Strategic research paves the way to a more sustainable future

17 Oct 2019

The United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and research financed by the  Strategic Research Council (SRC) both pursue the same goal: finding solutions to the major challenges facing society. Strategic research projects cover a wide range of both national and global sustainability targets.

The United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and research funded by the Strategic Research Council (SRC) at the Academy of Finland both pursue the same goal: finding solutions to the grand challenges facing society. The SRC finances long-term, problem-oriented, high-quality research aimed at supporting solutions to the grand challenges facing Finnish society. The UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development obligates the signatories, including Finland, to reach 17 globally crucial and ambitious Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Both strategic research and the UN’s 2030 Agenda deal with widespread phenomena, such as the mitigation of and the adaptation to climate change, the reduction of inequality in society and the promotion of health and well-being.

Strategic research projects are well in line with Finland’s national sustainable development priorities

So what are the most notable challenges relating to sustainable development from the perspective of Finnish society? The question has been most recently answered by a project called PATH2030, which was launched as part of the Finnish Government’s analysis, assessment and research activities in order to evaluate Finland’s sustainable development policy since the introduction of the 2030 Agenda. Based on the evaluation, Finland’s sustainable development policy should focus on climate change, environmental questions, consumption and increasing inequality. Finland’s sustainable development policy has succeeded in being inclusive, which has helped to make sustainable development a broadly accepted aim in society. The evaluation also identified a considerable number of particular needs, of which the need for independent, interdisciplinary and synthesising research data and the production of such data by interactive means is especially exciting from the perspective of strategic research.

We believe that strategic research projects are well in line with the priorities of Finland’s sustainable development policy identified in the PATH2030 evaluation. Examples include the a statement on why carbon sinks constitute social policy (climate change) (pdf, in Finnish) produced by IBC-CARBON, SOMPA and WISE projects, the CloseLoop project’s policy brief, according to which  global economic development steers the priorities of circular economy investments (environmental questions and consumption) (pdf, in Finnish), and the GLASE project’s policy brief on better integration opportunities for asylum seekers (increasing inequality) (in Finnish). The aforementioned outputs are just a few examples of the strategic research  contributions, in addition to which its projects and programmes have produced a number of other ways in which to promote the social impact of research into the areas highlighted in the goals of the UN’s 2030 Agenda. The projects have hosted events, participated in working groups supporting and steering decision-making processes at different levels of society, provided advice and contributed actively to social debate.

Strategic research addresses many of the targets set in the UN’s 2030 Agenda

Strategic research is steered by objectives laid down in law, the SRC’s transparent thematic planning process, the Finnish Government’s decisions on research themes and the SRC’s decisions on programmes and funding. Although strategic research cannot therefore be said to be directly based on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, its projects are well in line with the 2030 Agenda (Picture 1). There are links especially between the strategic research projects and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals 3 (Good Health and Well-being), 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure), 10 (Reduced Inequality) and 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions). The SRC’s thematic planning process is also broadly influenced by data and resources provided by the scientific community, various non-governmental organisations and government departments, including the UN’s 2030 Agenda. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are therefore factored into the choice of themes.


Picture 1. Links between strategic research themes (on the left) and the goals of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda (1–17, above). The goals of the 2030 Agenda are listed in order from the goal with the most links to the strategic research themes (on the left) to the one with the least links (on the right). The order is based on the views of officials from the Division of Strategic Research. Key to abbreviations: EQUA: Equality in Society, PIHI: A Climate-Neutral and Resource-Scarce Finland, TECH: Disruptive Technologies and Changing Institutions, HEALTH: Health, Welfare and Lifestyles, SECURITY: Security in a Networked World, URBAN: Urbanising Society, WORK: Skilled Employees – Successful Labour Market, CITIZEN: Changing Society and Active Citizenship, ADAPT: Adaptation and Resilience for Sustainable Growth, GROWTH: Keys to Sustainable Growth, CULT: Culture in an Increasingly Technologically Driven Society, FOOD: Towards a Sustainable, Healthy and Climate-Neutral Food System, IMPRES: Innovative Materials and Services to Promote Resource Wisdom and Sustainable Development, STEER: The Changing Role of Public Authority and the Potential for Steering Society.

Reaching the goals of the 2030 Agenda requires a lot of work, and strategic research can help

Strategic research will continue to play an important part in Finland’s – and global – pursuit of the goals of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda. The UN’s recent Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR) provides the latest noteworthy summary of the ways in which science and research funding can promote the implementation of sustainable development targets. Strategic research again has many links to the actions outlined in the report. According to the GSDR, efficient interaction between relevant stakeholders promotes the dissemination of existing knowledge and therefore accelerates the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. Relevant stakeholders from the perspective of the SRC can be found in all spheres of society and range from businesses and non-governmental organisations to trade unions and public bodies both in Finland and abroad. The funding of strategic research therefore creates opportunities for disseminating existing knowledge and influencing society as well as for achieving the objectives of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda.

The GSDR is calling for more funding to goal-orientated and solution-driven research in order to reach the goals of the 2030 Agenda. The SRC finances phenomenon-based and solution-driven research with the aim of producing information and finding solutions to the grand challenges facing society. Solution-driven research is all about the relationship between science and decision-making, which also plays a key role in the implementation of the UN’s 2030 Agenda. The relationship between the producers of information and the users of information is especially important from the perspective of social impact, which is one of the cornerstones of strategic research. Our approach to strategic research is not unique on a global scale, but we are not aware of a funding instrument quite like ours anywhere else. It might therefore be useful in the future to invest more in the international dimension of our work from the perspective of both science and interaction. Just like the objectives of the UN’s 2030 Agenda, many of the challenges facing Finnish society that we are attempting to tackle by means of our strategic research can only be overcome through international cooperation.

The goals set out in the UN’s 2030 Agenda are ambitious. They deal with complex challenges, such as growing inequalities and climate change. Reaching the goals requires interdisciplinary research that has a real impact on society, and the kinds of long-term research projects that the SRC finances are one way to overcome the issue of complexity. Strategic research therefore plays an important role in the implementation of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

* The Committee for the Future of the Parliament of Finland asked the Strategic Research Council to report on the impact of the goals set out in the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda on the SRC’s programming. The Chair of the Strategic Research Council, Kimmo Nuotio, spoke to the Committee for the Future about the 2030 Agenda and its impact on the Academy of Finland’s strategic research funding priorities on 11 September 2019.

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