Finding opportunities for solving real world problems
Synergies exist across research disciplines to address sustainability, for example, good health and wellbeing, gender equality, responsible production and consumption, and climate action. Yet, sustainability is often an afterthought, and effective collaboration requires investment of time and resources. So, how does Lund University foster collaboration and formulate research projects to solve real world problems?
“We need collaboration to address the sustainable development goals. I see the SDGs as a framework to inspire and strengthen future research at Lund University, rather than seeing the goals as restrictive or abstract. These goals highlight needed changes in society, which can drive innovation and collaboration,” says Claire McKay, Research Coordinator at Lund Stem Cell Center. She coordinated a university-wide workshop on 26 October 2021, together with MultiPark and MECW.
The purpose of the hybrid workshop was to bring Lund University staff together to discuss opportunities and challenges to collaborate for sustainability. Arranged by the Strategic Research Areas (SRAs) and Sustainability Forum at Lund University, the workshop is one of a series aimed at integrating sustainability across research disciplines, as well as providing a venue for co-creation, collaboration, and ideas, with more workshops planned. McKay says the SRA Workshop Series is a great venue for meeting researchers, identifying common interests, and exploring funding opportunities. The workshop included approximately 50 staff across SRAs and faculties.
A Funding Agency Perspective
“Collaboration is a prerequisite for sustainable innovation”, says Max Parknäs, Sustainability Coordinator and Programme Manager at Sweden’s Innovation Agency, Vinnova. Parknäs provided the keynote address to workshop participants, highlighting the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, resource depletion, and our growing population as challenges – as well as opportunities – for innovation.
These opportunities for innovation may provide a starting point to integrate sustainability into research projects. Parknäs says Vinnova departs from the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) across all strategic areas, and advises applicants to consider the potential sustainability impact of their research when applying for any of their open calls. Specifically, Parknäs sees gender equality (Goal 5) as an enabler to address other goals, and suggests Vinnova expands its catalogue of funded projects relating to climate action (Goal 13), life below water (Goal 14), and life on land (Goal 15). Participants highlighted increasing funding for research that addresses sustainability, as well as increased competition. Meaningful collaboration that combines technical solutions, social innovations, and behaviour change – called system innovation – may be one approach to make future funding proposals more attractive.
While Vinnova has made much progress in developing their portfolio for sustainability, Parknäs says there is a need to continue to support project internationalisation and impact creation beyond Swedish borders, addressing the needs of those in less-developed countries.
Champions at Lund University
Acknowledged throughout the event, barriers exist for staff to integrate sustainability from the beginning of projects as well as find and nurture meaningful collaborations. Time and knowledge about resources were specifically mentioned; yet, early career researchers Iran Augusto Silva, Lina Rosengren, and Pinar Dinç shared their approach to integrate the SDGs into their research projects and practices, showcasing the initiative of individuals to integrate sustainability across the University. For example, isopropanol may replace hazardous xylene in laboratory settings, resource efficiency can drive changes in procurement, storage, and recycling (e.g. situational-thickness of gloves, electricity timers), and the SDGs encourage researchers to see the potential wider impact of their research findings.
During breakout sessions, participants were tasked with discussing innovation and collaboration, with facilitators and rapporteurs documenting the outcomes of these discussions. The event closed with some high-level suggestions relevant for colleagues at Lund University:
Use existing resources to plan and communicate sustainability impact
Colleagues suggest incorporating sustainability into the design of research projects from the very beginning in order to maximise impact, and remain competitive in forthcoming funding calls. Various tools exist to help plan and communicate potential impact: free and self-paced courses provided by the SDG Academy and the SDG Synergies tool provided by the Stockholm Environment Institute, among many others. Yet, the sustainability impact/potential of research may not materialise until after the completion of the research, so colleagues suggest additional planning to extend networks and disseminate findings beyond the completion of a research project, for example, writing into existing funding proposals or applying for additional funding.
See collaboration as a skill
Collaboration is a skill to be learned and nurtured, improving the outcomes and impacts for all involved. Yet, time, venues for networking, and access to resources were identified as barriers for meaningful collaboration. Here, one may wish to seek out specific training in collaboration and facilitation to improve the efficiency and meaningfulness of collaborations. Lund University has many resources, including the Professional Development portal (Kompetensportalen), LU Innovation, LU Collaboration Office, LU Sustainability Forum, among the faculties, and elsewhere.
Access collaboration resources via the LU Kompetensportalen - lu.se (login with your LUCAT-id)
Get support from LU Innovation - innovation.lu.se
Explore resources at LU Collaboration Office - lu.se (in Swedish)
Ask for help
Meaningful collaborations begin around common interests and shared needs: therefore, colleagues suggest asking for help and sharing active needs as a means to find partnerships everywhere. However, colleagues identified artificial or inauthentic collaborations as demotivating and energy-draining. A good starting point for collaboration is reciprocity. Here, individual reflection is required to determine personal and professional goals, interests, needs, and capacity to support others.
Visibility and Translation of Sustainability Research
McKay says visibility and translation were important aspects of the event. Visibility sees initiatives and individuals being elevated to serve as an example for others. Translation can take many forms, but McKay emphasised the translation of resources and responsibilities so that researchers understand how to access resources as well as each other’s capacity for collaboration. Additionally, while the SDGs represent the global effort to address grand societal challenges, these goals can also be translated to more local contexts, as a source of inspiration to find opportunities for solving real world problems.
This workshop was co-organised by StemTherapy, MultiPark, and MECW, an initiative by the Strategic Research Areas (SRAs) and Sustainability Forum at Lund University.