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Futures of Civic Resilience in Europe – 2040: Scenarios and Policy Implications

Author

Totti Könnölä

Jan 25, 2024

Exploring alternative futures addressing radical changes in society can help better prepare for future crises and strengthen the resilience of civil society today. This post builds on the brief resulting from one of eight Deep Dive Foresight Studies in the project ‘European R&I Foresight and Public Engagement for Horizon Europe’ conducted by the Foresight on Demand’ consortium for the European Commission. During the autumn of 2023, the core group identified factors of change and organised two scenario and one policy implications workshops also engaging experts from academia, business, and public administration around Europe. We aimed to assist policy-makers by devising four possible future scenarios in 2040 and by considering their implications for today.

Europe is facing major societal challenges (climate change, demographic trends, cultural shifts induced by technology, new geopolitical balances, among others), which are radically changing the landscape of the European Union. Since the beginning of the 21st century, the instability of the markets and the economy and the difficulties of national and European public administrations in responding to the priorities of the citizens, have contributed to the increased detachment and lack of trust among citizens. While this poses risks to the formal structures and institutions traditionally framing and holding together the European social system based on democracy and the free market, the EU is pursuing major transition programmes in order to respond to the major societal challenges. Its concerns with resilience extend to both the structures and institutions that hold Europe together, and to the transition programmes that it wishes to drive.

We consider civic resilience, as the ability of a community, city, or society to prepare for, respond to, recover from, and adapt to adversities, challenges, or disruptions. Civic resilience is a core concern in crises as well as in transitions. It is about civil society surviving changes (disruptions, tipping points, crises etc. whether they are abrupt or founded in long-term developments). It calls for local commitment, preparedness beyond the support of the public administration and the private sector. It's about civil society, both the community (social organizations) and the individuals (citizens), taking the initiative – as a key actor framing any social system – to lead social change.


Exploring alternative futures addressing radical changes in society can help better prepare for future crises and strengthen the resilience of civil society today. Therefore, we aimed to assist policy-makers by devising four possible future scenarios in 2040 and by considering their implications for today. While the challenges considered are global, policy implications are addressed especially about the European research and innovation policy. Four alternative scenarios were identified around two main axes (technological and economic adaptation and social & environmental stewardship):

  • The first scenario, where both techno-economic adaptation and socio-environmental stewardship are high, represents an ideal future. This scenario (best of worlds) would be featured by low levels of community and individual resilience (welfare annihilates survival instinct): civil society would not be ready to face an unexpected event, totally devoid of self-protection mechanisms.

  • The second scenario, where techno-economic adaptation is low but socio-environmental stewardship is high, means institutional void but strong community consensus. Here the risk - in terms of civic resilience - is that if the community prevails totally, then individuality is cancelled. Citizens are subordinated to the collective, which means the coexistence of a high level of community resilience and a low level of individual resilience.

  • The third scenario, where high techno-economic adaptation meets low socio-environmental stewardship, represents a risk of rupture in the social fabric due to ubiquity and omnipresence of technology (AI, Singularity, Transhumanism?), an anomic society where community resilience is low -or even maybe annulled - even if individual resilience may be high; in a homogenised alienated society where social institutions are annulled the only possible resistance may come from the individuals (a minority).

  • The fourth scenario, the worst-case one, represents the survival mode where the menace is extreme, total and constant. Low techno-economic adaptation meets low socio-environmental stewardship, producing a vicious circle of desolation characterized by the fact that the social fabric is broken. It would be a radical context where both community and individual resilience may be high because hostile environments reinforce survival instinct (both individual and collective).

Each scenario provides a different point of view towards the situation in the EU today and what could and should be done by EU R&I policy, and by related policy fields that will affect the efficacy of the R&I policy pursuits towards civic resilience. Together they point us to the following policy recommendations:

R&I policy should enable and promote crisis prevention and preparedness – environmental monitoring and earth science are important, as are their connections to civil protection and crisis management practices. Technological innovations are potentially very important here and so is technology assessment, aiming to minimize the negative effects of technology use, while maximizing the positive ones.

R&I policy should aim to strengthen the resilience of infrastructure and to enable a balance between the infrastructure needs of society and environmental and ecosystem effects from its construction, use and decommissioning. Innovations in materials and construction technologies and techniques are important as are innovations in decommissioning and recycling technologies and processes, and in the monitoring and management of the state of infrastructures and in their use.

Keeping in mind the unpredictability of the social effects of technology and the importance of public services and local actors for civic resilience, it is important to engage broadly with actors responsible for public services in the definition of R&I policy agendas. Thus R&I policy can:

  • stimulate radical social innovation through “glocal” (local but with global impact) creative initiatives, e.g. via living labs,

  • identify and define boundaries for upcoming cutting-edge technologies implantation, prioritizing social stability and welfare,

  • define agendas in resilience research, oriented to explore new potential needs and new ways of addressing existing needs, and

  • to make existing public services more effective and resilient, for instance via education and health.

In addition to R&I agendas, civic resilience can be strengthened by improving governance, local democracy, public services and education policies to:

  • improve social empathy - addressing societal needs through a more human-centered-business, UX-oriented, bottom-up vision. Prevent social anomy and get closer to the citizens´ daily reality and priorities;

  • prevent ecosystem degradation - by promoting environmental stewardship, mainly stimulating bottom-up local collaborative and innovative initiatives;

  • prevent cultural and moral degradation by promoting diversity, internationalization, and the preservation of cultural heritage and the basic European set of values: equality, law and fraternity; reinforcing democracy.

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