Socioscope Alpha: A Proof of Concept for Research on Societal Change

NOMIS Research Project

We are witnessing rapid environmental and societal change on a global scale, due to the impact of human activities on ecosystems. As a result, societies are facing unforeseen challenges at the local level. Social science research is urgently needed to understand how societies react in crises, and to identify the resilience and adaptation mechanisms at various scales. To date, such knowledge is not available because data is usually collected ex post, often for other purposes, and therefore cannot be systematically collected and analyzed.

The Socioscope Alpha: A Proof of Concept for Research on Societal Change project aims to understand how societal change happens. Employing new, open methodological instruments that enable researchers to follow in vivo what happens “on the ground” during change, the project will generate new forms of empirical data and models, conceptual approaches and theories. An observation instrument will capture data in a distributed manner, leveraging the active involvement of stakeholder organizations, in the spirit of participatory science. The data will be analyzed by interdisciplinary research groups comprised of mainly social scientists. The researchers aim to produce illustrative case studies, narratives, “investments in form” (ontologies, formats, processes), and models or theories grounded in scientific evidence. The results will expand our knowledge in this complex domain—knowledge usable by scientists and practitioners to document, analyze, guide and manage change.

Beginning with food, the project’s scope will later be expanded to other transition domains. Food’s production, distribution and consumption involve micro, meso and macro levels of change; they are the object of change initiatives in all parts of the world and involve a diverse set of stakeholders. Many institutions play a role, and knowledge is distributed between actors, but not necessarily actively shared or consolidated. The major global shock to food security caused by the Russia–Ukraine war presents a critical moment to observe society’s live response and test the project’s approach.

The Socioscope Alpha project is being led by Saadi Lahlou at the Paris Institute for Advanced Study in France, and by Helga Nowotny, former president of the European Research Council, Vienna, Austria.