New Nordic cooperation in child and youth research: Programme Director Marjo Kurki named chair of NordForsk research programme

2 Aug 2022

Marjo Kurki, Programme Director of the Pandemics as a Challenge for Society (PANDEMICS) programme of the Strategic Research Council (SRC), has been named Chair of the Management Team of NordForsk’s new Welfare among Children and Young People in Post-Pandemic Nordics research programme. NordForsk is a joint Nordic research funding organisation operating under the authority of the Nordic Council of Ministers. It is responsible for Nordic cooperation in research and researcher training.

The Welfare among Children and Young People in Post-Pandemic Nordics programme is studying the long-term impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the mental health, education, and living conditions of children and young people. There are also plans to set up Nordic cooperation around these themes. “I’m the Programme Director of the PANDEMICS programme, and my research background focuses on mental health work with children and young people. These two things combine superbly in the NordForsk programme,” Kurki says.

The Welfare among Children and Young People in Post-Pandemic Nordics research programme has its origins in an initiative from the Academy of Finland, says Sara Illman, Senior Science Adviser at the Academy who serves as Programme Manager of the Pandemics and Other Crises – Response and Preparedness (RESILIENCE) programme and represents the Academy on the management team of the NordForsk programme.

The purpose of the NordForsk programme is to accelerate top-level research in the Nordic Countries to provide ways to alleviate the effects of the pandemic on children and young people and to support the use of this research data in society. Also studied in the programme are preparing for a pandemic, and seeking ways to increase society's resilience against possible new pandemics, or other crises affecting society. “It’s magnificent that a programme created at the initiative of the Academy of Finland can have a Finnish chair,” Kurki says. NordForsk will start accepting applications for research funding for the programme in September 2022.

Hearing views of children and young people a focus of the programme

“A great and new kind of research programme is coming. The call texts are still being written, but we already know that listening to young people will be part of the programme,” Illman says. “Although children and young people haven’t been at a great risk of serious illness in the Covid-19 pandemic, other indirect effects seem to have had had especially negative impacts on the wellbeing of children and young people. For the next pandemic, or other crisis affecting society, it’s our duty to learn from the experiences of children and youth to help protect them better and to ensure their positive growth and development. This also requires listening to them.”

“For the pandemic and its aftercare, it’s important to respond with research to learn how the pandemic has affected the wellbeing, mental health, and learning of children and the young,” Kurki emphasises, adding: “It’s especially important for the voices of children and the young to be as diverse as possible. The pandemic may have increased inequality and polarisation, which is why it’s also important to hear the voices of vulnerable groups.” Kurki and Illman are eagerly waiting to see how applicants for funding from the programme plan to involve children and young people so that their diverse voices can come out in research.

Nordic cooperation adds value to research

“The guiding star of NordForsk is Nordic added value – the idea that Nordic cooperation will bring the kind of added value that countries could not achieve on their own,” Illman explains.

When researching the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic the added value brought by Nordic cooperation is especially significant: The population structure and the health care and education systems of the Nordic countries are similar, but during the coronavirus pandemic political decisions made in the different countries differed.

During the pandemic, differences were seen in the countries in constraints placed on the lives of children and the young and in how prevalent the coronavirus was. Consequently, Nordic cooperation offers a possibility to examine the different choices made in dealing with the pandemic, and to compare results. Cooperation helps examine, for example, what the long-term effects for the wellbeing of children and young people will be in those Nordic Countries where schools were closed during the Covid-19 pandemic compared with the countries were schools were kept open despite the pandemic. “In the Nordic Countries we share a similar welfare system and on that basis, we can learn from each other,” Kurki says

Cooperation related to the pandemic also between SRC and the Academy

The Strategic Research Council operates in conjunction with the Academy of Finland. In addition to the SRC’s PANDEMICS programme, pandemics are also being studied in the RESILIENCE programme of the Academy of Finland. Programme Manager Illman and Programme Director Kurki see the cooperation as especially worthwhile from the point of view of societal effectiveness. “The Strategic Research Council is strongly demanding the production of information that can be used in difficult societal problems, such as pandemic aftercare, as well as in research that produces solutions that support decision-making. We want to advance these kinds of interactive methods between researchers and decision-makers, and this also offers a possibility to think about making joint declarations,” Kurki explains.

Practical cooperation between the PANDEMICS and RESILIENCE programmes has already begun: one example of this is the statement made by programme director Kurki in May 2022 on the promotion of the societal effectiveness and dialogue at a RESILIENCE seminar that dealt with lessons from the pandemic and crisis readiness for the future.

“With projects that are thematically this close, it’s best not to get locked into the idea that some of the research projects are funded through the Academy of Finland programme and others through the SRC: it’s best to examine the goals and opportunities the programmes share,” Illman observes.

Text: Anna Turkki

Photo: Tilda Hopia/Itla

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