The world is changing quickly. Where could Canada be in the next five, 10 and 20 years, and how can the Canadian social sciences and humanities research community contribute its knowledge, talent and expertise to both understand and shape that future? To answer these questions, SSHRC has undertaken a forward-looking future challenges project, which will aim to identify key future challenges for Canada in an evolving global context. As part of this important project, SSHRC is looking for fruitful engagement with its partners in the academic, public, private and not-for-profit sectors.
Context and Background
For Canada to continue to be a successful society in the 21st century, we need to think ahead—to collectively imagine possible futures so that we can anticipate and be prepared to address emergent issues, societal needs and knowledge needs; and to guide the best choices going forward. This future challenges project, which was identified in Framing our Direction, 2010-2012, is not an exercise in “predicting the future,” but, rather, an opportunity to collectively map out possible issues affecting future societal developments. Similar research-oriented foresight exercises are currently taking place around the world and this project will draw upon these.
Since its creation in 1977, one of the many ways in which SSHRC has contributed to Canadian society has been by offering support for specific research areas and themes. For example, SSHRC has provided support for research in issues related to:
- in the 1980s, aging, education and work;
- in the 1990s, immigration, education and training, competitiveness and productivity; and
- in the 2000s, the digital economy, the North, aboriginal research, and productivity.
Such support has increased the level of research attention on topics of interest or concern to Canadians, and has fostered the emergence and development of new research themes.
Certain areas of inquiry have received support based on SSHRC’s statutory requirements (such as adherence to the Official Languages Act). At other times, in keeping with SSHRC’s legislated mandate, SSHRC has been asked by the Government of Canada to help build research excellence in particular areas. Finally, SSHRC has also provided specific support in order to increase attention on “future-oriented” issues—those that are on the horizon but have not yet attracted a corresponding level of research interest. (See, for example, the 2001 Report of the Working Group on the Future of the Humanities.)
The research enterprise is, by its nature, often explicitly or implicitly oriented toward future developments and evolving social realities. SSHRC support for specific research areas, themes and approaches to date has strengthened research capacity and contributed to theoretical developments, valuable new insights, and enhanced connections across sectors. Moreover, it has also led to new policies and practices, new thinking and behaviour, and innovative strategies for confronting challenges and seizing the opportunities of the present and the future.
The new, people-centred model of innovation calls upon the talent, knowledge and expertise of researchers in the social sciences and humanities. Their insights into human thought and behaviour, along with their understanding of the past, help form a foundation for informed thinking about critical social, cultural and economic issues affecting us today while offering a view toward the future.
At this time, SSHRC seeks to identify possible “future challenges” for Canada in a global context likely to emerge in five, 10 and 20 years.
Methodology and Engagement
SSHRC will use a systematic foresight approach to identify future challenge areas. It will engage the research community as well as the public, private and not-for-profit sectors in a number of interrelated activities.
Planned activities include:
- scanning (systematically examining potential threats, opportunities and likely future developments that are at the margins of current thinking and planning);
- international and regional expert panels;
- a scenario workshop; and
- a synthesis meeting.
This approach will provide multiple lines of evidence from Canada and abroad, and from diverse sources. These activities will require different types and degrees of engagement at different stages of the project.
Timeline and Implementation
The project is scheduled to take place from fall 2011 to spring 2013. Once the future challenge areas have been identified, then reviewed, selected and approved by SSHRC’s governing council, they will be integrated, as appropriate, within SSHRC’s Talent, Insight and Connection programs in order to stimulate research and research-related activities in these areas. They may also influence corporate activities and be revisited on a periodic basis.
In keeping with its tradition and mandate, SSHRC will continue to invest in research addressing a broad range of topics while promoting and investing in the future challenge areas identified through this project.
For more information contact:
Senior Policy Advisor
Office of the Vice-President, Research