Impact through cooperation – the role of programme directors in strategic research

25 Aug 2021

All Strategic Research Council (SRC) programmes have a part-time programme director. The purpose of the programme director instrument, which has been part of SRC funding from the outset, is to promote scientific and societal impact across project boundaries, in other words to support the construction of the programme package.

Boosting impact through funding for programme directors

By providing funding for programme directors, the SRC wants to ensure the relevance of individual projects, and it is also a unique innovation in the field of research funding. The task of programme directors is to support individual projects and cooperation between projects within their own programmes and across programme boundaries. This provides a basis for a new level of multidisciplinary research and societal interaction that can help to find answers to the challenges central to Finland’s future.

Programme directors play a key role in the identification of common themes across project and programme boundaries and in enabling cooperation. Projects may find their closest partners in other programmes, and in fact, this has already happened in such areas as energy research. This can be regarded as ‘cross-pollination’, in which projects’ research themes and perspectives are brought together, and a dialogue is used to deepen understanding of common societal challenges and potential solutions to them.

Working together to influence developments in society is another key area in which programme directors and projects see clear benefits compared to working at the level of individual projects or their own programmes. When there is cooperation with stakeholders across project and programme boundaries, information on broader and more multidisciplinary themes can be provided to support decision-making. Decision-makers also value comprehensive information presented in a structured manner. For example, the Finnish Parliamentary Committee for the Future has attracted a great deal of positive feedback in recent years.

Programme director’s work in practice

Programme directors build programme-specific packages based on projects granted funding. To enhance the relevance of individual projects, they arrange joint meetings and training for projects, and support the writing of policy recommendations and the organisation of joint stakeholder events. They also work to expand project networks with their own extensive networks.

Programme directors relay messages between projects and stakeholders benefiting from the research. ‘Translating’ the research results into the languages used by stakeholders and communicating the needs of decision-makers to researchers are key tasks in strategic research, and programme directors perform these tasks in cooperation with individual projects and their interaction managers as well as with the Division of Strategic Research.

Working together with projects and the Division of Strategic Research, programme directors develop concepts promoting the impact of this type of funding (such as solution cards; the Saumakohtia (junctures) dialogue involving parliamentary groups represented in Finnish Parliament and Finnish Euro MPs; Parliamentary Committee hearings; and Tietokumppanuus (information partnership) information packages). It is essential to find new ways to bring results of strategic research to public debate. For example, in the Tiede kohtaa vaalit (Science meets elections) debates, Master class seminars (in Finnish), and scientific conferences, research results are reviewed and put in a broader context. New types of cooperation pose challenges to both information users and researchers.

Impact is created in networks and by engaging in cooperation

Interaction and cooperation in networks play a key role in the work of programme directors. There is a constant search for new methods to make impact work more effective. The digital leap in programme activities (changeover from face-to-face events to smaller-scale remote meetings prompted by COVID-19) is one example of how activities can be developed and redirected at a short notice.

The SRC is now preparing scenarios on how it should adjust its activities in accordance with funding cuts. The aim is to preserve the special features of strategic research (Read more: What’s the latest on the cuts to strategic research funding?). Funding for programme directors is one of the unique elements of strategic research. Scientific and societal impact experts building contacts and networks and new impact paths will also be needed in the future as partners for high-quality multidisciplinary research carried out in the projects.

 

 

 

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