FinCEAL+ delegation’s experiences at the United Nations Science, Technology and Innovation Forum, 5-6th June, New York

June 27, 2018

The 3rd United Nations Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Forum took place in New York from 5th to 6th June. The Global Solutions Summit 2018 and the Global Sustainable Technology & Conference series (G-Stic) were held on the 4th and 7th June, respectively, alongside the main STI Forum. FinCEAL+ took part with a delegation of four experts from University of Tampere and University of Lapland.

The 3rd United Nations Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Forum took place in New York from 5th to 6th June. The Global Solutions Summit 2018 and the Global Sustainable Technology & Conference series (G-Stic) were held on the 4th and 7th June, respectively, alongside the main STI Forum. Following the positive experience from the previous Forum, FinCEAL Plus opened a Targeted Travel grant Call directed to interested scientists. Four senior researchers working on various issues related to STI and sustainability were funded to attend the Forum: Professor and Dean Satu Miettinen from University of Lapland, Head of the Innovation Studies Group Mika Kautonen, Senior Researcher Mika Raunio and University Lecturer Elina Närvänen from the University of Tampere.

This year, Finnish presence at the Forum was stronger than ever. VTT’s Senior Advisor Anne Ritschkoff was recently chosen to the 10-member group supporting the UN’s technology facilitation mechanism, and she also who also chaired a plenary session at the Forum. Furthermore, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs organized a side event at the Forum titled: City Environments as Testbeds for Solutions to UN Sustainable Development Goals, which included keynote presentations from representatives of Aalto University, the city of Espoo and Nokia. Prof. Satu Miettinen also gave an intervention speech at one of the plenary sessions on National STI roadmaps for the SDGs and capacity building.

Street view of UN Headquarters

Reflections on the Global Solutions Summit

The most useful event in terms of new content and knowledge appeared to be the Global Solutions Summit that was titled "From the Lab to the Last Mile: Technology Deployment Business Models for the SDG's" and organized on 4th June just before the actual Forum. The Summit presented several real life solutions to SDG’s with good presentation materials and clear structure. Alongside the Summit a closed lunch meeting was organized that proved to be fruitful for networking purposes, as informal networking times were otherwise relatively scarce during the Forum. The practical cases presented at the Global Solutions Summit on solving SDG challenges were highly interesting. In particular, how technology can be combined with marketing innovations – such as utilizing an approach where consumers themselves, alongside their communities and existing social networks, are empowered to champion for new innovative solutions and products (e.g. Solar Sister. org) was insightful. One of the delegates especially found this relevant to their own work which is based on applying the same approach in research. Application of the same process in a sustainability context was interesting and rewarding. A key message that constantly emerged from the event’s presentations was the challenge related to scaling up. There is still a need to find ways and mechanisms to scale the already available solutions. Many solutions were one time off one context related rather than crosscutting through several contexts, communities or countries.

Plenary session

The United Nations STI Forum for the SDG's - A useful and needed platform but still rigid

The aim of the STI Forum has been to create a space for various stakeholders to interact and discuss on the role of Science, Technology and Innovation in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. More specifically, the Forum has been marketed as ‘a venue for facilitating interaction, matchmaking and the establishment of networks between relevant stakeholders and multi-stakeholder partnerships in order to identify and examine technology needs and gaps, including with regard to scientific cooperation, innovation and capacity-building, and also in order to help facilitate development, transfer and dissemination of relevant technologies for the SDG’s’.

Although the multistakeholder presence and engagement in the Forum has been increasing every year, the event is still very UN-centric and rather rigid in format, and could benefit greatly from a more interactive approach that would provide more opportunities for real debates and discussions among the participants. In its current format, there is a lack of opportunity to offer feedback on the issues presented by the speakers and commentators or to develop ideas further in cooperation with other stakeholders. Currently, comments are requested for by the organizers and need to be prepared in advance, and can still be excluded from the programme if the time allocated for comments has run out. From a researcher’s point of view, this seems frustrating and quite effectively impedes individual stakeholders from actively influencing the Forum discussions. In regard to overall logistics, the Forum could also benefit from improving communications and information flow prior to the event. The program is provided rather late and especially information on the many side events was published only a day before the Forum started, or even while proceedings had already begun. There were many side sessions that appeared to be very interesting, with topics varying from individual SDG’s to blockchain to social entrepreneurship and open science, but planning efficient time use during the days was challenging with very little or no information available beforehand.

Side event organized by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs

On a different note, FinCEAL+ delegates did state that the event proved useful as a means for providing a very good view to discussions and pressing questions in the context of SDGs, though at a general level. While not much was ‘new’, delegates considered that staying on top of the policy context, topical issues and debates at the UN level was highly beneficial. Increasing understanding of the UN context and its modes of operations in regard to STI is an important outcome, which can later lead to possible cooperation with different UN bodies and activities. Some of the thematic sessions, such as the one on SDG12 Sustainable consumption and production patterns, were also of special interest to FinCEAL+ delegates because of their applicability to current research interests. Delegates also mentioned that highlights on the topical challenges related to the sustainability of the food ecosystem globally, as well as insights about circular and sharing economies, were of direct relevance to their ongoing projects and funding applications that were under preparation at the time of the Forum.

Beyond getting insight from the organized sessions, the Finnish participants had an opportunity to network with each other and other attendees. One of the delegates also highlighted that there are already plans to apply for a research project in collaboration with a partner met during the STI Forum while another is looking for synergies with the organizers of two Forum side-events, and plans to utilize the knowledge about the existing solutions presented in their current work in Africa and India. Furthermore, delegates also appreciated the useful new contacts created within the Finnish group and already made plans to build new research projects together.

Read also Elina Närvänen’s blog post from the Forum here! (in Finnish)

FinCEAL+ thanks the delegates for their input for the blog post!

Picture credits: Johanna Virtanen/Permanent Mission of Finland to the UN (group picture), Jarkko Mutanen/FinCEAL+ (others)