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4 February 2014

Mistra Urban Futures’ new Chair a ‘driven generalist’

Thomas Rosswall has long experience of ecosystem research and global environmental issues. Now taking over as Chair of Mistra Urban Futures, he wants the Board to provide robust support for further developing the potential of this programme.

Thomas Rosswall, Professor Emeritus at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), has held a series of leading Swedish and international positions in various research organisations. Since retiring as Vice-Chancellor of SLU, he has had a number of assignments for Mistra and others. He has assisted in planning the Mistra Biotech call for funding applications; chaired Mistra EviEM’s Executive Committee; and also, until recently, belonged to the Board of the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

He describes himself as a microbiologist and ecologist who, over time, has increasingly turned into a generalist. It was while he was heading the Paris-based International Council for Science (ICSU) that he first encountered urban issues.

Mistra Urban Futures is compiling a knowledge base for developing sustainable urban environments. It comprises five platforms in cities around the world: Gothenburg, Cape Town, Manchester, Shanghai and Kisumu. This work is partially funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). What makes Mistra Urban Futures especially interesting, according to Thomas Rosswall, is its transdisciplinary approach: the clients or users take part in the research process, guaranteeing that the research will be useful and used.

‘The clients have to feel that they own the programme. The only way of getting them to do that is for them to be part of a process from the very start,’ Rosswall explains.

As Chair for Mistra Urban Futures, he would like to extend the work to other HEIs in Sweden working on urban issues. In cooperation with partners elsewhere in the world, he wants to create a platform for dialogue and exchange of knowledge about sustainable urban development. He also wishes to strengthen the Board, giving it a clearer role in supporting activities.

Another step forward is to engage the other platforms in Mistra Urban Futures’ strategic work. These platforms are a central element in activities but, in Rossvall’s view, they must be engaged even more vigorously in strategy and development work. In this way, Mistra Urban Futures can become a stronger international voice.

‘But it’s too early to be specific about any changes there may be. The new Board must first reach its full strength, and meet,’ Rosswall says.

Today, Rosswall is unsure how much work he will devote to chairing the programme. But his experience tells him that it will take time and energy at first. The key, he thinks, is for the Board to cooperate closely with the proficient secretariat and the network, which already exists, of researchers and different urban stakeholders in the Mistra Urban Futures network.

‘Together, we’ll build up the good work further, so that Mistra, Sida, Chalmers, the University of Gothenburg and the consortium set up in Gothenburg can all feel proud of Mistra Urban Futures.’

Text: Thomas Heldmark, Vetenskapsjournalisterna

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