The new website: not a re-launch, but not a face-lift either

You might have realised it already: the ICCR Foundation has re-designed its website. It now contains more information, will be updated more regularly and will offer news about the institute and beyond. It will inform you about events worthy of note; staff members who participate in these events will report on them on the website.

The new website looks nicer and is more user-friendly than the older one; it seems to me at the same time to be more functional. But it is just an element of a strategic new orientation to adapt to the needs of society. When I started to do social science, it was still performed in an ivory tower. Research outside the university’s confines was far from common, at least in Europe. Patrick Moynihan’s famous definition of social sciences – his idea of social scientists becoming professional reformers – was unknown in Europe.

Within the mainstream of European social sciences, interdisciplinary work, or task-oriented research, was disregarded as not being academic, fast and dirty, or was even considered to undermine the reputation of the discipline.

It was a major challenge for those working in the field in independent, private, non-profit research organisations. Together with my colleagues at the ‘Interdisciplinary Centre for Comparative Research in the Social Sciences’ we met this challenge not only by doing serious, mostly interdisciplinary research, but also by starting the journal ‘INNOVATION in Social Sciences Research’, that became a little later ‘The European Journal of Social Science Research – INNOVATION’. Its success was a sign that we were up to the challenge: Innovation has celebrated its 25th anniversary last year.

At the time, in 1991 I co-organised with some colleagues the First European Conference of Sociology as vice-chair of the organising committee. Selected papers were published in 4 special issues of Innovation. On this occasion I gave a paper that challenged the traditional view of social sciences: ‘Between Society, Politics, and the Market’ (Innovation Vol. 6, Issue No. 2, 1993). I argued that the mission of the social sciences was to serve society by developing concepts and methods to promote the knowledge society, based upon well-informed citizens, evidence-based politics and policies and responsible entrepreneurs. Instead of over-specialised disciplines, this calls for overcoming disciplinary boundaries as much as the separation between societal actors and researchers. The locus for such a venture is rather non-university research organisations that do not work in an ivory tower, stubbornly keeping to their disciplines, but work in a less superficial way than consultants. Furthermore, their independence allows for an impartial and fresh look at specific problems, based upon creative concepts and serious target-oriented methodology. Not without a certain pride, I can say that both the institute I was leading then and the ICCR Foundation, that I am leading now, prove the case.

Needless to say, I value disciplinary work, and even insist that any academic education needs to provide a solid disciplinary grounding of the students. And I certainly do not underestimate the importance of basic theoretical work by decent scholars, most of them based at universities. Rather, I am concerned about changes in the academic system that seems to promote mere vocational training instead of creative and critical thinking. But, as I argued then, and as I still argue, there are different types of knowledge providers that deserve mutual respect.

A lot of things have changed since then. At the time when this paper was published, nobody could have predicted that Europe would undergo a deep change by enlarging and deepening at the same time. New research topics emerged and the transformation of Europe had to be dealt with adequately.

But enough history: in the comparatively short life of the ICCR Foundation, we have had to adapt to ongoing developments as well. We have discussed new strategies by focusing on three main themes, Green Economy (Environment, Energy, Transport, Biodiversity); Research Policy, Innovation & New Technologies; and, finally, Health & Social Policy. At the same time we will expand our field of activity beyond research by adding Consulting & Policy Advice and Think Tank Activities through increased dissemination and publication within and without the academic communities.

All of this while remaining faithful to our general vision: serving society better by offering ‘useful’ concepts and contents.