Big Tent IV: The Grand Challenges and the Great Transformation

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Avatar of Norbert Steinhaus
Norbert Steinhaus
Key Master
How can the necessary social, scientific and technological innovations in small communities, in municipalities or councils be brought to people’s minds to a level so that they really can contribute to a comprehensive social change and by this to the ‘Great Transformation’?

The impact of the grand challenges is not limited to specific areas of our lives. With their social, cultural, economic and psychological implications, they represent a shift towards a new era, which concerns all levels of the global community: markets and mindsets, global cooperation and democracy. The major transformations which took place in the past were generally the uncontrolled outcome of evolutionary change. By contrast, the forthcoming transformation requires forward-looking and knowledge-based management.

Scientific knowledge is an indispensable element of modern governance and is becoming increasingly important in our ever more complex world. Policy can’t rule and specify how science is performed, but policy can predetermine themes. On the other hand scientific advice can make an important contribution to policy-making. Science policy in the past was only little-noticed by civil society’s associations. Here we see a powerful change, because civil society has the impression that the science system does not take on the pressing societal challenges  in sufficient numbers and with adequate means.

Civil Society’ Requests towards Science and Research Policy

The subsequent demands of civil society on the scientific and research policy reflects an initial consensus of civil society organizations. The following version has been discussed and further developed in plenary workshops a number of times.

Key Questions
  • How should the science and research system to be organized in 2025?
  • What type of science and research is needed to be implemented to make a shift to the “Great Transformation”
  • What needs to happen forthe Great Transformation to succeed and enter a turn in the kind ofresearch?
  • What are the challenges at individual, organizational or societal level? How can we overcome this?
  • What kinds of obstacles can make the transformation of science and research fail?
  • How can the guiding principle of sufficiency strengthen the leading concepts in shaping research programs and research institutions?
  • What resources are needed for the transformation of research?
  • What specific contribution can you or your civil society organisation make?


Key Requirements
  • Allow more civil society participation in research through participation of civil society organisations in the formulation of research questions and programs and representation in bodies of publicly funded scientific institutions.
  • Establish a science forum and a civil society research fund
  • Foster capacity building in science policy
  • Develop and implement transparent agenda processes for the list of priorities of public research funding
  • Expand significantly research programs and activities for future topics and transdisciplinary research
  • Integrate Civil Society in problem formulation, integration of practical knowledge in and implementation of research projects
  • Strengthen the establishment of community-based, participatory institutions such as Science Shops or Community Based Research centers.
  • Support disciplines overarching structures of sustainable science at universities and existing non-university centers of excellence to promote transdisciplinary sustainability research.
  • Give free access to research results and further develop fundamentals and quality standards of transdisciplinary sustainability research
  • Provide 1.5% of total national R&D budget annually for more transdisciplinary sustainability research.
  • Ensure adequate equipment for universities for basic research and teaching, in particular by increasing the basic ratio.


These requirements are to be discussed. The release of Big Tent IV will be linked to the 5th Barcelona World Conference on Higher Education “Let’s Build Transformative Knowledge for Social Change” , taking place May 13-15, 2013 in Barcelona, Spain and will be read aloud at the GUNi conference before its closing session on May 15th. A final text version will be formatted and distributed through the Big Tent networks and other social media.

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