ENGAGED Research and Innovation: First ENGAGE.EU Think Tank in Mannheim

Digital transformation holds enormous potential to shape the world and help build a sustainable future. Social change is highly dependent on innovations from science, business, politics, and industry. The ENGAGE.EU Think Tank is an academic research stay that serves as a platform to bring together different stakeholders to find solutions to address the global challenges of our time.

What impact will digitalization have on companies, economies, and societies in Europe? A total of 16 researchers will attempt to address this central question at the first ENGAGE.EU Think Tank in Mannheim, with participants from all alliance partner universities. The ENGAGE.EU Think Tank provides a forum for intensive interdisciplinary exchange, in which researchers address the major societal challenges of our time. The groundwork for the first Think Tank was laid in June 2022, when the participants met online for the first time. Over the following months, they then exchanged ideas on potential joint research projects. At the end of September, the researchers will meet in Mannheim for a one-week research stay to work intensively on their research projects and present them to the other participants.  

The Think Tank gives participants the opportunity to explore the frontiers of research and innovation while focusing entirely on their research projects. Dirk Simons, former ENGAGE.EU coordinator and initiator of the Think Tank, placed great emphasis on this aspect: “The most important resources in academia are interesting stimuli and time. The Think Tank aims to provide participating researchers with both. Stimulating content is provided by interaction with experts from civil society, politics, business, and academia, and time because the Think Tank serves as an oasis in the university’s daily routine in which academic needs are paramount.” 

At the same time, the Think Tank offers collaborating partners the opportunity to engage intensively with leading researchers. This includes long-term collaborative ventures with economic and political partners, who will be represented at the Think Tank by various guest speakers, including French MP Marietta Karamanli (NUPES) and Luka Mucic, SAP’s Chief Financial Officer. “To keep its eye on the latest trends and innovations, SAP works closely with leading universities and researchers,” says Katharina Schäfer, Global Head of University Alliances at SAP. “As a leading software company, we particularly value ENGAGE.EU’s international collaboration with leading universities in Europe, with the goal of jointly shaping social change and advancing digital transformation.” 

Key aspects of current research in SAP’s portfolio include artificial intelligence, machine learning, sustainable and intelligent business processes, circular economies, Industry 4.0, and the future of work. Research collaborations, such as those that will emerge out of the Think Tank, represent a major focus for innovation. “This is the only way to build bridges between science and industry, something that will ultimately strengthen Europe as a leading center for research in the long term,” says Schäfer. Through strong partnerships, participants can bridge the gap between science and business, expanding interdisciplinary discussions on current research approaches. Jutta Mata is Professor of Health Psychology at the University of Mannheim and a participant in the first Think Tank. Together with her Think Tank colleagues, she would like to explore digital research approaches for the social and behavioral sciences. Mata is currently researching how people can live healthier lives. Digital transformation through tracking, feedback, and intensive use of social media have greatly changed both research and behavior in her primary areas of interest: sports and nutrition. “I want to take opportunities, limitations, and new approaches like tracking with sensors at family meals and write a position paper,” Mata says. “The Think Tank offers an ideal platform for that: An entire week is reserved exclusively for research, and as the name suggests, it’s designed to create space for thinking.” 

Text: Moritz Klenk / October 2022

The next ENGAGE.EU Think Tank will take place at Université Toulouse 1 Capitole in 2023. Participants will address how gender inequalities can be resolved to make the post-pandemic “new normal” in Europe sustainable. Interested researchers from ENGAGE.EU partner universities who are doing research on this topic, or would like to do so, are invited to apply. The application phase is expected to start in the fall of 2022. For more information, visit the website of the think tank.