Scientific Education


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2018-02-14 post date.


When arts and humanities research fosters deep change
Innovation has been on the lips of many politicians and policy-makers alike in Europe’s capitals over the past few decades. Innovation comes across as the one-size-fits-all solution for all of the economic problems of Europe. But what does innovation really mean? And what about disruptive innovation? The answer to this question comes from experts from the humanities, who are used to analysing the meaning of words, in their wider context.
In particular, the Science Europe’s Scientific Committee for the Humanities sets out to explore the concept of innovation in an opinion paper published in December 2015, called Radical Innovation. The Committee focused on the current narrative around innovation processes, in the context of European debate on innovation policies. It also analysed the dynamics which are at the basis of disruptive, or radical, innovation.
Innovation revisited
The paper opens a wider and deeper understanding of the definition of innovation and its potential than previously understood. It reveals that the ability to create and promote innovation depends on the capability of research actors and policy makers to support meaningful research-driven strategies occurring in a truly innovative ecosystem.
The authors distinguish between radical and incremental innovation. Incremental innovation dominates research cultures where technical advance has precedence over social and cultural innovation. Conversely, radical innovation is fostered by transformative approaches and radical thinking in cultural and scientific environments with great creativity and imagination. Radical innovation is therefore a process, which leads to ‘unanticipated’ answers which are capable of producing radical and deep changes.
The human factor
Innovation is becoming ever more central to policy makers’ priorities for supporting research policies, which are expected to guarantee societal and economic impact. This requires radically new answers to new challenges, such as climate change, access to clean water, health and food security, emerging alongside social and cultural progress. This paper focuses on innovation processes that have the ‘human factor’ at their very core2. The human factor is akin to actions that change peoples’ lives and behaviour–which arts and humanities research help to identify.
In their publication, the Scientific Committee’s members stress that radical innovation should therefore be integrated from the outset into any strategies for tackling societal challenges. This requires creating conditions for researchers to work across disciplinary boundaries. Indeed, interdisciplinary work facilitates creativity and radical thinking designed to tackle complex societal challenges which are more and more interdisciplinary in nature.
The paper outlines a series of examples of radical innovation taking place within arts- and humanities-driven projects. Some examples also concern those innovations that happen in the context of research itself, such as innovative methods of organising interdisciplinary teams that take place in several emerging fields, including medical, digital and environmental humanities.