UniPID drives change through these 6 themes!

December 12, 2022

On 2 December 2022 UniPID celebrated its 20th anniversary with 6 themes that are in the core of the network’s actions!

For UniPID, 2 December 2022 was a celebratory day. The morning was dedicated to an anniversary DocShop on "Reflections of research and societal impact” with DocNet members. The afternoon was devoted to a diversity of discussions that revolved around the kind of global academic landscape we would like foster in Finland and abroad, and ways to make this happen. So, if you did not join us on that special Friday, no worries, here we present the 6 themes that were discussed in the anniversary day:

1. Research and societal impact

Regardless of the discipline, every research project implies the identification of situations that have not been theoretically or practically addressed scientifically before. Researchers need to plan a series of theoretical approaches, methodologies, strategies, and resources in general, to facilitate the achievement of the objectives proposed. In addition, and as part of the process, it is crucial to ask, what potential impact will the research have?

During DocShop 2022, Saija Miina, Research funding coordinator at the University of eastern Finland, led an interesting discussion about scientific and societal impact. Interaction and collaboration between stakeholders and end-users represent indispensable elements when conducting research. Taking into account societal impact will keep us focused on the research purpose(s), rather than the process because as Saija highlighted “we usually concentrate on methodologies, and approaches, but easily forget our objectives”.

Accordingly, when contemplating the potential outcomes, it is necessary to include practical results to contribute to the identified problem. “As researchers, we are sure that at the end of our process, we will produce scientific articles, but we must also consider policies, recommendations, and guidelines as part of our results. And what is more important, activities to disseminate those results with communities and target groups, because they are not coming to the University website to look for your outputs” noted Saija.

2. Science diplomacy

“We have to understand the diplomatic setup and the knowledge exchange both ways” – Niina Käyhkö

Science diplomacy is the intersection of two sectors: mainly science and diplomacy. Two very different realms, each with a different set of priorities, value structures, terminologies, sense-making mechanisms and regimes of legitimacy. Together they become a tool for solving global issues by using science to advance diplomatic objectives, by using diplomatic action to further scientific and technological progress, and by integrating science and scientific actors in diplomatic processes. From the Ministries for Foreign Affairs and Education and Culture perspectives, these interactions have been taking place without the concept being well known in Finland. For example, part of the diplomatic endeavors has been a long-term practice to liaison with the scientific community, and through that promote fact-based decision-making.

The anniversary event highlighted that science diplomacy can mean many things outside of the formality of its definition, and it is practiced not only in an individual and institutional level, but also formally and informally. Picture this: because of science, internationals come to Finland to build an academic carrier. They indulge in the Finnish culture, while still representing their region/culture of origin and this interaction creates informal diplomatic relations between Finland and their home country. It is inevitable that the more an academic carrier advances, the more informal diplomatic practices and issues are created. It is therefore difficult to think of scientific practices without accepting it's diplomatic nature in all its dimensions. So, to sum up: we are all doing science diplomacy in one way or another! Now effort should be put in working together to foster the benefits that can bring a strategy around science diplomacy.

3. Academic collaboration ecosystem

In Finland, little is discussed of how scattered and fragmented the ecosystem is where academic collaboration with the Global South is promoted. If we look at funding mechanisms for example, long-term and multidimensional partnerships are being built over instruments that are usually small, separated and tied to specific areas or government periods. Some see it as various different processes under one same goal which unfortunately tend to overlap but not interact; others see it as a poor capability of instruments to turn research and impact into action. Though there is a general understanding that there has been a positive increase in cooperation between ministries to tackle down this fragmentation, we can also agree that there is still work to be done.

The anniversary event dived into this theme by looking at ways to reduce the silos and fragmentation between research and policy. The discussion also sparked new ideas and even a call for action. Here are our key takeaways:

  • Tips for reducing the silos: activating formal channels (e.g., commissioned studies, hearings, consultancy processes) and non-formal channels (networking, knowing counterparts, use of desk officers and sectoral advisers; and contact political party officers, ministers’ cabinet, involve practitioners in research) that could mainstream communication between research and policy making.
  • Politize research and present it in different formats and packages (e.g., three-layer approach: report, summary, two pager; and get your thoughts into social media!)
  • Not shy away from theories and methods of research which are key for learning and knowledge creation to take place.
  • A call to think more on complementary spaces where researchers have the commitment and funding, and funding agencies steer added assets around the research/project ideas. “Then the question is not about funding but how do we adapt into that opportunity space you’ve created together” - Niina Käyhkö.
  • Rapid response mechanism to science similar to the resilient responses we have for environmental phenomena.
  • Call for action: campaign on science diplomacy and the need for more coherence in policy structures

4. Building an academic carrier in Finland

As part of the strategy to level up Finland’s competitiveness among internationals, the northern country attracts many students to start their academic careers and to stay after graduation. The anniversary event welcomed two early-stage researchers in Finland who told their stories, experiences, and challenges of being international in the Finnish context.

Janet Tapkigen and Rijal Ramdani, PhD researchers from Tampere University and the University of Eastern Finland respectively, shared their reflections on the opportunities that Finland has offered them and their academic careers. Both highlighted the idea of being able to bring Global South perspectives into the frame of global responsibility in the Finnish context. Rijal noted that one of the main challenges he faced was being separated from his wife and kids at the beginning of his studies. However, his family managed to join him in Finland, as beneficiaries of the integration system offered not only to students but also for their families.

Janet called attention to the high levels of stress that some PhD researchers experience while conducting their studies. The limited grant opportunities and the constant search for funding prevent researchers from fully concentrating on their studies. A very important topic to address more deeply in the frame of this Finnish strategy of internationalization. Finally, Rijal showed very enthusiastic about the idea of going back to his home university in Indonesia, since he aims to promote more collaborative work between both universities, including mobility and exchange programs.

5. Multidisciplinary and collaborative work

UniPID leads initiatives to get involved with more partners and bring together Global South perspectives and global responsibility. As part of these partnerships, the work achieved in different disciplines (non-exclusive to social sciences) has been valuable and enriching. This was one of the topics discussed also during the DocShop since some of the participants had their previous background in engineering or geography, areas of knowledge that used to be distant from social issues a few years ago.

On the other hand, our seminar could not end in a better way than with the theater performance of The Stranger, a very critical piece of art based on Albert Camus’ book. This immersive performance created by Teatteri Metamorfoosi reflected how the sense of belonging is a social construction, and that sometimes the universe seems indifferent to the fate of humankind. This presentation was an excellent opportunity to show how also the arts and culture promote critical thinking, as much as the other disciplines.

6. Global responsibility

Global responsibility is the thread that bonded all the themes of the event. It is not only a principle that UniPID advocates for, but also practiced through the network’s actions. One of the main points that UniPID stresses on is that Global Responsibility is not only about how Finland interacts with its international partners, but also how it treats those that come to Finland to study and work. Does our community and partners see it the same way?

The broadness of the concept has led to a diversity of understandings and ways for practicing it. Some people talk about cultural sensitivities, others about decolonizing our thinking and actions; some individuals are more eager to engage in global responsibility than others. What will be interesting to follow is how global responsibility is being institutionalized in Finland. For example, the National Commission of Sustainable Development recently came out with a new strategy which is based on global responsibility, it recognizes the diversity of its actors and stakeholders, and it also captures the idea that it is a principle that should guide our actions. Yet even if there is firm stance on the government level, we as individuals are left with the everyday choice on the values and the ways we work with our partners, because these can be challenged daily.

In conclusion, UniPID wants to leave you with a final notion: There are systemic issues that need to be addressed and one key element of that is listening to our partners abroad and those that have come to Finland from abroad. Having a more holistic and collaborative approach will lead us not only to identify problems collectively but also find solutions comprehensively.