Interview with the New Head of CESES Arnošt Veselý
“CESES analyses highlight the topics that stir the society,” says a new head Arnošt Veselý
With the new head of the Center for Social and Economic Strategies, Arnošt Veselý, on the mission of CESES, its current research projects and the unresolved problems of the Czech society.
Four months ago, you became the head of CESES. What was your path like to this position?
I am no newcomer at CESES, I have been working there with smaller or bigger workloads since its establishment in 2000. That’s why I am quite familiar with its agenda, the functioning of the workplace and, of course, the team of people who work there. Now, however, this is the first time I have been in the lead position, it is for me new experience without any doubt.
How would you briefly introduce to the readers who have never heard of CESES its mission?
The mission of our center is diverse, but it can be briefly summed up that our main mission is to propose solutions to the social problems and to help make political decisions more rational, more systematic and effective. At the same time, we devote ourselves to making such analyses that anticipate future developments in a particular issue.
For nearly ten years, you were also the head of the Department of Public and Social Policy at the Institute of Sociological Studies. Do the ways how to run the department and the center differ?
Yes, they definitely do. Unlike the department, CESES is primarily a research institution, not a teaching workplace; the main agenda entails the preparation and implementation of research projects, and the existence of a center depends on their financing. Therefore, we constantly communicate with contracting authorities from the ranks of state institutions. For example, we are currently negotiating with several ministries about possible cooperation. We submit various projects. But as you can see around (he points to the hallway where the furniture is stacked, the author's note), we also deal with the matters of everyday operation and administration, and we are now slowly preparing to move CESES to Voršilská.
What projects are currently under way in CESES?
We are currently finishing a project called “Using Socio-Scientific Knowledge in Decision-Making” conducted in cooperation with the Technology Agency of the Czech Republic. We’ve carried it out for the Ministry of Regional Development. It’s aimed to develop a methodology that will add to a better use of socio-scientific knowledge in a strategic decision-making not only of this ministry.
On the other hand, we are at the very beginning with two other projects, again pursued in cooperation with the Technology Agency. The first one, headed by Professor Potůček, deals with the solution to the long-term strategic tasks, such as a pension reform. The second one, headed by Associate Professor Fryč, aims to propose possible solutions for a greater involvement of citizens in public affairs.
How do the themes of your projects actually arise? Are you driven by the demand of state institutions or do you come with your own initiative?
They arise both ways you are mentioning. An important role for CESES is to raise issues that we see as important for today's society, so we are trying to be active in this respect.
That is why we always try to constructively negotiate with a particular contracting authority. Often, as a party representing the academic sphere, we see some issues through different lenses and with different priorities than the state institutions do. The concept of the project is then the outcome of an agreement and the meeting of priorities that we reach together with the contracting authority. Therefore, we value and try to work with those who approach the issue being open-minded.
What do you personally consider to be currently the main social issues to be addressed?
There is a wide range of such issues. However, if I should name a general trend that I consider to be crucial as far as the solution is concerned, then it is a change in the demand for the quality of public services. My research topic is education and this trend has been visible for some time now. Demands on the quality of education, and in general of public services, have been increasing. Over the past ten years, for example, the demand for good primary schools has increased. Parents do care about what primary school their children will attend, private schools are being founded, etc. The rise in the demands for the quality is well apparent in the private sector, which usually responds to the increased demands of citizens before the public sector does. It could be said that it is a sort of a quiet and undocumented revolution. And, of course, the key question for policy-makers is to propose such policies that would make public services comparable in terms of their quality to private services.
Does CESES address this issue?
Yes, my research topic concerns the issue of how to provide people with the highest quality of education they will be satisfied with. At present, we are reaching the point where this needs to be addressed, otherwise we will witness the emergence of other private institutions that will substitute for the lack of quality of services in the public sector and the widening of social differences. CESES has long drawn attention to this.
It should be said that in the past CESES generally pointed in its analyses to many things that eventually did occur. For example, we raised the issue of migration, demographic aging, racial intolerance and prejudice already in 2000 in our very first publication called a Vision of the Czech Republic. And we can see that these topics are very up to date today.
What events are you planning for the public?
CESES will take part in the hosting of NISPA conference, which will be held in Prague next year in May. It is a large conference of the institutions dealing with public administration in Central and Eastern Europe. It will be held under the auspices of the Dean, CESES will participate as a co-organizer. Also, we are again planning to organize smaller workshops for the expert audience, and we are currently selecting the first topics.
And the last question: What do you most enjoy about CESES? After so many years of working there, it still seems to be of great interest to you.
You’re right, I really put my heart and soul in CESES. I would probably name two things. First, it is the uniqueness of our Center. There are countless workplaces in the Czech Republic that - like us - analyze problems. However, none of them proposes possible variants of their solution. Based on the results of some analysis, we always ask what can be done about the problem, we consider various scenarios that together with the proposal for their solution form an integral part of the outputs of our projects. I also have to say that we have a wonderful team. Since I started working in CESES a lot of great people have passed through the Center. The atmosphere has been friendly from the very beginning, I would almost say like in a family, but also productive.
May you keep on doing well and thank you for the interview.
The interview was led by Jakub Říman, spokesperson of FSV UK