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The Solon Center for Policy Innovation

A far-sighted and out-of-the-box thinking statesman, Solon achieved significant political reforms in ancient Athens. Among others, he cancelled the debts of oppressed citizens and abolished slavery for debt; he decreased aristocratic control of the government by expanding voting rights to the poorest citizens; and he created a more humane and just code of law that enabled every citizen to appeal to court. 

In this spirit, the Solon Center for Policy Innovation aims to contribute to significant political reform today. We are a policy research and consulting think tank attempting to think outside the box, i.e. to enlarge societal option spaces in innovative and viable ways. We provide European governments with analyses of major challenges of our time, introduce novel perspectives and propose solutions that are robust against the uncertainties we face. A key focus of ours is on risk research, disaster preparedness and emergency governance. Crucial questions we address in our consulting include: 

  • How can we identify the main risks facing society today, viz. those risks threatening to cause the largest individual and collective harms? 

  • Which measures should governments take to prevent and prepare for such risks?

  • How can institutions be set up such that they incentivise adequate risk assessment, communication and actual preparedness?

  • How do “emergency ethics” and “emergency governance” differ from their normal counterparts? 

  • How can liberal democracies utilize their strengths and hedge against their potential weaknesses in dealing with catastrophic risks and crises?

To answer these questions, our team draws on expertise from a broad range of disciplines, including decision theory, ethics, (neuro)psychology, economics, sociology and political science. Furthermore, we make use of software solutions based on the Parmenides Foundation’s long-standing expertise on how the human brain can be supported in its complex decision-making. We develop our tools in collaboration with Cognostics and Novalytica

If you are interested in our (pro bono) research and consulting services or would like to contribute to the Solon Center as a donor, researcher or consultant, please contact us at contact@parmenides-foundation.org.

Our Recent Focus on the Covid-19 Pandemic

Given our interest in risk policy and preparedness, the Covid-19 pandemic has been a natural focus of ours since the Wuhan outbreak. We consult regional and national governments in the German-speaking area and contribute to the public debate about the strategic options for dealing with Covid-19 in the short, medium and long term. 

Two of our researchers, Nikil Mukerji and Adriano Mannino, have written a book titled “Covid-19: Was in der Krise zählt – Über Philosophie in Echtzeit”, which is forthcoming with Reclam Verlag. Some of its content has entered our newspaper articles (published, among others, in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung).

We place particular emphasis on the general lessons our society can learn from the pandemic, i.e. on the mistakes we’ve made and on their underlying causes. For instance, why have European states been unable to control the pandemic without lockdowns, which Asian democracies such as South Korea and Taiwan managed to do? Not only did they avoid the socio-economic catastrophe of lockdown, they also have far fewer infections than any European nation. At the institutional level, this raises questions such as: Why did the German Ministry of Health lack a Department for Health Security until February 2020, and why are departments for security issues indeed lacking in most ministries?

Option Space Expansion and Experimental Politics

The human tendency to narrow down available option spaces prematurely may be among our most consequential cognitive deficits. Consider a simple example: In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, many organizations and individuals are realizing that digitizing their work spaces and working lives is easier than they would have thought. There certainly are significant downsides to it, but a sizeable proportion of people are also experiencing massive efficiency gains. This raises the question: Why did we need a pandemic to adequately consider and experimentally test the option of digitizing our working lives? We should have tried and tested this option in any case, years ago. – How many more outside-the-box options are there that should be explored without delay?

Trial is often accompanied by error. We should thus err on the safe side as much as possible when testing new policies. To this end, implementing policies in limited and gradual ways first – and evaluating their impact in real time – can be advantageous. Furthermore, we should hedge against the risk of costly failure by insuring “experimenter units” (states, regions, cities, sectors, companies etc.) within the European community. Whoever serves the community by testing novel and somewhat risky policies should be compensated in case of failure. The epistemic and practical returns of such a scheme are likely to be large indeed.

Europe’s Global Role and Responsibility

The world would, we believe, be a less unjust place if the ideas underlying liberal and social democracy held greater influence. This view runs some risk of Eurocentrism, but alternative views arguably run greater risks. Liberal and social democracy seem most deeply seated in Europe, and less European influence means more American, Chinese or Russian influence. Geopolitically, there is a danger that the many European nation states will be marginalized by American and Chinese interests in particular. In order to avoid this scenario, it may be necessary to form a Res Publica Europea over the coming decades. A European republic would, in turn, be best placed to lobby for a cooperative geodomestic policy in the long run, viz. for a Res Publica Globalis.

Director of the Solon Center for Policy Innovation

Adriano Mannino