Intergenerational justice as a thematic lens

Inside of a colourful hot air balloon

With stakeholders we have moved the conversation forward in how we define intergenerational justice, and explore how it can help to shape AHRC’s approach.

Capturing wider voices from the community

The theme of intergenerational justice stems from initial thinking around broader community engagement. This includes celebrating diversity of thought and space, and promoting equality and inclusion through capturing more voices through our programmes, investments and engagement with wider stakeholders.

It is for this reason that the concept of intergenerational justice wasn’t developed in isolation but developed in conjunction with the idea and theme of community and civic discourse.

Indeed, as will be demonstrated in this blog, it is pertinent to reflect on how intergenerational justice could link with discussions around community.

In this vein, the two themes map onto two intersecting axes: the vertical axis addressing intergenerational justice in terms of time (considering the depth of the past, present and future) while the horizontal axis considers the breadth of place, space and demography of community and civic discourse.

Following my Past and future: thinking about intergenerational justice blog in 2022, the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) has expanded its initial portfolio analysis and scoping work to engage a wider and more diverse group of key stakeholders.

As well as proposing common language co-creation and consensus with our community, we also asked: what positive impacts do we want to achieve and what short to longer-term actions can we take as individuals, organisations, and as a collective, working in collaboration?

Echoing the framing of the previous blog, arts and humanities offer the foundations for the methodologies and approaches for this work, exploring the past in order to shape the present and future; and in doing so – through imagination and creativity – understand what it means to be human.

To do justice to and for the future, therefore, means that we need also to do justice to the past. If we are to improve our act in the present, we need to ensure that we have as accurately and fairly as we can, understood what happened in the past and why.

Alongside the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, we hosted a consultation event to draw on extensive expertise from across a wide range of disciplines and organisations, including academics, practitioners, nongovernmental organisations concerned with intergenerational dialogues, and the public sector.

The objectives of the event were to explore a collective definition for intergenerational justice, the impacts we want to have, and how this impact might be achieved by working collaboratively.

Towards a working definition

A summary of the day’s discussion points can be found in the workshop report (courtesy of Collaborative Capacities).

Together, we arrived at the following co-created definition of intergenerational justice:

Intergenerational Justice is the process by which we bring the past and the future into the present to protect the interests and rights of future generations following our duty of care as temporary stewards of our planet within a just, inclusive and equitable social framework.

What does this sentence imply in the contexts of challenge areas? What does it mean for delivering collaborative challenge-led research on law and social justice? What does it mean for creative communities? What does it mean to research that mobilises local, cultural, and natural assets and activities to support improvements in health inequalities?

Key messages from the conversation

Overall, some of the key messages from the workshop were:

  • insist on fairness as the underlying ethical framework with which to practice justice that leads to accountability and reparations.
  • continue listening to diverse voices and include different generations and demographics in this ongoing dialogue
  • keep communication channels open by reporting back to those involved, and continue to connect people with ideas and best practice
  • act on the discussions from this day to bring about real change, using the results of this consultation to bridge the gap between dialogue and the development of policy

Next steps

While we’ve moved the conversation forward, we are still at the beginning of our journey.

We want to continue the discussion and take actions from it, working with our diverse communities, to develop intergenerational justice as one of the thematic approaches we are taking to help frame future strategic direction as a funder of the arts and humanities.

We will approach the theme through three pathways:

  • commonality of language and purpose
  • implications on our ways of working
  • consideration of intergenerational justice as a lens to frame our strategic thinking for future programmes or processes

Commonality of language and purpose

In the short term we will continue dialogue to reach a common language for intergenerational justice with our networks, continuing the conversation with event attendees but also those individuals and organisations that weren’t represented on the day.

We will assess our policies and ways of working against the impact our communities would like to see using intergenerational justice as an approach on, drawing expertise from our council and advisory board.

We will involve people with lived experience as we have already started to do in mobilising health programme or engaging school children as part of our Enact Equality work.

We will ensure our engagement with the community is as equitable and diverse as possible.

For example, it will draw on recommendations from the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Engagement Fellowship Report or the work of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Caucus (funded jointly by the Economic and Social Research Council, AHRC, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Innovate UK and the British Academy).

This thematic lens can impact on public policy in the way we engage government departments, addressing societal challenges such as place, levelling up, climate change, the creative economy (through our creative industries for example) and equality, diversity and inclusion.

In doing so we can articulate the broader value of arts and humanities approaches in policymaking through this lens, creating new partnerships with government departments, independent bodies and agencies and our wider community: illustrating how the arts and humanities have wider policy benefits in shaping society.

Implications on our ways of working

We want to be open, bold and ambitious. We recognise we have to change how we operate, meeting the expectations and obligations agreed from the event and captured in the Collaborative Capacities report collectively, as a research council.

This could include the shaping of future funding opportunities and community engagement across our subject teams; operationally speaking considering intergenerational justice in all our peer review and assessment processes; embedding intergenerational justice in our new responsive mode funding opportunities.

This work also speaks to our public policy offer through programmes. We will capitalise on our existing partnerships and relationships with government departments (for example, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, CBO, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Government Communications Headquarters) to emphasise the policy implications of this theme both domestically and internationally: expressed through our programmes and initiatives.

For example, intergenerational justice could feature as part of our Engaging with Government in-person course programme (in partnership with the Institute for Government), providing early-career researchers and postdoctoral researchers the mutual beneficial opportunity of understanding policymaking processes and how the research contributes.

In doing so the scheme, could address the societal challenges that the intergenerational justice theme encapsulates, while also encouraging participants to think about ways in which their own research could make a valuable contribution to public policy.

We equally want to expand our public policy offer through this themed lens, forging new partnerships under schemes such as the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) policy fellowships.

Consideration of intergenerational justice as one of the thematic approaches we are taking in consultation to help frame future strategic direction

We commit to ensuring intergenerational justice permeates our existing programmes and our thinking around future activities and funding opportunities (aligned to our vision and theory of change).

Our ultimate ambition would be for AHRC to be thought leaders in this and embed intergenerational justice across UKRI and beyond.

Through active listening and collaboration, we can bring the past and the future into the present to protect the interests and rights of current and future generations.

It is only through this openness and broader engagement that we can truly consider our obligations across space and time, whether it be older generations or to the young or to those yet unborn.

As previously stated, intergenerational justice captures our commitment to the deep and recent past, to the most pressing challenges of an inequitable world, and our imaginative engagement with the near and distant future.

We have surveyed the community, we have run a workshop with the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, we have continued to listen, and we believe the framing of intergenerational justice is starting to come up repeatedly. We see all this as a call to action.

We are sincerely grateful to Dr Sawsan Khuri and Dr Karen Sidwell from Collaborative Capacities, whose excellent shaping, framing and facilitation made the event possible and a great success.

Their hard work has enabled AHRC to take this cross-cutting theme forward, ensuring we can continue the conversation and take positive next steps together with our community.

Read the summary report of the outputs from the Cardiff event in English and Welsh, courtesy of Collaborative Capacities.

Top image:  Credit: DedMityay, iStock, Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

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