The sustainability issues of Latvian society: future prospects and opportunities for local scientific ecosystem

Dr. Mārtiņš Kaprāns
Dr. Ivars Austers

Research summary

The goal of this research is to find out the relevant issues related to the development of Latvian society, national economy and science and to prepare proposals for priorities in fundamental and applied research for the period 2018–2021.
The study is based on various datasets: the strategic development documents of the European Union and Latvia, as well as the development documents of sectorial policies, opinion polls, focus group discussions with Latvia’s innovation companies, creative industries and startup companies, professional associations representing innovation-based industries, survey of Latvia’s research institutions and semi-structured interviews with selected Latvian scientists.
The research report focuses on crucial societal challenges that have shaped Latvia’s research agenda over the last four years. Along with identifying the major problems, this report outlines research and innovation areas in the context of European and national development priorities. These priorities have common as well as separate motives that are oriented to the growth of Latvia’s economic, social and cultural capital. In particular, the report highlights a number of strategically important areas where, in the medium term, it is necessary to provide or reinforce research and innovation support:

ICT, cybersecurity and smart materials
ICT development is related not only to the creation of new information technologies and commercial products, but also to cybersecurity. According to this research, ICT is defined as a relevant component by all scientific disciplines that fall under the OECD classification. A promising interdisciplinary field is smart materials, which can significantly contribute to innovative products and services. The advancement of this field may open new avenues in Latvia for the use of local biomass in smart building materials. Smart materials can be developed in a wide array of spheres: civil engineering, electrical engineering, electronic technology, information engineering, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering and material engineering.

Energy independence and energy efficiency
Latvia's energy policy is oriented towards diversification of primary energy resources and increasing the share of renewable energy resources and energy efficiency, developing an efficient energy market and infrastructure, as well as strengthening international and regional cooperation in the field of energy. An interdisciplinary research involving both STEM and social scientists plays an important role in this area.

Demography and public health
One of the biggest threats to the sustainable development of Latvian society is the unfavorable demographic situation – both negative natural growth and negative migration balance. These trends create the need for artificial intelligence research, job automation and social innovation in public administration. Public health also exacerbates demographic challenges. Health indicators in Latvia are significantly lagging behind other EU member states. Health problems, including the quality of health care, significantly reduce the chance of improving Latvia’s demographic scene. Research and innovation in the public health sector should promote disease diagnosis and treatment.

Social protection, equality and security
In the field of social protection, it is necessary to deepen knowledge and understanding about Latvia’s social traps – poverty, unemployment, addictions, etc. It is also necessary to study more widely people with functional impairments – their competitiveness in the Latvian labor market, employers' attitudes, the situation in families and the attitude of the society. The policy makers are specifically interested in research on policies targeting marginalized segments of society: young offenders, former prisoners, the victims of sex offenders and domestic violence.

Latvia’s educational policy makers need support from researchers for the regular monitoring of the quality of education, incl. the development of reliable monitoring tools, the analysis of results and the development of recommendations, the development of scientifically based instruments and indicators for the assessment of the quality of the learning environment. Specially, this study indicates a striking demand for innovations that could improve the teaching methods and process. Similarly, educational research should focus on more various educational policy issues, such as the emotional development of preschool students and students, the development of e-learning technologies and methods, and the promotion of critical thinking.

The Latvian Identity values : the Latvian language, history and cultural heritage
In the future, the regions and countries that will strengthen and develop their unique identity will gain an important comparative advantage in the global competition. In this context, it is important for Latvia to preserve and develop its own identity, language, national cultural values and the lifestyle characteristic of its cultural space, in order to creatively use the contribution of other cultures and, by promoting openness, strengthen the country's competitiveness potential. Strong and inclusive national identity reinforces societal security and resilience and can inspire the residents of Latvia for creativity and cooperation.