The social sciences are a group of like-minded academic disciplines that share the common instincts of understanding the human behaviour of individuals, their wider social groupings and networks, and the institutions they have contrived to govern and provide for the national population and their place in the wider world.
Above all, the social sciences work for the public. They do so by providing information that is based in rigorous research and which lends itself to the formation of wise and effective public policy. High quality research in support of public policy is crucial. No government or instrumentality can do its best in the absence of the detailed knowledge that it needs in order to best serve its mission and its people. That research, with its data and analyses, is the basis for the utility of the social sciences in service to the national interest. In addition, the social sciences do more than try to assist government and its institutions – they also strive to inform business, community groups, and the wider public.
The contribution of the social sciences to our lives often exists in the background, rarely acknowledged, but its utility and impact are highly significant to the everyday lives of the Australian public. Australia has a superannuation system arguably better than any other, our health policies seek to exclude no- one, our education system is one of the best in the world, and then there are government policies to protect consumers, stable financial systems, the promotion of safety in the workplace and on our roads, support for equal wages for equal work, and allowances for people out of employment while caring for the next generation, and provisions for the disabled, the unemployed, and the ageing. Think too of the management of a strong economy, a transparent immigration system, and the governance of precious water and threatened landscapes. All of this is understood and substantially managed through the social sciences.
The case-studies detailed in the pages are just a quick glance into how social science research and understanding can and usually does lead to important government policies, those instruments where well-understood fact-laden knowledge is critically important.
Even the most cursory review of who generated the supporting data and provided the understandable analyses will quickly uncover social scientists in their element. The reader will probably be surprised to learn in these pages that the upper management of government and business alike are populated disproportionately by persons with social science backgrounds. We believe there is a synergy between providers of social science based knowledge and those who require such information. It is with social science evidence that policy makers can best predict the impact of policy decisions.
Social science has a role too in the grand world-wide challenges of our time, such as climate change. Thanks to the efforts and skills of science and technology we are all aware of the potential impact of climate change on our environment. Climate shifts, rising seas, altered rainfall regimes and other factors could combine to disorder the ways and means by which we live. What we are unclear about is how we can minimise disruption to our lives. Is there a technological fix to mitigate the incursion of seawater on our coastlines? If not, then we have but one option – adaptation – and that is where understanding human behaviour, and the nature of social and political institutions will be the knowledge most needed in addressing the inexorable impact of climate change.
Seeing the end of the rainbow is not the challenge, it’s getting to it before it evaporates that is the game. So who do we call upon to help guide us there? Are all the solutions to be found in science and technology? We certainly need their greatest contributions, but it is our behaviour that has to also be understood and managed in efficient and beneficial ways. That takes us back to the social sciences and our self-governance of institutions, societies, and communities, our families and finally – ourselves. So, just what is it that the social sciences do?
The Social Sciences Shape the Nation.
To view source data for select graphs included in this report, click here.
To view the Report Launch and Panel Discussion Video, click here