Programme evaluation: strategic research has strengthened interdisciplinary research and co-creation capabilities

25 Sep 2023

Evaluations of the strategic research programmes completed in 2021 have now been finished. The evaluations cover four programmes, three of which were launched by the first funding decisions of the Strategic Research Council (SRC) in 2015. The programmes involved in the evaluation are:

The programme-specific evaluation reports are available on our Resources page.

The programmes funded a total of 20 consortium projects. The average budget for one six-year project was approximately 6 million euros.

Implementation of the evaluation

The operations, results and impacts of each programme were evaluated in its own panel of experts. The panels consisted of international and Finnish experts, of whom at least one had participated in the evaluation of applications for the programme in question. In addition to the projects´ operations, the panels assessed the work carried out by the programme director and the added value generated by the programme.

The assessment of the impact of strategic research is part of the statutory duties of the SRC. The evaluation criteria are based on the main objectives of strategic research funding:

  • promoting high-quality, multidisciplinary research on the problems and needs in the programme’s domain
  • creating concrete steps towards tackling those problems and needs in Finnish society
  • strengthening research and stakeholder communities in the programme’s domain.

The programme evaluation was carried out in 2022–2023 and coordinated by the Division of Strategic Research. In parallel with the programme evaluation, an overall evaluation of the strategic research funding instrument (TIETOVA) was also underway. It was completed in autumn 2022. The TIETOVA evaluation covered all SRC programmes launched by 2020, a total of 16 programmes. The results of the TIETOVA project were very similar to the results of the programme evaluation that has now been completed.

Useful research on key social themes

According to the panels of experts, the thematic choices of all four programmes were successful and topical. The topicality of the themes even increased during the programme period. This was the case, for example, in the Disruptive Technologies and Changing Institutions (TECH) programme because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the energy crisis.

The evaluations show that the programmes have advanced multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary research in their domains. For example, the TECH programme succeeded in breaking silos between research fields, strengthening the interdisciplinary expertise of research groups and training high-level experts also in the private and public sectors.

Programmes have concrete social impact

The evaluated research programmes have improved the readiness of Finnish society to tackle problems in the programme’s domains and promoted a general understanding of the required solutions. The programmes have also succeeded in establishing different practices for co-creation of knowledge producers and users and promoting the formation of new knowledge communities.

The results of the projects have influenced, e.g., reforms of national legislation, policy measures and strategies, national and international programmes and other initiatives, as well as development measures and solutions at regional and local levels. Examples of the solutions produced by the projects mentioned in the evaluation reports include a wide range of roadmaps supporting strategic planning, an energy weather forecasting tool and a “co-creation radar” developed for assessing citizens’ participation.

The projects also brought about significant institutional changes. For example, the ArtsEqual project of the EQUA programme developed more equal and accessible basic education in music in cooperation with music institutes.

An inclusive approach is key

The impacts of the programmes have arisen through discussions, consultations and long-term interaction with decision-makers, practitioners and other stakeholders. The projects have used and developed different cooperation models, such as citizens’ panels, participatory research, transition arenas, experiments and interventions as tools for interaction. Well-planned and appropriate stakeholder engagement was integral to social impact in all programmes.

For example, cooperation with forest sector actors in the FORBIO project of the PIHI programme improved the actor network’s risk competence and ability to adapt to climate change. According to the evaluation panels, more in-depth co-creation with knowledge users would have been possible in many projects, for example by improving the timeliness of interaction activities.

Many operating models developed in the programmes are still in use after the programmes have ended. For example, the Demokratiakorjaamo (English translation: Democracy Workshop) method, which was created in the CITIZEN programme and brings together different groups of actors and provides shared learning facilities, will continue to operate in ongoing SRC programmes.

Using the lessons of the evaluation

The objective of the programme evaluation is to assess and make visible the scientific and social impact of strategic research and to develop the operation of the funding instrument.

For example, the evaluation panels drew attention to the fact that the interdisciplinary nature of some of the projects was implemented more narrowly than would have been necessary to solve extensive societal problems. There could also have been more research cooperation between the projects. According to the evaluation panels, cooperation between projects and joint planning at the programme level must be started immediately after funding decisions have been made in order to achieve the objectives of the programmes even better than before. Newer SRC programmes have already taken steps in this direction.

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