The discussion built on output from the workshop on “Uncertainty, Digital Sciences and the Long Term” that took place last September in Florence (more information here). There, we identified as a key research challenge posed by the radical uncertainty present in global systems, the transition from an idealistic model of decision making to a pragmatic and context-dependant one. The projection of a large share of social interactions on a digital space offers opportunities in this respect. It creates room for the development of collective foresights that might provide stronger support for better policies. It allows for a better understanding of social dynamics, for example the formation of conviction narratives (see the contribution by David Tuckett here), of norms, the acceptance or the refusal of regulation. At a more theoretical level, the observation of multiple networks of relationships can offer new definitions for the society as well as for the individual and hence breaks the dichotomy between micro and macro (for more on this see the contribution by Bruno Latour and co-authors here).
Today, the conversation focused more specifically on the relationship between decision-making, society and time. An initial remark is that this relation is (today ?) fundamentally incomplete: the short-term perspective according to which most decisions are taken implies that long-term risks are accumulating beyond our planning horizon. Building upon this initial remark, we identify a number of questions that could be of interest for the third GSS conference.
First, this points towards a cross-cutting issue in GSS, which is how to approach multi-level systems ? In our context, this means how to approach and aggregate over time in systems with multiple time-scales but also, how populations get organized at different levels ? How individual functions are affected by the structure of the networks to which they participate and the functions of others in these networks ?
Then it points to a number of research questions about the design of institutions. How can specific institutions be designed in order to deal with long-term challenges ? How can we design institutions for change ? How do socially resilient communities, that is communities that are both stable and capable of change, develop ?
Many of these questions would gain to be researched in a specific context, for example this of cities. Hence, while in China, we could ask (this is done in a very tentative mode here) about Shangai: if and why Shangai has always been a driver of change in China from the creation of the communist party to the role played by Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji in the early 2000s ? How is adaptation to climate change planned in one of the fastest growing megacoastal city in the world ? Can Shangai be turned into the global financial hub of the 21st century ?