciplinary meetings are necessary in order to develop new research questions and a new research agenda. At Vilnius, the SSH-community was speaking to like-minded scholars; the next step should be meetings with representatives of other disciplines. We need space to dream beyond the disciplines in order to create cutting edge projects on health and wellbeing; such topics might include the role of the arts in wellbeing; the changing role of the family in ageing populations; and other topics. In order to make SSH-researchers equal partners we need to organize carefully prepared meetings with other researchers. But remember: scientists and scholars can be conservative! So this effort will not be an easy one.

5)     To illustrate the reach and importance of SSH, large horizontal research themes might be erected around the SSH pillars. Demographic change could be one such theme, as it influences many societal problems and opportunities, beyond those related to health.

6)     The draft work programme on Health etc. of Horizon 2020 does not meet the ambitions of the Commissioner: topics seem to be numerous, the societal challenge is approached in a very fragmented way without much room for SSH researchers. At present, Horizon 2020 does not look like a new programme; it looks much like the FP7 Programme. Here the national representatives have a large share of the responsibility in influencing the work programmes, so that these can reflect the bold, new vision for SSH research, which has been elaborated by the Commissioner at European level.

8)     National governments and national funding agencies control a much larger research budget than the European Commission. The SSH Community has to engage with these national players in order to change the state of affairs. The establishment of the ERA with effective and innovative JPIs is absolutely necessary.

Integrating SSH within the Horizon 2020 Health, Demographic Change and Well-being Challenge:

1)     SSH integration is more than foresight policy research; it should enable both qualitative and quantitative interventions into policy and society.

2)     SSH work in this pillar should over time demonstrate that a deep understanding of ‘environment’ in research on health and wellbeing is necessary to ensure positive health and wellbeing outcomes, and ethical research and policy agendas. It should furthermore show that demographic change lies at the foundation of many socio-economic and cultural changes.

3)     SSH research in this pillar should take seriously the ‘lifespan’ approach embedded in this pillar by organising calls around key health and wellbeing issues for specific age groups or cohorts. These could be around specific health concerns, such as suicide, mental health and education; or around transition points in the life course; e.g. adolescence, parenthood, retirement, grandparenting, etc

4)     SSH research in this pillar should take seriously the global dimensions of demographic change, health and wellbeing specified in the Horizon 2020 text by organising calls that inspire cross-cultural and comparative research on relevant topics, including equity, justice, access to health and treatments, education etc.

5)     SSH research in this pillar should draw out the concept of ‘wellbeing’ so that it can be given more distinctive weight and definition; and also to allow it to be distinct from ‘health.’

6)     Leaders of SSH integration in Horizon 2020 should consider creating a sustained series of events that bring social scientists and life scientists and health researchers together to brainstorm integrated research projects around the major themes in this pillar.

7)     Leaders of SSH integration in Horizon 2020 should discuss with scientific leaders how to ensure that interdisciplinary work among early career scholars is rewarded within disciplines.

8)     Leaders of SSH integration in Horizon 2020 should create ways to build more robust interactions among social scientists from different disciplines; and between social scientists and humanities scholars.

[1]The joint programming concept was introduced by the European Commission in July 2008 to support implementation of the European Research Area. The objective of joint programming is to ‘increase the value of relevant nationaland EU R&D funding by concerted and joint planning, implementation and evaluation of national research programmes’.


For details of the Horizon 2020 work programme and call dates: