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Strategic policy conclusions

ICT-ENSURE has explored the link between ICT and Environmental Sustainability Research as an emerging multi-disciplinary field with a potentially strategic impact for the ERA. This finding leads to specific operational recommendations for future research efforts, but it is first necessary to clarify the implications at the broad policy level. The ICT-ENSURE project summarises these conclusions in five key statements:

  1. ICT and Environmental Sustainability are not two distinct but correlated fields of research, but a single challenge that must be addressed through an integrated research agenda. ICT offers perhaps our only hope of attaining sustainability while maintaining a European standard of living, and research efforts need to be steered strongly in that direction. At the same time, environmental research can only develop the new tools and methods to address the challenge of sustainability through exploiting the opportunities offered by ICT as they are being developed.
  2. The issue of Environmental Sustainability is inherently multi-disciplinary in nature, especially as the economic, social and cultural dimensions of human activity and increasingly seen to be crucial components of the highly complex systems at hand. Research in all aspects of the ICTENSURE problem space will need to be multi-disciplinary from the outset and carried out by teams of researchers from different fields. In addition, methods and tools to support multidisciplinary understanding and collaboration will increasingly become part of the research agenda itself.
  3. The definition of a research agenda in the field of ICT for Environmental Sustainability requires the identification of priority research topics but above all requires the development of a common framework for understanding the research problem space itself from a variety of
    standpoints. This common framework needs to reflect both the process-oriented approach that characterises ICT research and the thematically oriented approach that characterises environmental research and field work in general, allowing for the identification of commonalities across different research efforts at the EU, national and regional levels. In addition, the framework should be considered not as a static object but a reference point for on-going adaptation in response to evolving opportunities and needs.
  4. Issues of openness, access and interoperability are at the heart of all research needs in parallel with the evolution of our multi-disciplinary understanding of the research challenge. This affects not only the recognition of the importance of common data, metadata (semantic) and other standards that facilitate the exchange of knowledge, but also a recognition of the status of this knowledge as a public good. In addition, interoperability is a key issue for the models and decision support systems that will increasingly need to interoperate with each other and ever broader communities of users in order to reflect the complexity of the systems involved and their governance.
  5. Research in the area of ICT for Environmental Sustainability will need to involve an increasingly broad range of actors in all phases from the collection of data to the implementation of policy decisions. This will require the adoption of user and demand-driven research methods that allow for the governance of complex, hypothesis generating research processes and the capture of emergent needs and behaviours. In addition, specific tools will be required to support reciprocal understanding by different types of stakeholders, the assessment of the impact of collective actions and decisions, the negotiation of new values and strategies that are coherent with environmental sustainability.