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Convergence of Knowledge: Its indicators difficult to be set even for its advocate CSTI — Recognition of concept far behind the SDGs

2023.04.18

The 6th Science, Technology, and Innovation Basic Plan incorporates the concept of convergence of knowledge, which contributes to comprehensive understanding and problem‐solving amongst people and society by combining the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Promotion measures for this concept were planned to be compiled by the end of fiscal 2021, with indicators investigated by the end of fiscal 2022 and monitoring implemented from fiscal 2023 onwards. However, it appears challenging even for the Council for Science, Technology, and Innovation (CSTI) 's expert panel meeting, which proposed the concept of convergence of knowledge, to set measurement indicators.

According to a Cabinet Office survey, awareness of convergence of knowledge amongst people aged 10 and younger to 70 and older is 7.3% (1.6% for "knowing well enough to explain to others" and 5.7% for "knowing the meaning but not enough to teach others"). These figures are only about 1/10 of the SDGs (76.4%). The survey concludes that increase in the awareness is necessary. Yasuhiro Sato, a member of the Council and Special Advisor to the Mizuho Financial Group, said, "It is crucial to measure understanding amongst students, researchers, industry, academia, and policymakers, the groups who really need to know and think about convergence of knowledge. I think understanding will be enhanced more by examples than by words."

When fellow Council member and President of the Science Council of Japan Takaaki Kajita, asked, "I do not understand why we set indicators for convergence of knowledge, so please tell me," full‐time member Takahiro Ueyama explained that 'it is related to how to fund.'

Convergence of knowledge can be defined as solving social issues by combining the 'gathering of diverse knowledge' and 'creation of new value'. However, the indicators currently under consideration are only the level of awareness and interdisciplinary collaboration in the NISTEP TEITEN Survey, so the social value has not been able to be defined.

Hiroaki Suga, Council member, and professor at the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Science, Department of Chemistry, pointed out that "Ultimately, indicators cannot be set unless the social challenges are clarified. Also, when diverse knowledge comes together to solve problems, it is not absolutely necessary to include humanities and social sciences. Research and development that resolves social issues can be achieved with the diversity of natural sciences. The diversity required at the stage of actually impacting society will change. So, shouldn't diversity be evaluated in stages?"

In conclusion, for the time being, the annual changes in awareness and NISTEP's TEITEN surveys will be assessed, and further consideration will be made regarding indicators for funding.

Even before the concept of convergence of knowledge was discussed, cross‐disciplinary collaboration and efforts toward solving social issues had been performed. There are successes and failures, but the crucial point is ensuring optimal diversity for the result being sought; diversity itself is not the goal. Regardless of the discussions held at CSTI, if indicators are introduced, they will affect funding reviews. For example, if diversity is introduced as a funding indicator, research teams composed of diverse members solely for securing diversity could potentially outcompete teams optimized for their goals. Careful discussions based on the reality of the gap between policy and practice are necessary.

This article has been translated by JST with permission from The Science News Ltd. (https://sci-news.co.jp/). Unauthorized reproduction of the article and photographs is prohibited.

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