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social sciences

Putting science into context: the future of social science in risk analysis

Why incorporate social sciences in risk assessment, risk communication and risk management? This question has been debated in the regulatory arena for quite a while. Now we are witnessing a paradigm shift, marked by the inclusion of societal contributions to policymaking and an ever-growing importance of coordinated risk communication – accelerated not least by the pandemic, which brought the role of science to the centre of the public debate on effective risk analysis. At this evolving science–policy–society interface, the session aims to bring together some of the most experienced scholars and practitioners to discuss: (1) how social sciences can provide a societal perspective to – and stimulate the participation of diverse population groups in, risk analysis, and how such insights can help explain complex scientific concepts through innovative risk communication; and (2) what are the implications of technology on communication in the digital age and the underlying social research. Ultimately, we want to contribute to the ongoing debate by making as case for why and how the use of social sciences will be crucial to remain relevant in the changing One Health environment.


Global commitments, set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, call for science that accelerates human progress by providing new evidence, using technology and innovation to improve efficiencies and contributing to more sustainable consumption and production. The potential of social sciences to contribute to these commitments is huge – building knowledge about society, through use of new methods and technologies, can provide valuable advice to risk assessors, communicators, and managers in order to meet citizen’s expectations. With a paradigm shift towards society contributing to policymaking, the integration of social sciences within One Health-One Environment approaches is set to increase and play an important role in ensuring such contributions are provided in a relevant way. Technology advancements offer the opportunity to expand on this role, giving communication in a digital age a prominence in strengthening citizens’ trust that the risk analysis is underpinned by the objective of ensuring a high level of protection of human health and in line with consumers’ interests.

Background – Challenges and opportunities

Incorporating humanities and social sciences in risk assessment and risk management organisations has been extensively discussed over the past decade. Even if there is no wide agreement on a best-practice way to integrate these disciplines in regulatory science work, different models have evolved, recognizing the value of understanding the social, political and economic context in which science is delivered as well as using social research methods to inform communication activities.

Recommendations stemming from the EFSA 2018 conference included the need to frame and use social research in a way that can produce insights to meet information needs of audiences and contextualize risk assessments; investments in an open dialogue with society were sought with a view towards ensuring balanced representation of interested parties. At the same time, trends such as the democratisation of information in a highly interconnected and global environment, are affecting the trust of citizens in institutions and the expectations that society places on regulatory science; the ongoing pandemic has brought the role of science to the centre of the public debate on effective risk analysis. At this meeting point of public expectations and needs, social sciences must be utilized in designing both engagement and communication activities to effectively support risk analysis and related policymaking.

A lot has been done in EFSA and partner organisations, both at EU and international level, to progress in this area, but the fast-moving communication and engagement landscape, coupled with technology advances and the need for more encompassing risk assessments, present opportunities for the further integration of humanities and social sciences in the work of these organisations. The ONE - Health, Environment, Society - Conference 2022 offers us a chance to explore how existing and new social research methods can adapt to new trends that could facilitate social science in becoming one of the core competencies of those that need to deliver and communicate science within the One Health-One Environment approach.

Scope and objectives

The objective of the thematic session will be to showcase the need within the current science-policy-society interface to integrate humanities and social sciences into risk analysis work. Successful examples of how it has been put in practice will frame the debate. More specifically:

  • The session will call for societal contribution to science and policymaking at a global level, then  showcase examples of how social science methods can support this: (1) foster engagement and innovation in an EU policy-making context; (2) provide behavioural insights that can support public health measures; and (3) stimulate citizen contribution to widening the available evidence base in scientific organisations.
  • Communication in the digital age will be tackled through a technology advancement lens, explaining the main trends and challenges; to be followed by practitioners providing insights on (1) innovative ways to communicate scientific information; (2) social research based on remote and app-supported data collection; and (3) communication in the context of sustainable food production solutions.
  • A future-oriented discussion will focus on the importance of social sciences to remain relevant in the changing operating environment. It will bring together the main findings from the two discussions during the session and pave a path towards the future of social sciences at regulatory bodies working within the One Health-One Environment approach.

Time Duration Talk
14:00 10

Opening and welcome

Domagoj  Vrbos, European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)

Part I - The paradigm shift > Society and science

Time Duration Talk
14:10 15

A global roadmap for opening science to scientists and society

Ana Persic, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

14:25 5

Behavioural insights in support of the response to COVID-19

John Kinsman, European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)

14:30 5

Fostering engagement in EU policy making

Anne-Katrin Bock, Joint Research Centre (JRC)

14:35 5

Reaching out to volunteers for evidence: lessons from citizen science

Marc Kuchner, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

14:40 20

Q&A moderated by Domagoj Vrbos

All speakers

Part II - Communication in a digital age

Time Duration Talk
15:00 15

Risk communication in a digital age: keeping up with the trends

Sander Van der Linden, University of Cambridge

15:15 5

How can we display scientific information in engaging ways?

Federica Fragapane, Independent Information Designer

15:20 5

Digital methods in social science for risk communication

Michelle Patel, Food Standards Agency

15:25 5

Communicating with impact: solutions towards sustainability

Sudhanshu Sarronwala, Infarm Indoor Urban Farming

15:30 20

Q&A moderated by Domagoj Vrbos

All speakers

15:50 40

Coffee break

Part III - Paving the road for the future role of society in ONE policy making

Time Duration Talk
16:30 25

Panel discussion moderated by Ragnar Lofstedt

Ana Persic, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) | Sander Van der Linden, University of Cambridge | Dolors Montserrat, European Parliament | James Ramsay, European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)

16:55 5

Wrap up and concluding remarks

Domagoj  Vrbos, European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)

Session Coordinator

Session coordinator
Domagoj Vrbos (EFSA)

Session Contributors

Session contributors
Ana Afonso (EFSA)
Federica Barrucci (EFSA)
John Kinsman (ECDC)
Olaf Mosbach Shulz (EFSA)
Lucia Parrino (EFSA)
Matthias Rasche (EFSA)
Tobin Robinson (EFSA)
Claire Rogers (EFSA)
Anthony Smith (EFSA)
Maurice Whelan (JRC)
Giorgia Zamariola (EFSA)