Empowering local transitions towards Society 5.0

| January 25, 2024

The concept of Society 5.0 – a superintelligent society of humans, nature and technology in sustainable balance – was launched in Japan in 2016. A systematic, second track, bottom-up ‘society transition model’ could ease the shift towards this next stage of society.

This aspirational concept envisions “a human-centered society that balances economic advancement with the resolution of social problems by a system that integrates cyberspace and physical space.” The nomenclature offers the potential next step in humanity’s social development following the traditional concepts of a hunting society (Society 1.0), agricultural society (Society 2.0), industrial society (Society 3.0), and our current information society (Society 4.0).

Official policy landscapes to embrace the future tend to emphasise technological innovation, but a focus on social innovation, human-centeredness, circularity, and regenerative production is equally important to achieve a fair, just and sustainable Society 5.0 to benefit all citizens.

The European Commision’s Industry 5.0: Towards a sustainable, human-centric and resilient European industry policy brief outlines this vision and its expected outcomes in terms of industrial development and summarises the ‘next steps’ to take at national and international policy levels. The article I and Professor Jacob Brix wrote for the latest Journal of Behavioural Economics & Social Systems (BESS) suggests concrete actions that local actors can take as the first steps to establish a Society 5.0 movement, and ways in which we can implement these trends in national and international policy in our localities.

This approach builds on the premise of the second-track concept in which collaboration does not require perfect exchange between actors and encourages participants to cooperate towards solving a collective problem or achieving a common goal.

A Society Transition Model

Inspired by the ‘collective impact‘ literature and inter-organizational learning and co-production models, we have identified the essential conditions for success in this form of collaborative second-track effort. In our academic article in BESS, we propose a three-phase Society 5.0 transition model (STM) to transform fuzzy policy ambitions into formative evaluations that can generate new knowledge, reduce uncertainties, and encourage learning.

The STM outlined below is a systematic model approach which empowers local people and organisations to ‘act and see’ in the ‘here and now ‘ instead of waiting for new national policies to materialise.

Phase 1: Initiating a Society 5.0 Movement

  1. Secure commitment among key decision-makers to explore the Society 5.0 opportunity for their local area, city or region.
  2. Map the historical development of their areas stages of development to understand the success factors for critical transformations.
  3. Identify key ‘pains’ for the region and build a coalition of actors with decision-making power from the public, private, and third sectors to address them.
  4. Learn from others and reflect on what could work well or less well by learning from others.
  5. Plan the next steps by considering the governance structure and momentum required for the transition.

Phase 2: Devising a Plan for Moving the Society 5.0 Transition Forward

  1. Formulate a high-level strategic vision for 2050, including significant stakeholders and considering students, citizens, and participating organisations.
  2. Define a uniting brand that can be communicated to promote the region.
  3. Explore and select the most suitable governance structure to coordinate activities and ensure critical stakeholders’ communication, activities, and participation.
  4. Agree on an investment plan and economic model for enabling and maintaining the transition to Society 5.0. Such investments can be in monetary or human resources, technology, and relevant workplace access.

Phase 3: Making It Work Through Continuous Evaluation

Inspired by the work of Brix and others, we have also identified three key characteristics that should shape the evaluation methodology for steps to achieve Society 5.0:

  1. Multi-stakeholder engagement as Society 5.0 evaluation must involve many stakeholders, including public, private, and third-sector organisations and the general public.
  2. Dynamic activities must be factored in as Society 5.0 constantly evolves and changes over time.
  3. Contextual fluidity as Society 5.0 activities transcend organisational boundaries in a sequence of interconnected interactions that may happen simultaneously in different contexts.

These characteristics necessitate framing Society 5.0 as a complex social phenomenon akin to a “wicked problem” in society. This means that establishing context-independent causal relationships between activities and their effects and outcomes is difficult or impossible, so evaluation methodologies should embrace “contribution analyses” such as “theory-based evaluation” and “contribution stories.” Due to their inherent complexity, distilling “ultimate truths” is impossible, but an informative picture can still be drawn.

Evaluators and stakeholders interested in evaluation outcomes must accept that evaluators can only uncover “contribution stories” to illustrate the extent and reasons why a specific activity or set of activities has led to shared outcomes. This formative evaluation approach can support the learning necessary for progress and identify “what works and what does not” in the collaborative effort. In this way, the formative evaluation approach becomes a means of implement the second-track process to achieve Society 5.0.

This blogpost is an edited version of an article by Prof Christian Nielsen and Prof Jacob Brix published in the Journal of Behavioural Economics and Social Systems (BESS) edition 5.1 in 2023.