Family is Closely Concerned With All of The EU’s Headline Targets
Population Europe: What is the EU’s interest in research on families?
Marc Goffart: The EU’s research interest in families dates back to the late ‘80s, but actual policy developments (at the EU and international level, such as the OECD) are of more recent nature, which have initially centred around the demographic developments in Europe.
From a fairly restricted focus on declining birth rates and need for a better work-life balance, this has evolved into a broader perspective, where the issues the FamiliesAndSocieties project is looking at are at the very heart of the EU2020 strategy.
As the smallest analytical unit beyond the individual level, the family is closely concerned with all of the EU’s headline targets (on education & early school leaving, employment & social inclusion), as well as related policies and targets in relation to child care or equal opportunities.
From a research perspective it is of growing importance to gather, compare and analyse data at the European level on the growing diversity in families, which are by nature already very different in the various corners of the EU. As the FamilyPlatform has demonstrated, the challenges in terms of research and policy are very considerable.
Population Europe: What do you expect from the FamiliesAndSocieties project?
Marc Goffart: The excellence in research is the obvious starter to a project of the nature and scale of the FamiliesAndSocieties project. This excellence should lead the researchers beyond the classical themes and explore more innovative issues in relation to families. It is also clear that the potential for such excellence is very high among the FamiliesAndSocieties team.
A second expectation is that FamiliesAndSocieties will build on the achievements and the research gaps of the FamilyPlatform. Foremost, FamiliesAndSocieties researchers individually and collectively should make efforts to engage with the broader stakeholder community that the FamilyPlatform has built up – and of course also with the whole stakeholder community beyond these projects.
Last but not least, the FamiliesAndSocieties team should engage in the broader EU and national level debates on the relevant policies. Through the engagement of Population Europe it has a strong basis for doing just this, but it is important that each and every one of the team members looks for and takes the opportunities to get involved and contribute proactively.
Population Europe: How can research support policy-makers?
Marc Goffart: The contribution of the FamiliesAndSocieties research is well summarised in the image above, moving to a deeper level of understanding. With a dynamic and sensitive entity as the family, it is all the more important to consider emerging or worrisome societal developments.
This can arise out of data, but also out of the in-depth personal and professional experience researchers have gathered. To analyse and integrate such data in a comparative manner (across disciplinary and geographic boundaries) is both a challenging and rewarding exercise.
Researchers have a strong capacity for conceptual and social innovation – ‘thinking out of the box’ is easier for researchers than for policy-makers. Social Europe is still a relatively young fledgling, and researchers' input into analytical and conceptual policy progress is not only welcome, but essential for valid, evidence-based policy-making.
Marc Goffart is Scientific Officer at the European Commission, DG Research and Innovation, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Unit, and responsible for the FP7 FamiliesandSocieties Project
Interview: Daniela Vono de Vilhena/Population Europe