The world is currently characterized by populism and distrust of science. At the same time we are facing global challenges of unprecedented scale such as climate change, antibiotic resistance and water scarcity. How should researchers and engineering academies contribute to a positive development in this new environment? How can we reach the decision-makers?
– There has to be much more collaboration between science and engineering academies and decision-makers, said Robert-Jan Smits, new Chairman of the Dutch Eindhoven University of Technology, and Senior Adviser for Open Access and Innovation at the European Political Strategy Centre (EPSC).
The crucial question in this context according to Smits is how we can ensure that political decisions are based on scientific research. The impatience of politicians is a challenge, since they usually want advice ”yesterday”, while researchers’ processes are slower, more repetitious and investigative. At the same time academies need to be more proactive in reaching out to decision-makers – ”they should not ask what decision-makers can do for them, but what they can do for decision-makers”.
– When preparing Horizon, EU’s next research and innovation framework program of about one hundred billion euros, EU really has to show facts and figures to the finance ministers of the member states in order to persuade them why these investments are needed.
VINNOVA’s Director General, Darja Isaksson, pointed out that academies such as IVA can have a great influence in formulating the basis for such political decisions:
– IVA has a unique role in bringing together a strong network. The academy has a neutral voice that enables dialogue.
Li Jinghai, President of the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC), said that the Chinese academies have strong influence on the Government. At the same time, he thinks that several countries’ academies can benefit from collaborating.
– But it is a shame that we do not have more science academies here, only engineering academies. If we all academies work together, we would be stronger, said Li Jinghai.
Dan Arvizu, Chancellor and Chief Executive of the New Mexico State University System, provided valuable input to the discussion on how academies could become more policy-relevant:
– Decision-makers already told me early on in my career that the advice they received from researchers was not valuable, because for every group of researchers who said one thing, they could find an equal number of researchers who said exactly the opposite. So they didn’t know who to believe.
For this reason, Dan Arvizu said, it is important for academies and researchers to make politicians understand how the political system works:
– In the IPCC panel, we said that we want to be policy-relevant, not policy-making towards politicians. That is, give the politicians an understanding of the impact and consequences of decision-making.
It is urgent to make the voice of research and academies heard among politicians and the general public according to many of the panellists at the conference. One of them was Robert-Jan Smits:
– In recent years, we have experienced a major setback in terms of confidence in science, where science has been seen as just one opinion. We are now in the process of restoring confidence between researchers and decision-makers, but it takes time.
IVA’s President Tuula Teeri agreed that science has shown us the best solutions over the years, even when we did not know from the beginning what was best. At the same time, she emphasised researchers’ responsibility to spread this belief in science also to the surrounding society:
– There are people who do not vaccinate their children because there is a one percent risk of using the vaccine. We need to tell them about the risk of not vaccinating, which may be 50 percent, to make them understand that it is the better alternative.
Binette Seck from Tekniksprånget at IVA, participated in the conference, introducing the successful internship programme and how it contributes to filling the future’s skills gap when it comes to qualified engineers.
After the presentation of Tekniksprånget, a new panel discussion was presented, focusing on collaboration between industry and academia in the future. Carl-Henric Svanberg, Chair of IVA and, among other things, Chair of Volvo and former Chair of BP, talked about the existing global challenges and the academies’ potential role.
Carl-Henric Svanberg also compared the solutions in the west with the Chinese system. China, he said, is working more effectively today, since the Government sets goals for where the country is heading – and the banks, research institutions and companies arrange financing, conduct research and create jobs to achieve these goals.
– China does not necessarily play according to the rules we have set up. I am convinced that our democratic model is stronger and more sustainable in the long term. But this model will only work if we stay competitive, Carl-Henric Svanberg said.
After Carl-Henric Svanberg’s introduction, the various panelists presented how they work to make things happen, and to what extent they also work to reach political decision-makers.
– We see our academy in many ways as a key player in linking together the Government, business and academia, said David Thomlinson, Member of the Royal Academy of Engineering in the UK.
Sanja Vraneš, Director General of the Institute Mihajlo Pupin in Serbia, talked about their impressive business model:
– Academy and industry are under the same roof, with 500 researchers and a structure that supports technology transfer. The research is the core, further out we have subsidiaries that can ensure that our research reaches the business community and the public. And finally at the very end of our structure researchers’ spinoff companies can be found.
The model in the US, however, turned out to be quite different, since the academies do not conduct research themselves or receive any annual basic grants from the Government:
– The Academy of Sciences was founded after a Congress decision of Lincoln in 1863, and the academies should only be objective, impartial advisers to the Government, said Alton D. Romig, Jr., Director of the American Academy of Engineering.
Hideaki Koizumi, Executive Vice President of the Engineering Academy of Japan, spoke about the importance of a geographical gathering place:
– We have a large building where several companies and laboratories work under one roof – and we all work closely together.
Collaboration can also be about a kind of ”cooperation over time”. In conclusion, IVA’s President Tuula Teeri highlighted how the academies need to work closer to the next generation of engineers, researchers and decision-makers:
– We must let the students guide us into the future. But in order for us to be able to reach out to the students and together successfully meet the enormous challenges ahead of us, we need to be open, transparent and collaborative.