Published 2019-04-15

This post is also available in Swedish

Mistra can teach EU a thing or two, thinks new director

Linda Bell is reinforcing Mistra’s Secretariat. She hopes to be able, based on her experience of working on international research issues, to help open EU doors to Swedish environmental researchers.
‘Mistra has things to teach the EU and it’s at European level that research can have an impact.’

Linda Bell has just been appointed by Mistra as the new programmes director at the Secretariat. Previously, she has worked for many years on European research policy and innovation issues, at Vinnova’s international department and elsewhere. At Vinnova she was in charge of Sweden’s contacts with the Horizon 2020 initiative, part of the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. She has also worked at the Stockholm Environment Institute, investigating whether innovation can help Sweden achieve the Agenda 2030 Goals.

Now she wants to spread Mistra’s ideas to the EU.

‘Mistra has a good deal to teach. I see clearly how, in its calls for research proposals, the EU is thinking along the same lines that Mistra has done for many years: long-term, large-scale and cross-border.’

Similarly, she wants to make it easier for Mistra’s researchers to exert greater influence on EU decision-making processes.

‘It’s by working at EU level that you can really have an impact. But it’s important to know how to do it.’

Thus, Bell wants to spread knowledge about Swedish environmental strategic research to the rest of the EU, and knowledge of EU institutions and decision channels to Swedish environmental researchers. This will be part of the ‘knowledge hub’, on which Bell will work, that Mistra is to establish in order to match research in its own programmes to society’s needs.

Appropriately, we meet in Brussels, during a break at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) Ideas Lab conference held annually by the think tank. Earlier in the day we heard Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the European Commission, deliver an impassioned speech about migration, justice and a sustainable future in Europe. In the speech, he praised the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg and her fellow climate strikers. Bell was touched by the speech, she says.

Bell is a linguist by training. In 2003, she received her PhD at KTH Royal Institute of Technology with a thesis on speech technology at a skills centre funded by Nutek (the then Swedish Business Development Agency, now part of the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth). This was one of the first tentative development steps towards the interactive assistants and voice-activated features on our smartphones today.

‘It was a partly undeveloped technology. But today, that group is one of the world leaders, with lots of companies investing in them. That shows that technological breakthroughs take time. It also shows that early investment in research often pays off. I think that’s in line with Mistra’s way of thinking.’

At Mistra, she will take over the programme directorship of Mistra Sustainable Accessibility and Mobility Services (SAMS), which is developing knowledge about new sustainable services of this kind and transport systems.

‘SAMS is an exciting programme that is challenging habitual behaviours and developing new solutions in close interaction among academia, the public sector and business,’ she says.

As mentioned above, she will also work on the new function (the ‘knowledge hub’ being its working name) at Mistra. In addition to EU-oriented work, this includes creating arenas to enable Mistra’s programmes to learn from one another. This involves the magic word ‘impact’, a word that Bell believes is distinct from ‘communication’.

‘Here, we can show best practice. But it’s also the case that each programme must find its way to navigate the relevant decision channels,’ Bell says.

Name: Linda Bell
Age: 44
Background: long experience of heading various research agencies with international research questions on her desk; has also worked at Telia Research for eight years.
Thinks: Sweden’s environmental strategic research is at the forefront.
Looks forward to: getting to work on factual issues and not being a manager.
Says: ‘We need not only disruptive technologies, but also disruptive research.’

Text: Thomas Heldmark

Text: Thomas Heldmark