Consciously consequential

Eine Illustration

The social sciences have both good and challenging news: we cannot not act. No matter what we do, it has consequences. This is because the world is a dynamic network of interactions that we shape every day. This is how reality is created.

In complex systems such as societies, transformation by design means neither micro-management nor a planned economy. Rather, it is about transparent communication of the goals that guide action, shared value decisions and expected behavioural patterns, as expressed in the rules of politics, economic indicators and guiding principles.

Because humans are creative beings always searching for meaning. We seek understanding and comprehension. As individuals, we develop a personal view of things, which we use to make judgements and decisions. As social beings, we use rules and our intellect to justify these decisions to others. The political sphere is dominated by the grand societal narratives and paradigms, which in turn serve as framework and orientation for appropriate or rational behaviour.

As the world is constantly changing, these figures and narratives need to be regularly reviewed and adapted, as do the human structures we have created to implement them. When we talk about a reform backlog today, what we mean is: a window of opportunity has been missed, and we’re risking transformation by disaster. In other words, structural changes only become socially acceptable when a crisis makes it impossible to carry on as before. A shock-based innovation model that destroys a lot of trust in leaders and democratic governance and is used tactically by populist forces.

Good process design, transparency and a focus on the common good help to ensure the success of a transformation. We know from social research that, in particular, the effectivity of measures for reaching the set goals and a fair distribution of costs and benefits strengthen the acceptance of political change. So what are the ramifications of the current rules of the game, and are they adequately measured? What are the ramifications of the alternatives? When these interrelations become visible, trust and responsibility emerge.

Research has also identified three ‘ingredients’ with might be used to deflect uncertainties: Meaningfulness, comprehensibility and feasibility. In other words, the conviction that taking action is worthwhile, that the relevant information about the current situation is available and that we have at our disposal the resources needed for acting effectively.

In this constellation, transformation is not a thing that is pushed upon us by fate, but a conscious process of renewal. In this constellation, we can make a difference.


Backhaus-Maul, Holger, Sonja Fücker, Martina Grimmig, Viktoria Kamuf, Jessica Nuske, and Matthias Quent. „Forschungsbasierter Wissenstransfer: Sozialwissenschaft in und mit Gesellschaft“. In Forschungsbasierter Wissenstransfer und gesellschaftlicher Zusammenhalt, published by Holger Backhaus-Maul, Sonja Fücker, Martina Grimmig, Viktoria Kamuf, Jessica Nuske, and Matthias Quent, 9–28. Frankfurt/New York: Campus Verlag, 2024.

Prof. Klaus Hurrelmann interviewed by Sabine am Orde. 2023. „Forscher über Zustand der Gesellschaft: ‚Die Bevölkerung ist erschöpft‘“. Die Tageszeitung: taz, 3. August 2023,!5951963/

Social Economics Lab, Harvard.

Transformation by design

Transformation by design

What it's about

What it’s about