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The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research Should Readjust its Strategy for the Future

Key message "The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research should readjust its strategy for the future"

© Ecornet


The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research Should Readjust its Strategy for the Future

Berlin, Germany
  • The institutes belonging to the Ecological Research Network welcome the development of a "Future Strategy for Research and Innovation" by the BMBF. At the same time, however, they do not see sufficient impetus for the necessary dynamic societal transformation.
  • Due to the direct impact on society, an open and public debate on the design of the research and innovation system is highly desirable.
  • The primary focus should be on mitigating the climate crisis, protecting biodiversity, strengthening social cohesion and services of general interest, and global justice.

Leading institutes from the fields of sustainability and futures studies welcome the development of a "Future Strategy for Research and Innovation" by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. At the same time, they point out that, while the presented draft provides significant momentum, it does not yet fully consider the societal challenges and the urgency to act. So far, the draft has focused on technical innovations, economic competitiveness and the development of new, market-based business models. While these aspects are certainly significant, they are not sufficient in themselves given the strong societal implications of the current transformation challenges. Mitigating the climate crisis, protecting biodiversity, social cohesion and participation, services of general interest, and global justice require far more than purely technological-economic approaches. The institutes of the Ecological Research Network (Ecornet) therefore welcome the fact that the BMBF emphasizes the importance of social innovations in its strategy. Social innovations deserve to be given a much more prominent position in the Future Strategy - as do all methods involving society as a whole in transdisciplinary research. Consequently, the institutes recommend that the BMBF revise the strategy's focal points.

"The design of the Future Strategy should be more participatory," said climate and energy researcher Dr. Camilla Bausch, director of Ecologic Institute and spokesperson for Ecornet. "We require a research and innovation system that is even more responsive to the need for change. It is still unclear exactly how the strategy will be further elaborated. We recommend a transparent process and public debate involving science, business and civil society."

Future orientation is more than just a focus on innovation and technologies

"The Future Strategy should place a stronger emphasis on innovations that contribute to tackling current and future societal challenges. After all, innovation does not automatically equal progress. To that end, the strategy should be strictly aligned with the German Sustainability Strategy and the requirements of the Paris Climate Agreement," says Ecornet spokesperson Thomas Korbun, Scientific Director of the Institute for Ecological Economic Research (IÖW). "The draft strategy should attach greater weight to the innovative potential of civil society, public institutions and end-users. After all, it is not only in science and business that innovations are created."

More systems thinking and diversity of perspectives

Although the draft does contain a number of sound approaches to involving social actors in research and innovation processes, the understanding of participation is often aimed solely at creating acceptance and overcoming risk aversion in society.

Dr. Camilla Bausch continues: "In order to solve the complex and intertwined social crises, more networked, systemic thinking is needed. Technological and social innovations should be understood as part of the societal shaping process. This is why the aspect of transdisciplinary research should be significantly strengthened in the Future Strategy."

Incorporate existing knowledge

The Framework Program on Research for Sustainability (FONA) and, in particular, the Funding Program Social-Ecological Research (SÖF) have accumulated exceptional experience internationally over the past decades in researching social-ecological crises and transformation pathways. These also apply to the research and innovation system itself. The draft strategy hardly draws on these experiences. On the contrary, the Ministry of Education and Research has significantly reduced its funding for these programs.

"To ensure the performance of the German innovation landscape in the long term and avoid undesirable developments, it is crucial to augment the strategy's technological focal points with the findings from FONA and SÖF - for instance, regarding sustainable mobility concepts," says Thomas Korbun. "Moreover, the strategy should better incorporate existing knowledge on methodological approaches, the integration of different disciplinary approaches, process design and goal orientation in the innovation process and make it usable for funding formats. This especially includes transdisciplinary research approaches that integrate social science perspectives and social practice in innovation processes, and critically and constructively accompany technical developments."

Innovations should not be measured by market success alone; social innovations should be given the same consideration.

A socio-ecological transformation demands technical and social innovations to go hand in hand if we are to respond appropriately to the multiple crises. "We applaud the move to strengthen the promotion of social innovation. In this context, the strategy draft could be even more concrete in showing the ways in which social innovations are linked to societal challenges as well as technological innovations," says Dr. Camilla Bausch. "This would allow the future strategy to combine technical and social issues with greater consistency."

To break up existing path dependencies and bolster existing niche social and technical innovations, it is essential for social innovation funding to extend to institutional innovations as well. Ecornet recommends that in its strategy, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research develop a definition of innovation that does not measure the success of innovations solely on the basis of their commercial success.

The institutes also point out that, besides a lack of knowledge, there is also a lack of know-how on improving skills and competencies in the spirit of a "transformative literacy". This calls for approaches that go further than those currently described in the Future Strategy with reference to the "Education for Sustainable Development" campaign.

About the Ecological Research Network (Ecornet)

Ecornet is a network of eight research institutes and over 900 employees. The institutes engage in practical research to solve societal problems with the aim of promoting sustainable development. They share a consistently transdisciplinary approach to research; they combine the knowledge and tools of different scientific disciplines to generate new insights and research methods, and they involve stakeholders from politics, civil society and business in the research process from the very beginning.
The members of Ecornet are:

  • Ecologic Institute
  • ifeu – Institut für Energie- und Umweltforschung Heidelberg (Institute for Energy and Environmental Research Heidelberg)
  • ISOE – Institut für sozial-ökologische Forschung (Institute for Social-Ecological Research)
  • IÖW - Institut für ökologische Wirtschaftsforschung (Institute for Ecological Economic Research)
  • IZT – Institut für Zukunftsstudien und Technologiebewertung (Institute for Futures Studies and Technology Assessment)
  • Öko-Institut e.V.
  • UfU - Unabhängiges Institut für Umweltfragen (Independent Institute for Environmental Issues)
  • Wuppertal Institut
We welcome the development of a "Future Strategy for Research and Innovation" by the BMBF. At the same time, however, we do not see sufficient impetus for the necessary dynamic societal transformation.


Ecornet Geschäftsstelle | Roy Schwichtenberg (Referent für Forschungspolitik und Nachhaltigkeit (Research Policy and Sustainability Advisor))