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Impact through cooperation – programme directors in strategic research

1 Jul 2024

Each programme funded by the Strategic Research Council (SRC) has a part-time programme director. The aim of the programme director instrument in SRC funding is to promote scientific and societal impact that exceeds the limits of a single programme or project.

Programme director funding supports research impact

Programme director funding is the SRC’s contribution to cohesive research across programmes. It is a unique innovation in the field of research funding. Programme directors support individual projects, project collaboration within the programme and cooperation across programme boundaries. This enables a level of multidisciplinary research and societal interaction that can be used to find answers to key challenges regarding Finland’s future. In 2024, the SRC programme funding includes twelve programme directors, who form a close network. Together, their aim is to promote research impact.

Programme directors play a key role in identifying common themes across project and programme boundaries and enabling cooperation. Some projects may find their closest partners in a completely different programme. This can be seen as “cross-pollination”: bringing together different research perspectives from various projects and deepening our understanding of common societal challenges and their possible solutions through dialogue.

Cooperation for greater societal impact is another important area of activity where programme directors and projects see clear benefits compared to doing research strictly within an individual project or programme. When cooperation with stakeholders takes place across project and programme boundaries, the information provided to support decision-making becomes more comprehensive and multidisciplinary. Additionally, decision-makers value well-formulated information in compact form: for example, the Committee for the Future has given us positive feedback in recent years.

What does a programme director do?

Programme directors build programme-specific networks based on the funded projects. To promote cohesive research across programmes, they organise joint meetings and training for different projects, and support the drafting of policy briefs and the implementation of joint events organised for stakeholders. They also provide their own extensive networks for the projects to utilise.

A programme director aids in the communication between projects and the stakeholders who use their research. “Translating” the research into the language of stakeholders and the needs of the decision-makers into the language of the researchers is essential in strategic research. Programme directors do this in collaboration with the projects and their interaction coordinators as well as the experts responsible for strategic research at the Research Council of Finland.

The cross-programme activities in strategic research include programme directors developing practices that promote the impact of the entire funding instrument, such as the “Solutions from Science” website (Ratkaisuja tieteestä, published in Finnish only), the Saumakohtia dialogues between decision-makers and researchers, parliamentary committee hearings, and the information packages for the Knowledge Partnership approach. These practices have developed new ways to inject the results of strategic research into societal debate. New forms of cooperation both benefit and challenge researchers and knowledge users.

Research impact must be developed systematically

A programme director is responsible for developing their programme in cooperation with its projects throughout the programme’s life cycle. A programme is based on the research within the projects, the interfaces between the projects, and the interaction with stakeholders. Since 2023, the programme director has also been responsible for facilitating the definition of the programme's objectives and the monitoring of their implementation in cooperation with the projects and the SRC.

The clearly defined objectives for research impact specify the objectives for research and societal cooperation within each project. These objectives are adjusted as the programme progresses, and they form an important framework for monitoring and evaluating the projects. After this reform, projects and programme directors have been able to be even more systematic and structured in their joint efforts to promote the scientific and societal impact of research.

One of the central aspects of the work of a programme director is interaction and cooperation with different networks. High-quality and multidisciplinary research carried out in the projects will always require experts on scientific and societal impact to establish connections, build networks, and clear the way for more impactful research.

This text is an updated version of a blog post originally written 22 June 2021 by Milja Saari, Mikael Hildén, Paula Schönach, Anne Christine Ritschkoff and Asta Salmi. Mikael Hildén’s term as Programme Director ended in 2021. Anne-Christine Ritschkoff’s term ended in 2023.

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