Horizons for Social Sciences and Humanities: Introduction

When representatives of the Lithuanian Research Council approached me in 2012 about becoming involved in this conference, I responded with enthusiasm. Many gatherings have been organised in the past discussing the future of social sciences and humanities in the European research landscape; but none were as open to broader participation and so closely linked to practical and immediate implementation. Many wise words were spoken and good ideas had been launched before, but to connect them with specific work programmes and discussing them in an open and broad manner, was another matter.

Our Lithuanian colleagues recognised that the timing of their country’s EU Presidency would be the perfect moment to discuss the role and relevance of SSH in the upcoming Framework Programme, “Horizon 2020” with their wider impact. The new programme foresees the full integration of SSH into the “Grand Societal Challenges” that Europe faces and is determined to tackle through research, development and innovation. The realisation of these ambitious goals has yet to take shape. The conference in September 2013 was one of the many potential places to make this happen.

Before the start of the conference we conducted a “consultation process” within the European SSH communities to hear the voices of as many contributors as possible. More than 300 very detailed responses have brought up interesting issues, which helped us to structure the conference and collect recommendations for drafting a declaration. We collaborated closely with the European Commission in preparing this conference: As a result, Commission staff participated in all sessions where the integration into the seven societal challenges was discussed. We asked prominent scholars from all branches of SSH to provide input. The first day of the conference concentrated on reflecting and assessing where we stand, whereas the second day was dedicated to a detailed discussion of the next necessary steps towards achieving integration.

I truly believe that presenting the “Vilnius Declaration” at the end of this major event constituted a major step towards the consolidation of European SSH as a cluster of research fields which, in all their diversity and drawing on different approaches, are generating knowledge and policy responses that are highly relevant for the future of European societies. This Conference Report, entailing the full range of recommendations elaborated during the conference, will attest to this progress.

I want to thank my colleagues from the International Steering Committee for contributing to the overall aims, as well as to many details of this conference; my team in Vienna for their enthusiastic commitment and untiring persistence; the European Commission’s DG Research and Innovation for its patience and support. In particular I want to thank our Lithuanian hosts, first for realising the opportunity this conference provided, and then for organising the event.

Finally, I want to extend my gratitude to all the conference speakers and participants. Thank you for coming to Vilnius, and contributing to the important goals of this conference: realising the full integration of social sciences and humanities in European Research and Innovation and establishing a sense of taking the lead in these matters in the European SSH communities.

Helga Nowotny,
President, European Research Council (2010-2013)