Fostering the integration of Social Sciences and Humanities with Sciences and Engineering in Horizon2020: the ICT4Life experience
On 24 February 2017, the Future and Emerging Technologies Advisory Group on behalf of the European Commission published a report analysing how technological innovations need to pay close attention to the social contexts in which they will be placed. This is an opportunity for ICT4Life multidisciplinary team to get back to this important topic: the integration of Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) with Science and Engineering (SE) in Horizon2020.
New technologies, such as those developed through Horizon 2020 funding programme, can only be successful if they fit market and society. The dramatic scale and pace of technological developments offers tremendous potential but, with these opportunities, new dangers and new responsibilities could arise. This implies that innovators need to pay close attention to the social contexts. Moreover, many social innovations require technological development to be successful. Thus, social and technical research sectors need to go hand in hand.
The advisory group to FET – the Future & Emerging Technologies Programme devoted to ground-breaking technologies – proposes that more attention should be paid by Horizon 2020 and its successor to supporting multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research that brings together engineering, natural science, social sciences and humanities in a way in which no discipline is pre-eminent, but all work together, each one inspiring and depending on the others.
This report contains seven recommendations which could increase the contribution of social sciences and humanities to H2020. The aim of the document is to make the impact of SSH more influent on H2020 projects and to put them on an equal footing with other sciences. New societal needs require a new approach of the next generation of technologies according to the attitude evolution.
Convinced of the need of regulating cross cutting issues, the European Institutions already provided a legal basis and main guidelines when the H2020 programme was shaped. The article 14 of the Regulation (EU) no 1291/2013 of 11.12.2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing Horizon 2020 confirms the new direction chosen for the programme stating that “particular attention should be paid to social and economic sciences and humanities”. However, despite the will to integrate disciplines such as sociology, psychology, or cultural studies, it might be asked how to concretely apply this orientation during the implementation of a project.
H2020 Projects such as ICT4Life indeed combine closely different kinds of sciences by involving multi-sectorial partners. Developing the best technology without taking into account new societal needs (such as ePrivacy) or usability or attractiveness of technologies (e.g. by making new technologies appealing to end-users hardly in contact with them such as the elderly) would not fulfil the objectives.
In January 2017, when ICT4Life Consortium presented in Brussels the project and its first results to stakeholders in the health field, feedbacks mainly referred to topics such as digital health literacy, data protection, treatment gap and prevention. One year after ICT4Life kick-off meeting, the interest for matters relating to SSH shows that the cooperation between hard and soft sciences is the right path to follow.
The question of the integration of social sciences and humanities arises regularly in ICT4Life implementation and generates several proposals for its application not only in relation to the impact of new technologies on society but also when it comes to project team building. A better understanding of other partners’ fields of expertise directly improves the technology development process. For example, if ICT4Life technology is developed without taking into account patients’ habits (psychological, cultural), the project results will not be satisfying due to the lack of convergence between the supply and the demand. In order to make the technology as much as possible suitable to the patient, inputs coming from end-user’s organisations must be duly taken into consideration.
Nevertheless, even if the European Institutions developed basic tools such as legislation or guidelines to strengthen the place and the role of Social Sciences and Humanities in H2020 projects, the human factor remains a key element in project development. ICT4life strives to overcome this challenge attaching significance to all opinions whatever their scientific field and in this way the project will offer the most adapted technologies possible to patients and caregivers.
 Future and Emerging Technologies Advisory Group. Report on the need to integrate Social Sciences and Humanities with Science and Engineering in Horizon 2020, 2016.
 REGULATION (EU) No 1291/2013 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 11 December 2013.