Director's Foreword

REPORT 2020–2022/

Director's Foreword

by Wilhelm Krull – Founding Director

When Erck Rickmers visited me in Spring 2019 on the premises of the Volkswagen Foundation in Hanover, we almost instantly agreed that in view of the multiple, interconnected crises and pressing existential problems facing humankind, it seemed quite urgent to provide time and space for opening new opportunities to some of the brightest minds to fundamentally rethink and reconfigure our value systems, our mindsets, and subsequently, our democratic and economic practices. In turn, all of that was to be realized in a not-for-profit, privately funded institutional setting.

In our jointly written statement on “Vision, Mission, and Purpose” (dated June 16, 2019), we sketched the intellectual and institutional ambition for “establishing a mission driven Institute for Advanced Study that shall become known for its imaginative capabilities, its readiness to get engaged in developing and implementing new insights and ideas, as well as in launching respective initiatives”. Like other institutes for advanced study, it would select and invite outstanding researchers and visionary thinkers based on intellectual rigor and on their ability and commitment to generate creative ideas. Moreover, we decided to add another dimension to the institutional mission by searching for fellows and projects whose goal would be to work on concrete and viable options for reconfigured social practices. On this basis, their research questions and results could potentially open up pathways toward scalable solutions. While building on the proven strengths of institutes for advanced study, it became clear that it would be crucial for THE NEW INSTITUTE to develop new structures and approaches for advancing comprehensively designed, interdisciplinary and trans-sectoral modes of inclusive knowledge creation. These should welcome the experiential wisdom of relevant stakeholders as well as new opportunities for the dissemination of results. In a nutshell: We wanted to create a breeding ground for new ideas that could potentially serve as an incubator and a platform for socio-ecological change.

While the already acquired set of nine classicist townhouses in central Hamburg had to undergo serious refurbishing, we began in January 2020 at Große Theaterstraße to provisionally establish office and meeting spaces as well as a dozen apartments for future fellows (whom we envisaged to start in the Autumn of 2021). The most challenging part of this first phase concerned specifying the overarching concept of the Institute, the scope and scale of its programmatic operations, and the building of a highly professional facilitating team. In parallel to these tasks, we had to directly start to identify and approach eminent fellows, last but not least because institutes for advanced study usually plan about two years in advance (and universities generally only grant leave of absence in terms of academic years or semesters).

Right from the start it was clear that the activities of the Institute would focus on four areas: ecology, economy, democracy, and the human condition.

Primarily based on expertise from the humanities and social sciences, but open for exchanges with stakeholders from various sectors of society, the following areas of activities were selected for further exploration:

  1. The Foundations of Value and Values
  2. The Future of Democracy
  3. Socio-Economic Transformation
  4. Changing Mindsets – Changing Behaviour

In line with our aim to support and collaborate with outstanding theorists and practitioners addressing at least some of the most pressing social, ecological, and economic issues and potentially opening up pathways to impactful solutions, we focused on defining the specific areas of activity and on recruiting the first cohort of fellows in light of these areas. Of course, we were to begin with more questions than answers.
Largely in parallel to this, we worked on developing a common understanding of our operational tasks as well as the governance of the Institute. Among others, this included drafting the statutes for a Board of Trustees and an International Advisory Board, positioning the Institute in the overall global and local academic landscape, appropriate to its scale and scope. It should also support the fellowship selection process.

For the role and function of the facilitating team the following five points were considered to be crucial for the long-term success of THE NEW INSTITUTE:

  • To make efficient and effective use of the autonomy, alertness, and flexibility of a privately funded institution in selecting the scale and scope of its activities.
  • To encourage interdisciplinary, cross-sectoral, and integrative approaches to inspire and actively promote systemic change.
  • To combine the ingredients of a high trust culture of creativity with rigorous and reliable processes of quality assurance.
  • To ensure robustness and resilience of the respective research activities by providing the best possible environment for our fellows.
  • To establish networks of like-minded people from various walks of life to achieve leverage through collaborative action.

Together with colleagues at the University of Oxford, in particular Colin Mayer and Dennis Snower, we were able to hold a first workshop in Große Theaterstraße on February 24 and 25, 2020, on a topic of mutual interest and of particular importance for further work at THE NEW INSTITUTE on The Foundations of Value and Values. After two days of intense discussions among the participants from across the humanities, science, and social sciences, it seemed quite promising for the start-up phase of THE NEW INSTITUTE to launch an initiative that would address questions such as: What are the origins of our values and value? How did they emerge and subsequently evolve? How do values impact on the way we conceive of the world from the perspective of different disciplines and intellectual lines of thinking? While conceptions of values and value are often taken for granted, we have to ask: What are their economic and societal consequences?

Only ten days later, the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to switch from in-person meetings to online communication. This had a considerable impact on the exploration of the other topical initiatives as well as the selection processes of fellows for the envisaged programs. Most conversations were conducted in small groups or even in one-on-one discussions. The latter particularly applied to the conceptual preparations for The Future of Democracy. Thanks to the early involvement of Christoph Möllers, at the time a Permanent Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, we were able to identify two major topics that seemed crucial for coping with the prevailing distrust in democratic forms of governance. On the one hand, it was urgent to think about new approaches to revitalizing democracy from below, while on the other hand, it was more or less obvious that constitutional and institutional frameworks were in need of substantial revisions. Among the issues raised were: What are the main reasons for questioning the legitimation and effectiveness of parliamentary democracies and their institutions in coping with the manifold challenges ahead? How can we strengthen democratic deliberations, encourage participation, and modernize institutions? What kind of constellations do we need to make democratic systems more compatible with a commitment to equity and environmental protection?

In several online and hybrid formats, we explored opportunities to make a difference in the social and behavioral sciences, in particular with respect to Changing Mindsets – Changing Behaviour and Socio-Economic Transformation (developed gradually in 2022 by Dennis Snower and colleagues from his Global Solutions Initiative). But in view of the limited capacity of our still quite small facilitating team and the apartment space available in Große Theaterstraße, it seemed inevitable for these areas to postpone concrete plans for fellowship programs until 2023 or perhaps even later. Therefore, jointly with Markus Gabriel as academic program lead for The Foundations of Value and Values and Christoph Möllers responsible for The Future of Democracy, we embarked upon recruiting leading researchers in the respective areas as well as launching open calls for more junior candidates to be selected based on rigorous assessments of their achievements and their potential to successfully contribute to the goals of the envisaged activities. All in all, we were pleased to see that (despite the still ongoing COVID-19 pandemic) so many creative and committed minds were willing to come to us as of September 2021 and to further develop the position of THE NEW INSTITUTE.

Also in September 2021, we were able to publish a first Discussion Paper by Geoff Mulgan, at University College London and co-opted as fellow to our Institute, on the topic The Case for Exploratory Social Sciences. Closely connected with THE NEW INSTITUTE’s ambition to move beyond the usual patterns of mapping, measuring, and monitoring by encouraging our fellows to leverage their expertise in imagining, designing, and experimenting with new approaches, Geoff Mulgan called his colleagues in the social sciences to account. He urged them to transcend their domains of expertise and patterns of analysis and to make better use of their knowledge by envisioning and shaping a more sustainable path forward, but not without combining openness and imagination with rigor and depth.

The challenges outlined by Geoff Mulgan were also reflected almost a year earlier in a wider context at a hybrid workshop on “Research and Responsibility” (co-organized with Lisa Herzog, awardee of the highest German prize in philosophy: Deutscher Preis für Philosophie und Sozialethik) held on October 22 and 23, 2020, and picked up at the start of the 2021–22 academic year in both fellow groups with a specific emphasis on the role of ethics in academic institutions, their codes of conduct, as well as the importance of scholarly and scientific knowledge in modern democracies. After several weeks of intense discussions on related issues, the fellows focusing on The Foundations of Value and Values agreed to embark upon a journey to collaboratively write a paper tackling some of the fundamental questions concerning the changing role of academic discourse in a crisis-ridden world like: What role can the humanities play in shaping our common future? What are the values that guide us in the 21st century? How can we unleash the potential of the humanities for shaping a more just and sustainable world? The booklet Towards a New Enlightenment: The Case for Future-Oriented Humanities (published in German and English in October 2022) met with great interest in other institutes for advanced study, academies, and in numerous universities across Europe and beyond. Subsequently, presentations were held and discussions pursued at various institutions in Aarhus, Berlin, Bonn, Odense, St. Gallen, Stanford, and Tokyo (to name but a few).
In the first half of 2022, several events and workshops were organized that opened up new perspectives for future work. Among them was the kick-off conference for the think tank consultations – the Think7 (led by Dennis Snower) – as part of the German G7 presidency. To mark the 50th anniversary of The Limits to Growth report, a two-part workshop with two of its authors (Dennis Meadows and Jørgen Randers) was held in June 2022, in particular with a view to the question: How to imagine possible futures? In mid-June, a workshop on “Eco-Scenarios – Performing ‘Scale Critique’” (led by Elisabeth Strowick) was held in Große Theaterstraße. And in mid-September 2022, an in-person workshop with university leaders was organized by John Douglass and me on “Promoting Democracy through Universities”.

Jointly with the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin – Institute for Advanced Study, we paved the way for a new kind of fellowship: the Yehudit and Yehuda Elkana Fellowship to support free scientific exchange and to offer selective scholars at risk an opportunity to continue their research work in a safe environment through stays at the two institutes as well as funding of a project specifically designed to enhance academic freedom in their respective home country.

Numerous colleagues contributed to the successful launch of THE NEW INSTITUTE. First and foremost our founder and funder, Erck Rickmers, the program lead Markus Gabriel and the Program Director Christoph Möllers, the pioneering fellows of the first cohort (see Section 1) and from the facilitating team in particular Georg Diez, Christoph Gottschalk, Anika Haverig, Charlotte Hasenkamp, Anke Hennings, Ronan Kaczynski, Anna Luisa Lippold, Nina Rismal, and Barbara Sheldon. Their expertise, enthusiasm, empathy, care, creativity, and courage, as well as their impressive and continued commitment to our common endeavor, were indispensable for rapidly achieving widely recognized progress in setting up an institute for advanced study that, in the long run, could help to open up pathways to viable solutions for socio-economic and environmental change.

In the Summer of 2022, a change in leadership took place at THE NEW INSTITUTE, and I was able to welcome two already familiar fellows, Anna Katsman and Markus Gabriel, as my successors in the new role of Academic Directors. They enjoyed the privilege of opening the 2022–23 academic year with the new cohort of fellows at the renovated premises in Warburgstraße, the final home of THE NEW INSTITUTE.

Wilhelm Krull
Founding Director

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