Quality of Life and Management of Living Resources

Promoting a User Friendly Information society (IST) Thematic Programme

Competitive and Sustainable Growth


























A recent report commissioned by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) has shown that the European Union’s Fifth Framework Programme (FP5) needs more input from social scientists 1. ESRC is actively encouraging UK social scientists to take up the opportunities offered by the broadened focus of the European Union’s Fifth Framework Programme (FP5) and is also promoting the exciting new opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration involving the social sciences in FP5 to researchers in the natural sciences.

The 15 billion Euro FP5 funding programme has adopted a multi-disciplinary, problem-oriented approach that seeks to promote the exploitation of innovations and to contribute to policy goals of wealth creation, sustainability and the quality of life 2. Social scientists can now make an important contribution to FP5’s Thematic Programmes of Research and Technology Development (RTD), through focussed studies and interdisciplinary RTD projects 3, as well as its specific social science programme: Improving the Socio-Economic Knowledge Base 4.

To be successful in FP5 social scientists need to move away from their traditional role of critical appraisal and develop a more problem-solving approach. Social scientists also need to be more assertive in order to take part both in the setting of the research agenda and in the establishment of research consortia. Another key message to get across to the wider community is that, in situations where it is not easy to involve stakeholders directly, socio-economic research (SER) can act as an interpreter of stakeholder and wider social interests

The UK has been particularly successful in gaining access to European research funds and - given the emphasis on socio-economic elements in the evaluation process - better attention to the social sciences will be a source of even greater competitive advantage for UK-led proposals. However, this is a two way process - scientists and engineers need to be made more aware of what social scientists can offer a FP5 consortium while the social scientists perhaps need to market their skills more to colleagues in the science disciplines. There are more opportunities for social scientists to be proactive than is commonly realised. There is nothing to stop social scientists developing and leading interdisciplinary RTD consortia or, as is more usually the case, contributing to RTD consortia led by scientists or by industry.

There is already some evidence that scientific proposals have been turned down because of sufficient lack of attention to the socio-economic dimension. Indeed, the Commission acknowledges that the socio-economic aspects of FP5 have not yet been fully appreciated and is actively taking steps to explain the socio-economic elements in the work programme and running events to encourage the integration of socio-economic aspects in proposals 5.

There is a tendency for social scientists only to study those parts of the work programme with which they are most familiar but, as the following examples illustrate there are many opportunities in the FP5 Key Actions for researchers from across the full spectrum of the social sciences. The nature of the opportunities for socio-economic involvement will vary across the Key Actions. Likewise, the extent of the socio-economic contribution and the relevant degree of interdisciplinary integration will be variable. However, merely stating a role for a socio-economic component, without specifying how disciplines will be integrated, is unlikely to satisfy evaluators.

The lessons both the social science and natural science communities need to draw from the experience of the early rounds of FP5 are

  • Involve colleagues from other disciplines at an early stage in the consortium-building process
  • Be proactive in seeking partners from other disciplines and make good use of the information provided by the various FP5 intermediaries such as ESRC and the network of National Contact Points

  • Look again at any failed bids from the first call and see if they can’t be improved by bringing a social scientist into the consortium.

To improve the information dissemination about the role of the social sciences in FP5 ESRC is running an workshop for FP5 intermediaries to improve information on the 8th of September 2000 in London.  This workshop will provide scope of further discussion of matters raised by this article and a chance to exchange best practice with practitioners.  For further information, please contact Catherine Lyall at SUPRA on

Catherine Lyall at SUPRA
Tel:         (0131) 650 9106 or

Quality of Life and Management of Living Resources

The Food, Nutrition and Health Key Action provides opportunities for multi-disciplinary approaches to understand food choice, to measure dietary intake, to change consumer behaviour and to assess the impact of diet on health. Examining, analysing and interpreting current consumer perspectives is a major strength of disciplines such as sociology, social psychology and anthropology.

Targeting socio-economic problems relies on an understanding of public policies and also consumer behaviour, identifying consumer attitudes, perceived risk, communication and media inputs, perceptions and practicalities of the development of new approaches for improved nutrition and more balanced diets. Fostering interdisciplinary working between biological and social scientists would do much to improve the credibility and effectiveness of different approaches.

Research on catering and food retailing trends is a major growth area offering considerable opportunities in promoting food for health protection and disease prevention and the Commission is keen to promote collaborative projects with the retail sector such as supermarket chains

Other areas of research that might engage social scientists include

  • changing patterns of food consumption
  • the links between poverty and health
  • the links between food and cultural identity.

The Commission has recently funded an FP5 project entitled "Healthy Ageing: How Changes in Sensory Physiology, Sensory Psychology and Socio-Cognitive Factors Influence Food Choice" which will, amongst other aims, provide knowledge of the fundamental physiological factors that make foods appeal to the consumer and seek to realise the potential socio-economic benefits of promoting health through food. Health policy makers will be able to use this information to prepare healthy eating advice that can be used effectively to sustain the EU population into old age.

Relevant research projects under the Ageing Population Key Action might look at the most effective way of providing community, local and home care to individuals in order to keep them as long as possible in their own houses and out of long-term institutional care. The Commission wants to see proposals that engage a whole range of people, including the older people themselves and their carers, but also including people who are studying the sociology and the social and economic aspects of supporting people to remain in their own homes.

Issues relating to the Environment and Health are likely to become even more prominent because of the anticipated economic and health consequences of developments such as climatic change, pollution of air, water and other media. The socio-economic context includes macro-economic issues such as the costing of health consequences in relation to environmental change. Environmental health scientists or epidemiologists cannot address these issues on their own and a much wider social debate is necessary to achieve a consensus on "costs" and how to measure them. Perceptions of risk also require a socio-economic methodology to enable environmental health risks to be properly evaluated.

Socio-economic analysis also has a considerable role to play in the local/global balance, for example in cases where we may be protecting the environment generally but perhaps imposing a greater risk on those few workers or other people in the immediate proximity of an environmental hazard. Other suitable areas for interdisciplinary research involving social scientists could include

  • the health implications of mobile phones
  • allergies in children
  • Alzheimer’s disease

The type of socio-economic contribution that has now become well recognised in information and communication technologies (improving system design and integration, incorporating user experience in a critical knowledge base, evaluating technology implementation and use, strategic analysis and building of socio-technical constituencies, aligning offerings with user expectations) is rarely recognised in the life sciences area and should be developed more strongly by the socio-economic community. There are some examples of this in TSER (Targeted Socio-Economic Research Programme) under FP4: the PITA (Policy Influences on Technology for Agriculture) project is developing an integrated analysis of policies and market-related factors relevant to strategic decision making for product development in the agrochemical, biotechnology and seeds industries. The project is studying the major multinational companies active in Europe, small and medium sized enterprises and public sector research establishments. The influences being studied include policies to stimulate innovation, World Trade Organisation initiatives on trade liberalisation, environmental and risk regulation, Common Agricultural Policy reforms, and public opinion and attitudes.

Promoting a User Friendly Information Society (IST) Thematic Programme

Information Society Technologies (IST) continues the earlier programmes of industrial RTD in information technology. However there is a strong emphasis on meeting user needs and gearing projects towards application and exploitation possibilities. In many projects user organisations (public and private) have been taken on board as project partners. There are however well-established opportunities for contributions from social scientists from a range of traditions including organisational behaviour, technology studies, media and consumption studies, ergonomics and occupational psychology.

Socio-economic research has been shown to contribute to the conduct and strategic guidance of information technology projects including:

  • enhancing system design (through generic knowledge about human computer interaction, and methodologies to capture specific knowledge about user requirements and culture)
  • providing a critical knowledge base regarding the user setting and the experience of earlier rounds of technological change
  • examining system utility and evaluating system implementation and use
  • providing strategic analysis and guidance (regarding the development of socio-technical constituencies, aligning offerings with user expectations and building markets)
  • informing policy development and programme management

For example, the ParcelCall consortium is developing a system using Radio Frequency ID tags to automatically track and monitor deliveries as they move between carriers that could transform logistics in an era of e-commerce. The social science partners are exploring the business and socio-economic factors crucial to the prospects of success that need to shape the development strategy. Security of messages is a key requirement, particularly for high-value goods but there may be a trade off against the need to keep the system cost-effective and ensure computability with existing systems. The social science partners will also evaluate the field trial to address user acceptance of the technology.

Also within the IST programme, the EMERGENCE project (Estimation and mapping of employment relocation in a global economy in the new communications environment) aims to provide reliable information on delocalised telemediated work. An interdisciplinary team will carry out a statistical overview, develop analytical models, conduct an international survey and carry out comparative case studies to map, quantify and forecast the new international division of labour in information processing. The work will include a critical overview of the changing division of labour and investigate the implications for social exclusion, for gender equality, for supply and demand for skills and for regional development.

The IST Programme contains four inter-related key actions:

(i)       Systems and services for the citizen:

research will be carried out in the fields of health, special needs (including the elderly and disabled), public administration, environment and transport to meet the needs and expectations of European citizens for high quality and affordable services.  SER issues that arise include: how to understand 'the user'?  How are their 'needs' constructed?

(ii)      New methods of work and electronic commerce:

research will focus on enabling both individuals and organisations to innovate and be more effective and efficient in their work and businesses, thus increasing their competitiveness while improving the quality of the individual’s working life and consumer confidence. There are clear opportunities for research on organisational behaviour, knowledge management and computer-supported co-operative work.

(iii)     Multimedia content and tools:

research will be funded to confirm Europe’s leading role in this field and enable it to realise the potential of its creativity and culture. It will address issues such as interactive electronic publishing, digital heritage and cultural content, education and training, human language technologies and information access, filtering and handling. Opportunities for involvement from the humanities as well as social sciences potentially arise from KA3’s goal of promoting creativity through new forms of content that combine highly visual and interactive media, with more natural and user-friendly forms of interaction with computers, empowering citizens through better access to culture and science.

(iv)     Essential technologies and infrastructures:

research will further the development of core technologies and infrastructures. The priority will be on realising widespread, accessible communication and on developing open technology frameworks for personalised services.

(There is also a Future and emerging technologies action aimed at ‘blue skies’ research.)

The programme structure also includes "cross-programme actions" that aim to support the integration of research for topics which cut across the programme architecture. Two types of theme are included in the work programme, a set of "cross-programme actions" (CPAs) and an open call for "cross-programme clusters" - which invites proposals that help focus, co-ordinate and/or integrate activities amongst related, ongoing RTD projects throughout the programme. The IST 2000 Work Programme includes two specific socio-economic cross-programme actions: socio-economic analysis for the information society (CPA7) and statistical tools, methods, indicators & applications for the Information Society (CPA8).

Competitive and Sustainable Growth

FP5 takes a more holistic approach to matters to do with manufacturing than FP4 and the Innovative Products, processes and Organisation Key Action invites research on the wider view of how new technology will help economic stability, stability of employment, growth of employment, environmental impact, etc.   Opportunities exist for social scientists who have an industrial interest and are concerned with

  • workplace design
  • organisational change, new methods of work
  • the effects of technology and change in technology
  • product design
  • knowledge management
  • human interaction within organisations

The Key Action on Sustainable Mobility and Intermodality has important behavioural dimensions. Human factors are important for example in determining constraints on which policies are likely to be effective and how to develop and deploy knowledge through people operating in the field. There is a long tradition of trans-disciplinary transport studies and, drawing on this, a substantial set of applied interdisciplinary research topics has developed including:

  • the development of transport models to explain and predict users' travel and transport decisions

  • evaluation of the socio-economic impact of various policies, technological development, and transport systems

  • demand management tools such as road pricing policies and their practical implementation

  • research to enhance the attractiveness of environmentally friendly transport modes

  • strategies and tools for securing behavioural change in freight and passenger transport

In The Netherlands, the Institute for Road Safety Research is co-ordinating a multidisciplinary approach to advanced driver assistance systems in order to assess their impact in terms of safety and environmental performance and gain new policy insights. The investigation will cover the market conditions; the impacts on driving behaviour; road safety and the environment; the role of the public regulator; public acceptance and implementation strategies. This approach will lead to an integrated framework suitable for designing road safety policies.

Energy, Environment and Sustainable Development

Addressing the needs of society to respond to the challenges posed by the Key Action on Global Change, Climate and Biodiversity requires an unprecedented integration and co-operation between disciplines in which socio-economic research plays a central role.

The social sciences have a role in developing tools for handling environmental programmes (e.g. management tools), policy instruments, research on decision-making processes and providing the tools for decision making. Further examples include policy issues arising from

  • environmental improvement
  • uncertainty in physical science predictions
  • new technology development
  • renewable energies
  • climate change mitigation and adaptation costs
  • trade and technology transfer.

The policy formation process involves issues of international relations, the willingness of governments to protect biodiversity commensurate with the desires of the public and industry and the difficulties for, and influence of, charities in protecting and conserving biodiversity where government policies are inadequate.

SER also has a vital function in monitoring the process of policy formation and in informing policy makers on controversies and policy options.

In the context of sustainable development, opportunities for SER include:

  • evaluation of the opportunities and constraints for business in promoting high environmental standards – is the "win-win" scenario feasible

  • the role of public and private institutions in implementing sustainable development policies

  • the public perception of environmental problems and sustainability issues

  • how to value environmental losses and gains.

The City of Tomorrow and Cultural Heritage Key Action offers a wide range of opportunities for application of the knowledge base and methodologies of socio-economic research in areas such as:

  • improved urban governance and decision making
  • improved quality of urban life and the revitalisation of city centres and neighbourhoods

  • reduction of waste and its management over the full life cycle
  • economic development, competitiveness, and employment
  • integration of cultural heritage in the urban setting

A team from the London School of Economics is co-ordinating and FP5 project exploring how local sustainability indicators can be used at the urban level to assist decision making to achieve sustainable city planning and resource management.

1 See Lyall, C., Tait, J. and Williams, R., European fifth framework programme: Spport for UK Social Science Participation in the Key Actions  May 2000   and

2 See Lyall, C., Tait, J. and Williams, R., European Fifth Framework Programme: Support for UK Social Science Participation in the Key Actions  May 2000 and

Tait, J. and Williams, R., (1999).  "Linear-plus Model.   Policy approaches to research and development: foresight, framework and competitiveness."  Science and Public Policy 26(2): 101-112.

3 Information about the different types of activity funded by FP5 can be found at and

4 Information about SER in the horizontal programme of FP5 Improving Human Potential (IHP) can be found at

5 The Commission's report The socio-economic dimension in the fifth framework programme can be downloaded from CORDIS





Last Update 22 Sept 2000 KW