In today’s world we face several global challenges such as climate change, poverty, migration, refugees and unequal division of resources and power. There are also demographic changes such as aging and overpopulation, urbanization, and mental health problems that cause people to retire prematurely. These grand challenges are global and at the same time local—and so are the solutions. There exists a multitude of different models and frameworks aiming to identify, categorize and help us to find solutions to these key challenges. Funding instruments and guiding policies have enormous influence on research and HEIs. The field of culture and arts has a vast potential to contribute in finding solutions to these shared challenges. Interdisciplinary work is necessary and it is imprtant to make art-based contributions understood, credible and already valued at the stage when funding instruments and guiding policies are formulated.

The problems we are facing in the 21st century force nations to collaborate and agree on joint goals and ways to achieve them. There is a need for Europe to build more cohesive and inclusive societies. An understanding of citizens as active participants in society rather than objects is highly emphasized in the diversifying world of today (e.g. Hughes and Luksetich 2004; Toepler 2003; Torgerson and Edwards 2012). ...

The global challenges

The World Economic Forum has published the 2019 edition of the Global Risks Report, in which it recognizes that the world is facing a growing number of complex and interconnected challenges—from slowing global growth and persistent economic inequality to climate change, geopolitical tensions and the accelerating pace of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In addition, the Report has a special chapter where the focus is on the human side of the global risk, and especially wellbeing, looking at societal, technological and workplace trends. It could equally have examined how other transformations are linked to declining wellbeing, from political uncertainty to demographic change and environmental disruption.

The Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR) issued by the United Nations collects together data from all over the globe compiled by hundreds of researchers. Conflicts and climate change are multi-layered global challenges. Policy makers and researchers should collaborate closely to handle the current situation (GSDR, 2015: 19–21).

It should be noted that the challenges are often misinterpreted in media and in our everyday discussions. For example, it is not refugees that are the problem, but the reasons that caused them to become refugees in the first place. These grand challenges are global and at the same time local. They are daunting also in the sense that they are intertwined; solving one challenge might cause even greater problems in another. No single individual has caused these challenges, nor can one person solve them. However, it is possible to take a stand and in the best case start a movement, as the Swedish teenager Greta Thurnberg has done. This work therefore needs to be done in collaboration. Many HEIS’s have already begun to acknowledge their key role in the pursuit of solutions for these challenges. Through research, analysis and education, we have paths for finding solutions.

One of the current issues that has been discussed at the academic and expert level worldwide is public mental health. World leaders have recognized the promotion of mental health and wellbeing as health priorities within the global development agenda. The inclusion of mental health in the Sustainable Development Agenda was adopted at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015. At the same time, the cultural sector is reflecting on these issues and is trying to prove that art and culture can play an important role and make a major contribution to addressing key challenges such as mental health. ...

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● Global Warming of 1.5C

● Poverty

● Migration

● Refugees

● The World Inequality Report 2018

● Demographic changes (aging & overpopulation)

● Urbanization

● Mental health problems

Guiding Role of Policies

After the publication of the EU ‘Agenda for Culture in a Globalising World’ (2007), a number of policy papers have acknowledged that culture plays a key role in European development, with a specific emphasis on culture for local and regional development, beginning with the European Parliament ‘Resolution on the Role of Culture in the Development of European Regions’. This document acknowledges the increasing importance of cities and regions, and stresses that regional and local development strategies that incorporate culture, creativity and arts contribute very much to improving quality of life in European regions and cities by fostering cultural diversity, democracy, participation and intercultural dialogue.

Furthermore, the ‘Council Conclusions on the Contribution of Culture to Local and Regional Development’ (2011) establishes that culture and creativity are the keys to innovation, which in turn contributes to social and economic progress. There are also other documents that aim to strengthen the different priority areas of EU policy through culture, for example, the ‘Green Paper on unlocking the potential of cultural and creative industries’ (2010), and ‘A Work Plan for Culture 2015-2018' (2014).

On 22 May 2018, the European Commission adopted a proposal for a New European Agenda for Culture, further developing the scope of the "European Agenda for Culture in a Globalised World". The New Agenda reaffirms that the cultural and creative sectors have the power to improve lives, transform communities, generate jobs and growth, and create spillover effects in other sectors. More precisely, one of the three strategic objectives of the New Agenda is to harness the power of culture and cultural diversity for social cohesion and wellbeing, by promoting cultural participation, mobility of artists and protection of heritage.

The actions that the European Commission will support to this end include the following:
- research on cultural crossovers to assess impacts in different fields including health and wellbeing (2018),
- development of specific actions for social inclusion through culture, through Creative Europe and Erasmus+ (2019),
- the launch of a project on "Cultural and creative spaces and cities" under Creative Europe to promote cultural participation and social and urban regeneration (2018).

The United Nations General Assembly recognized the promotion of mental health and wellbeing as health priorities within the Sustainable Development Agenda, which was adopted in September 2015. Thus, world leaders have committed to contribute to a “better world where physical, mental and social wellbeing are assured,(...) by prevention and treatment of non-communicable diseases, including behavioural, developmental and neurological disorders, which constitute a major challenge for sustainable development.” Specifically, Goal 3 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) focuses on ensuring healthy lives and promoting wellbeing for all at all ages. (UN, 2018)

Guiding Role of Frameworks

These various frameworks help to plan, analyze, and report HEIs’ societal impact from the sustainability perspective in all of its dimensions: ecological, economic and social. Each of the frameworks adopts different emphasis and perspectives, such as nations, efficacy, resources, re-distribution and usage. There exists a multitude of different models or frameworks aiming to identify, categorize and help us to find solutions to the key challenges. Some models focus mainly on climate change and ecological issues, such as the planetary boundaries framework (Steffen et al 2015). (learn more)

Other frameworks that include the societal aspects in a more comprehensive way include:
· Iceberg model: learn more
· Doughnut model: learn more, see the video
· Footprint : learn more

Guiding role of funding sources

Societal challenges can be addressed by HEIs in the process of teaching (educating) as well as in research. However, it is interesting to note that, according to the views shared in the EU, societal challenges need to be addressed not only in the object of research, but also within research teams and the organization of research. This viewpoint is present in several of the funding instruments:

European Research Council (ERC) (founded in 2007, with a budget of 13.1 billion euros for the period 2014- 2020. See facts and figures
). As of now, the European Research Council has identified seven such key areas which are of particular interest for ERC projects, and has set up working groups to address the (societal) challenges within the organization of research itself. These include:
· gender balance (which aims to improve the gender balance in research)
· open access (which aims to improve and promote free access to publicly funded research on the internet)
· innovation and relations with industry (which aims to promote engagement of industrial partners in research and facilitate ties between industry and the research community)
· expanding European participation (which aims to facilitate the inclusion/engagement of researchers from European regions that are lagging in terms of research)
· strengthening international participation (which aims to facilitate the internationalization of research via inclusion/engagement of non-EU researchers into EU-funded research)
· key performance indicators (which aim to further developa system of performance indicators in research and broaden the understanding of societal impact of research)
· science behind the projects (which aims to improve the systematization and dissemination of of research). For more information, see

As implied by this list, the societal impact of research can be expanded by stronger engagement of stakeholders and by facilitating the participation of disadvantaged groups in research. Obviously, as development brings new challenges, the challenges faced in the organization of research may change. However, it is important to keep in mind that it is not only the object of research and the results, but also how the research is conducted and disseminated that can engender societal impact.

Horizon 2020 is the biggest EU research and innovation programme ever. Almost €77 billion of funding is available over seven years (2014 to 2020) – in addition to the private and national public investment that this money will attract. The goal of the programme is to ensure Europe produces world-class science and technology, removes barriers to innovation and makes it easier for the public and private sectors to work together in delivering solutions to the big challenges facing our society. There are three priorities in Horizon 2020: Scientific excellence, industrial leadership and societal challenges. The programme brings together three separate initiatives:
- Coupling research to innovation – from research to retail, all forms of innovation
- Focus on societal challenges facing EU society, e.g. health, clean energy and transport
- Simplified access for all companies, universities, and institutes throughout the EU and beyond. learn more

The European Social Fund’s (ESF) role as a funding source is important for tackling the societal issues. ESF describes its goal thus: The European Union is committed to creating more and better jobs and a socially inclusive society. (...) There are projects aimed at education systems, teachers and schoolchildren; at young and older job-seekers; and at potential entrepreneurs from all backgrounds. People are the focus of the ESF.
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