4 February 2014

Long-term analysis and trend-spotting behind new programme ideas

Mistra’s secretariat has identified two new areas where future research is possible: climate-smart transport and resource-efficient products. But when new areas for programmes are demarcated, how is this done?

Thomas Nilsson, Mistra’s Programmes Director, explains that a combination of different ways are used to develop new programme ideas.

‘We monitor what’s happening in the environmental field and research by following the news flow, attending conferences and meetings, and arranging our own seminars. We also study other organisations’ global analyses and trend reports. In these cases we’ve followed, for example, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency’s, the EU’s and American global analyses.’

The Secretariat draws up proposals for new research areas that are then presented to Mistra’s Board. The Board chooses which areas to investigate further. Recently, the Board has expressed wishes for programmes with a technical and technological orientation.

‘These programmes are intended to supplement Mistra’s other initiatives. And any researchers who have good ideas are always welcome to get in touch with us,’ Nilsson says.

Since the New Year, Mistra has been searching for international experts for two working groups, one for each area, to develop the programme ideas further and investigate the scope for them. For transport, much research is certainly being funded by research councils and public agencies, Nilsson explains, but it is often about individual modes of transport.

‘We think there’s a need for research at an overall system level,’ he adds.

When it comes to design, it is a matter of how products can be designed to be more durable and consume a minimum of resources in the course of their service life. Examples of how this can be achieved are, first, making the products easier to repair and, second, enabling product parts to be replaced more easily or used in other products.

‘It’s often on the drawing-table that people make the plans for how production will take place, and also the decisions on what the product will be like,’ Nilsson says.

The reason why the working groups consist mainly of international experts is to avoid conflicts of interest. Calls for funding applications must not incur the risk of being tailored to suit a particular research team. The working groups will investigate whether there are strong environments in Sweden that may be considered. They will find out about research outside Sweden and whether Mistra can meet a need that other research funders fail to satisfy. Mistra must not duplicate other people’s research, Nilsson declares. Scope for establishing interdisciplinary environments in the long term will also be analysed.

Each working group will then present a preliminary call proposal for the Board of Mistra to decide on. To date, the Board has never completely rejected a working group’s proposals, but it is not impossible for this to happen, according to Nilsson.

‘It may very well happen. It’s not that many years since we started working systematically like this. First the Board decides to go ahead with the Secretariat’s proposal, and then it decides to accept the working group’s conclusions on orientation, sometimes after modifications.

According to the preliminary time schedule, the working groups must submit their reports in May. At its June meeting the Board will then, in that case, be in a position to decide to proceed with any new programmes.

Text: Thomas Heldmark, Vetenskapsjournalisterna

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