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The Future of Social confrontations – Policy implications


Masafumi Nishi

Aug 3, 2023

This blog post derives policy implications from the scenarios developed on the future of social confrontations (

The policy implications below are part of the deep dive "Social Confrontations" under the "European R&I foresight and public engagement for Horizon Europe" project.

The scenarios deal with various bifurcations social confrontations might take in the future and their impact on European democracy. Some extreme pathways for R&I policymaking in the context of these scenarios have been sketched as well such as prioritization of certain technologies. The following section summarizes crucial implications derived from the scenarios for R&I policy in different categories which are elaborated below. They are not meant to be recommendations but rather inspirations for further debate. In this section, four main questions concerning R&I policy implications in the context of social confrontations can be differentiated:

The first part raises the question of how R&I policy on the macro-level can have an impact toward more equity and equality. The second part is dedicated to the notion of more democratisation and participation in the process of R&I priority setting. How R&I policy could be geared towards the stimulation of more socio-ecological transformation is the focus of the third part. The fourth and final part explores future European R&I focus areas of relevance to the four scenarios.


Can R&I policy set steps toward more equity and equality?

The context of social confrontation and the four scenarios give us the unique chance to look at R&I policy from a social equity and equality perspective. R&I policy at the MS level is more likely to play a role here from a governance perspective than the EC, but the EC could implement good practice examples, e.g., by taking the following measures:

  • Social criteria for public R&I funds benefitting civil society

When distributing R&I funds to projects, criteria can be defined on the common good quality of the project objectives and the recipients, for example: Human dignity, solidarity and justice, environmental sustainability, transparency, and co-decision-making

  • Social innovations coupled with technological innovation

Stimulating and funding social innovation is a possibility to integrate marginalized groups and give them a chance for their own agency and the opportunity of participation in social and economic activities. Social innovations can thus serve as means to reduce the potential for harmful social confrontations. Thus, each research project geared toward (technological) innovation should be assessed for its potential to generate social innovations for the benefit of marginalized groups – and be prioritized for public funding if this benefit out pays the negative effects (from the perspective of society, not the individual).



Options for more stakeholder and public participation in R&I policy?

  • Democratising decisions on investment (e.g. in industrial R&I, public R&I)

New approaches to democratise the decision-making processes on how investments in R&I are taken and for what purpose can include

- Grant more decision-making power to the employees, for example, without infringing the secrecy of strategic directions;

- Co-decision making on R&I investments could also be one criterion for the allocation of public R&I funds to projects

because people learn how to participate and common decision-making process make the outcomes more robust and less susceptible to social confrontations:

  • Neo-tripartite decision-making processes at the member state level:

The co-decision-making process on setting research priorities can be organized in a neo-tripartite manner: between government representatives, industry, and social partners. Based on the old corporatist model, it is crucial, however, to include more than the traditional

representatives. Instead, other groups of society need to be incorporated as well in a fair and representative manner, e.g., the younger generation.

  • Institutional reform for learning and teaching co-decision making

Co-decision-making process can help manage social confrontations productively. One way to better deal with social confrontation and use them as a resource for a more stable and resilient democracy is to learn and practice co-decision-making process from early on and in as many occasions as possible. Better than accepting social confrontations is even to teach people from early on how to engage in co-decision making. Thus, corporate companies and research organisations as well as R&I institutions including policymaking need to define strategies how a higher level of co-decision-making can be achieved, e.g., by consent-orientation.

  • Experiments for new forms of governance

Beyond R&I policy making, new approaches for institutional reform in the field of policy and administration are necessary. More dialogue needs to be initiated to inspire creative solutions and mutual learning activities, across Europe and beyond. This should also entail visions of a more inclusive governance structure that grants rights to people with diverse criteria, not only nationality.

What alternative approaches of R&I towards socio-ecological transformation need to be designed?

The climate crisis will be a major cause of adversity and desperation in our society in the future. It will bring about more inequity, more inequality and more social confrontation. Accordingly, containing and mitigating the effects of the climate crisis needs to be the focus of socially responsible R&I policy:

  • Role of R&I in ecological transformation/degrowth

The potential climate effects of R&I investments need to be assessed before these investments are made. A fundamental assumption needs to be cleared: is more growth contributing to the climate crisis or what are alternatives that move towards degrowth?

  • Dealing with the (uneven) consequences of climate change

Even if it sounds challenging, new concepts need to be developed to share and distribute the severe consequences of climate change evenly, especially regarding the burden the global south has to carry. These new concepts need to be co-developed. Especially when decisions for investments in new technologies are taken, an a-priori assessment of the short-, mid-, and long-term effect on the climate should be mandatory. Such an assessment should also take the voice of those people into account that will be negatively affected by the consequences of such a technology along its lifecycle. One option is to install an advisory board of representative members of society to be involved in the up-front assessment, the decision on the funding, and possible mitigation strategies for the consequences.

What are Future European R&I focus areas of relevance to the four scenarios?

  • Alternative forms of housing and living

For many, housing is a human right. However, the reality in Europe is much different, not the least due to a severe market failure. All governments and societies in the EU struggle with the task to provide sufficient quantity and quality of affordable housing. More research and innovation need to be done to develop alternative ways not only of housing construction (material, design, recycling, reuse etc.) but also of financing housing, and alternative ways of living (and working); further to adapt buildings to the changing requirement of people at an affordable price. Additionally, new hardware needs to be developed and more efficient

production processes, meeting ecological requirements without harming the environment any further.

  • New technologies and social approaches to detect troll armies and fake news

- Democratic procedures are required to avoid a ’dictatorship of machines’ as well as to avoid a dictatorship of autocrats that make use of machines. While there are already some technologies in place to detect troll armies and fake news that can harm democratic and economic processes, it is necessary to make these simpler and applicable for the average users. AI and IT experts are very knowledgeable in identifying fake news and they programme complex tools for this purpose. What is needed, however, are automatic tools that alert lay people when fake news and troll army operations appear on their IT gadgets, and education to use and interpret them. At best, detecting tools are always a step ahead or at least at the same level of development with malware producers.

- Though the recent Digital Services Act (DSA) aims to tackle social media problems as wide-ranging as content regulation and the protection of users, such as misogyny, disinformation and consumer fraud, some concerns remain. One deficit is that for users it is not always transparent that their data are transferred to outside the EU and how they are processed.

- Actions to prevent online hate speech are not sufficiently regulated. And aside from the DSA, is the issue of educated usage of social media and the user’s capability to identify fake and harmful content on the spot. Further regulations have to be developed – at best in a participatory way – in order to contain the unprecedented growth of big tech firms and their increase of power on almost all spheres of people’s life.

  • Socially responsible AI

Average AI tool, e.g., algorithms, reflect mainstream users and discriminate against minorities. Conventional attributes used in the context of AI programming perpetuate cultural biases from the real world to the virtual world and back. To break through this wall of biases new approaches have to be developed that take the patterns of other ethnicities, cultures, genders, ages etc. into account and create a more diverse and democratic virtual world.





August 29, 2023 at 1:11:48 PM

I am completely fashinated by the idea that R&I policy can promote equality. R&I is about competition, be it economic or scientific, and competition is about winners and losers. And if winners and losers are equal than what is the point in competing? To compete in a context of equality, independent from the outcome of the competition, and still compete, is a major conundrum for humanity.

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