Session Report: Secure Societies

Secure Societies: Protecting Freedom and Security of Europe and its Citizens

Session Report

Vilnius, 24 September 2013

Thanks to Jutta Weber, Steve Wright, and Georgios Kolliarakis for their comments.

Societal security as a field of research is both complex and contested, ultimately grappling with questions that are existential both to the individual and to societies at large. The fundamental character of the issues at stake also characterized the discussions in the session dedicated to the topic. This report draws extensively on the three presentations given in the session, the chair’s succinct summaries, as well as participants’ interventions. The report seeks to reflect the main topics and concerns brought up, but with no claim of representing a broad consensus-based cross-section, and it consists of three sections. The first section is a depiction of how the new Horizon 2020 agenda includes research on societal security as part of the SSH program, the second section focuses on opportunities and challenges in fostering broad collaborative research engagements, and the last section introduces a set of issues that are central to the agenda.

1.      The Societal Challenge in Horizon 2020 and the integration of Social Sciences and Humanities

Mainstreaming security research: The formulation of H2020 has been driven by the aim to integrate societal security research as a horizontal mission in the vertical missions (see box 1). The background experiences stem from FP7, where security research, over the past 2 years, developed from being an add-on towards being a mainstreamed Working Programme. The European Commission has seen the development in FP7 as a step in the right direction, yet insufficient in that Security Research remains a separate horizontal mission, a weakness which H2020 is designed to overcome, especially with the integration of SSH.

Societal Challenge – why:

European policy makers understand that concerns of citizens and society/EU policy objectives (climate, environment, energy, transport) cannot be achieved without innovation. Breakthrough solutions come from multi-disciplinary collaborations, including social sciences & humanities. Promising solutions need to be tested, demonstrated and scaled up. Secure Societies as Societal Challenge – from the draft work programme: The challenge is about protecting citizens, society and economy as well as assets, infrastructures and services, prosperity, political stability and well-being.  Any malfunction or disruption, intentional or accidental, can have detrimental impact with high associated economic or societal costs.  A primary aim is to enhance the resilience of our society.

Objectives are:

  1. Fight crime, illegal trafficking and terrorism, including understanding and tackling terrorist ideas and beliefs
  2. Protect and improve the resilience of critical infrastructures, supply chains and transport modes
  3. Strengthen security through border management
  4. Improve cyber security / digital security
  5. Increase Europe’s resilience to crisis and disasters
  6. Ensure privacy and freedom, including in the Internet and enhancing the societal, legal and ethical understanding of all areas of security, risk and management
  7. Enhance standardization and interoperability of systems, including for emergency purposes
  8. Support the union’s external security policies including through conflict prevention and peace building
    See workprogramme on Horizon2020 Website

Ethical screening and review: When new technologies, policies or legal instruments are being developed, ethical assessments have generally been conducted at particular points in the project cycle, typically towards the end. As ethical screening and review are being more consistently and systematically applied across the whole spectrum of relevant initiatives, there is also a move towards a processual approach, in which ethical aspects are considered during the whole project cycle. Ideally, a development team would now work organically with ethical experts, from the initial plans, through the development phases, as well as pre-implementation and in post-implementation follow-up. Ethical considerations, however, form only one of the many dimensions of SSH expertise to be integrated in security related research.

Impact evaluation: In H2020, there is a firm ambition to shift the focus on evaluation from measuring the outcomes to assessing the impact of research and development. While this is a shift to be welcomed, it should also pointed out that assessing impact is challenging. Not the least is there always a need to be cognisant of the unintended impacts of all types of research and development (societal security research included). As one participant pointed out, we may, for example, assess the impact of new technologies, while missing the point that there are strong societal forces that shape the agenda – and the practice – of technological development in the first place.

Agenda-formulation: For the research community it is vital to understand that the formulation of the security research agenda in SSH within H2020 is the outcome of complex negotiations between multiple stakeholders, bridging widely divergent interests and perspectives. Equal collaboration between industry, academics, end-users and civil society representatives is necessary. Background documents for the development of the security foci include: The EU Internal Security Strategy in Action: Five steps towards a more secure Europe[1], EU Security Industrial Policy[2], EU Digital Agenda[3] and the EU Cybersecurity Strategy[4]. Strategic aims of these documents are the disruption of international criminal networks, the prevention of terrorism and addressing radicalisation and recruitment, raising the levels of security for citizens and businesses in cyberspace, strengthening security through border management, increasing Europe’s resilience to crises and disasters. Even so, the ultimate objective of societal security research is to stimulate European business and to create new jobs. While it is perfectly legitimate that business is the ultimate driver of the agenda – and this is entirely transparent – many participants did emphasize the necessity of substantial support for free-standing, critical security research. Furthermore we need to differentiate between research on security technology and policy and research within security technology and policy, even though these areas can be overlapping.


Tentative timeline:

  • Autumn 2013: consultations with the MS on work programme
  • WP is being drafted in cooperation with “Shadow” Programme Committee
  • Inter-service consultation
  • Adoption by the Council: December 2013
  • Adoption Work programmes (expected 11 December)
  • National Info Days
  • First call “Secure Societies” planned in March (2014)


–         equal, transparent and unbiased access of all stakeholders to research calls!

We have seen disproportional allocation of budgeting to procurement in draft work programmes, which would easily open the back door to direct commissionings to e.g. the defense industry.

–         DG RTD and DG enterprise should exchange and conjointly foster best practice models for socially responsible funding policy such as “Responsible Research and Innovation” (RRI) and all the  guidelines it has generated since 2010.

–         The Social Impact Assessment, to be included in all grant applications, cannot be a mere tick-box exercise for skilled application writers. It necessitates the training of applicants and evaluators alike and should be operationalised as fully developed part of the evaluation process.

2.      Research Collaboration (the role of research; organization)

The Critical Obligation: Research in general – social science and humanities research on societal security being no exception – has a firm commitment to basic academic freedom. From this follows an obligation to be critical, to ask often uncomfortable questions about the parameters on which a particular R&D engagement is based, to draw attention to the unintended consequences and hidden risks, to reveal the discriminatory of repressive potential of new initiatives. The Commission’s 10-point checklist for societal impact of security R&D (see Annex 7 of Guide for Applicants) is an important safeguard, as are other mandatory actions, such as ethics reviews and privacy protection.  It is, however, fundamentally problematic if most SSH research on societal security depend on H2020 funding alone. SSH involvement in all vertical or horizontal security research needs to be backened also by national and private funding bodies, as well as by security industry itself.

Competence and careers: Building a career in SSH research on societal security is extremely challenging, both because of the multifaceted skills that are required of the individual (with good reason), and because the funding modalities does not necessarily incentivise relevant institutions to prioritize the development of robust research milieus. The financial crisis, in large parts of Europe, has exacerbated the problems. As one participant pointed out, there is an irony in that the very researchers focusing on security, resilience and vulnerability do so under conditions of great insecurity.

Interdisciplinarity: There are tall ambitions for interdisciplinarity – combining social science and humanist expertise with engineering, science, medicine, and law – in societal security research. Yet, experience shows that genuine interdiscipinarity is hard to achieve. A few critical factors were discussed in the session:

–         Mutual respect for, and understanding of, each other’s skills and expertise is essential to genuine interdisciplinarity, and highlights the importance of inclusive leadership and organizational culture.

–         Consolidation of basic analytical perspectives and frameworks – so that actors with different disciplinary backgrounds agree on a collaborative set of basic parameters – is a prerequisite to success. Fostering such agreement is much easier said than done, and while one will often have to live without full consolidation, it is critical that collaboration starts from a full-fledged clarification of the framework applied with a balanced mix of perspectives instead of commonly dominating techno-determinist or reductionist approaches or standards.

–         Interdisciplinary research rests on individuals, who combine excellent skills in at least one discipline with solid understanding of other disciplines, as well as the ability to build milieus in which strong disciplinary research specializations interact closely over time. Geography matters, and success is most likely when several such milieus are located in the same institution or locality (Europe has a scarcity of such institutions), or when shared temporary spaces are available.

–         Mutual understanding and interdisciplinary skills have to be established in shared spaces. So it is vital that European Security Research funding supports collaborative platforms for the development of research networks and the shaping of innovative interdisciplinary research questions and approaches.

Multi-stakeholder collaboration: The success of security research within SSH hinges on the ability to bring about genuine co-production of knowledge, not only involving different disciplinary traditions, but also between researchers and practitioners. It is important to note that the mix of relevant stakeholders will vary considerably between the various research themes. Apart from that, some of the most critical factors are:

–         To ensure genuine collaboration already at the stage of defining the agenda. This is where the main research problems are defined and agreed upon, and it is essential to involve all main stakeholders already here in order to foster a common understanding and genuine ownership. It is therefore recommended to include SSH experts in all advisory boards, on national or European level.

–         Full involvement of research at all stages of R&D processes, rather than (as has often been the case) bring in social science and humanities competence only to assess a ready-made products or strategies.

–         Definition of clear roles and responsibilities between the various parties involved is key to success, but also extremely challenging in complex development processes involving a range of stakeholders with widely different competencies and interests. Yet, the integrity and independence of research hinges on mutual respect for roles and responsibilities.

–         At all Horizon 2020 information events the integration of SSH into security research projects should be highlighted in order to trigger interest for cooperation.

3.      The Agenda for SSH related security research

The concept of security: While a joint understanding of what security means is often taken for granted, there is little doubt that there are a multitude of conceptions at play, some of which are overlapping, some of which are mutually incompatible. Hence, it is important to ask what it is that we understand by security, how various conceptions interact, and how they change over time. For example, why do we mainly speak about security and risk, instead of peace or solidarity today?

Inevitably, security is not only an objective entity that we study with a view to improve it, but also a subjective perception – deeply political in nature – which we all relate to as subjects.

Specific issues: A number of specific issues are central to the broader SSH agenda in security research. The focus here is not on those issues that will merit a focused effort in the form of one project, or a bundle of projects, but on issues that will need to be addressed in various ways by wide specter of initiatives:

–        Policy: As policy co-shapes security and technological developments, challenges need to be better understood at implementation and public policy level. Often governments rely too much on quick “technological fixes”. How does public administration deal with security issues that have societal impact, how are policy makers trained and to what extent are they informed?

–        Democratization of security policy: What are the mechanisms that can help bring about transparency and informed public debate in such a way that it informs new initiatives?

–        The Security Paradox: How can we better come to grips with the observation that enhanced focus on security measures often produces a greater sense of insecurity, and what constitutes a constructively typology of the various manifestations of this dilemma?

–        The quality and quantity of security risk: How can we better assess security risks?Are common methods to quantify spending versus measurable risks the right approaches? Could we drill down to the micro-level in e.g. local manufacture supply chains in the subcontracting of security industry for cross-state comparison.

–        Everyday Practice in the security industry: How is the security industry organized, how does it work on everyday basis, and how does its real time interaction with others societal actors manifest itself on an everyday basis?

–        Political impacts of technology: How can we best understand and analyze the political impacts – including resource distribution, rights promotion, discriminatory practices (identity-based, gender-based) – of new technology and other security practices, and how do these map onto broader political-ideological currents?

–        Empowerment: What are the ways in which new technology empowers some and disempowers others?

–        Societal receptivity: What are the decisive factors for societal receptivity or resistance to new technologies and measures?

–        Societal resilience: What are the decisive factors that account for why societies that have been hit by crisis are able to rapidly reconstitute themselves while other societies are not?

–        Political responsibility: Do we have adequate mechanisms for removing security measures if they create more unease than they solve problems? How can export and misuse of technology, which would never be sanctioned inside the EU, be prosecuted?

–        Surveillance and democracy: In the light of the latest surveillance scandals, we need to investigate the socio-economic constellations that allow for escalating security measures, as well as the necessity of privacy enhancing configurations and technologies.

–        Media: What is the role of the media in framing the public debate about security/insecurity, as well as the basic perceptions of new security measures and how they are received?

–        Innovation: What are the various forms of genuine security innovation that we see at play, and, assuming we can establish a basic typological understanding of those, what are the distinct political, societal and ethical challenges related to each type?


  • Balanced agenda setting: Social Sciences and Humanities need to be integrated in decision making processes; members of each Programme Committee should be invited to include experts from the SSH to their respective national group of experts for consultation on the Work Programme; corporate or lobbyist domination of Expert Groups should not be tolerated.
  • Advisory boards, Programme Committees, evaluation panels, strategy committees should include experts from the Social Sciences and Humanities and especially also experts in interdisciplinary research.
  • Full and timely transparency of minutes, agendas and contributions by the Commission, Programme Committee and Advisory Group meetings
  • Open call for public applications: equal, transparent and unbiased access of all stakeholders to research calls
  • Each Societal Challenge should foresee CSA platforms in order to create “real” spaces for networking and preparation of interdisciplinary projects, bringing together experts from all fields of science, scholarship and technology development, but also civil society stakeholders.
  • At every “Horizon2020” kick-off or workshop the integration of Social Sciences and Humanities and the incentives of interdisciplinary research should be highlighted, so that also the respective communities feel addressed. Dedicated events/workshops should provide showcases of best interdisciplinary practice, and increase awareness in research communities for EU research funding ecology.
  • Socially responsible funding: ethical aspects need to be considered during the whole project cycle. Furthermore, DG Research and Innovation and DG Enterprise should exchange and conjointly foster best practice models.
  • Social Impact Assessment: not a tick-box exercise for skilled application writers, but an accompanying and continuously unfolding process, including the training of applicants and evaluaters.
  • Necessity of substantial support for critical security research, be it as research on security technologies and policies or research within technology and policy development.

Social Sciences and Humanities in security research will

–         draw attention to hidden risks, unintended consequences and collateral realities of security research and technology and policy development

–         develop a robust research milieu

–         provide to a balanced mix of perspectives

–         enable interdisciplinarity, ensure genuine collaboration already at the stage of defining the agenda or designing the project

–         take the lead in innovative security research projects

Social Sciences and Humanities in security research engage in

–         understanding challenges at implementation and public policy level

–         bringing about transparency and informed public debate

–         better assessing security risks, empowerment, societal receptivity or resilience, political or corporate responsibilities

– recognising roles of media in framing the public debates

–         identifying various forms of genuine security innovation