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How can research contribute to issues such as enhancing the quality of life, resolving economic and social inequality, and sustainable development goals? The last AESIS newsletter of 2020 covers the transformative power of science and the change it can bring about. The pandemic has shown us that that research, now more than ever, needs to have true impact and can bring about a transformation of society. We hope you enjoy this newsletter and furthermore...
21-23 April 2021
28-30 April 2021
26-28 May 2021

23-25 June 2021
29 Aug-2 Sep 2021
AESIS course: Implementing Strategy for National Impact Assessment
EARMA Conference; New world, new programmes, new challenges
AESIS course: From Societal Impact Strategy to Implementation and Execution - Vienna, Austria
AESIS conference: Impact of Science - Cape Town, South Africa
INGSA conference on Science Advice to Government
Impact for Transformation
The Multifaced Nature of Research Impact for Societal Transformation
Jenny M. Lewis (University of Melbourne, Australia)
Researchers hope that their curiosity will be satisfied by answering intriguing questions and contributing to the sum of human knowledge. Researchers also want their work to have an impact in society, hoping that this new knowledge will be transformative. The year 2020 has seen high levels of engagement with experts analysing everything to do with covid-19. From modelling the spread of pandemics, to the development and rolling out of vaccines, to the impacts of social isolation on mental health, to concerns about government interventions in peoples’ lives, there has been much interest in how we can all learn from the crisis and how we can transform societies in desirable ways.
During 2020, researchers from all disciplines have found new ways to use their deep disciplinary knowledge to understand how to address the many impacts of this crisis. On display has been the multifaceted ways in which research impacts on society. The discovery associated with scholarly and creative endeavours flows into public debates and media interactions, as well as into recommendations for policy and practice, and into associated commercial spin offs. Understanding research impact as something that acts on a range of different valued processes and outcomes, makes clear the potential contributions of diverse disciplinary traditions. This covid-19 year has been enormously challenging. A recognition of just how much research matters to improving society in many different ways, will be worth remembering in future (and hopefully more certain) times.
Supercharging solutions for people and the planet
Michele Charlton (Dalhousie University, Canada)
End poverty in all its forms. Ensure healthy lives and education for all. Take urgent action on climate change. Achieve gender equality. The 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in 2015, outline a path forward for Earth and its inhabitants that leads directly through some of the most pressing, urgent challenges we face.
Many references to the SDGs can be found throughout Dalhousie University’s Strategic Direction for Research and Innovation, entitled Impact Together. Each of the university’s five identified signature research clusters and two cross-cutting themes are linked to particular goals. This has allowed Dalhousie to maximize the effectiveness of its research and innovation efforts, by leveraging its greatest research strengths to partner with others globally, and work towards solving some of the most complex issues facing humanity. 
The SDGs also play a critical role with two important international rankings exercises, in which Dalhousie participates. The Times Higher Education (THE) University Impact Rankings are the only global rankings to document evidence of universities’ impact on society, rather than just research and teaching performance. Dalhousie ranked 85 among the 767 institutions from 85 countries that participated, and top performance areas included SDG 14 (Life Below Water); SDG 3 (Good Health and Wellbeing); SDG 10 (Reduced Inequalities); and SDG 17 (Partnership for the Goals). In addition, every three years, the university submits information to the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education for its Sustainability Tracking Assessment Rating System. In 2018, Dalhousie received a Gold rating. Read more on Dal News
The Institute on Governance (Canada) has launched a multi-year initiative 'Beyond Endless Frontiers: Renewing the Social Contract for Science and Innovation' examining the need to renegotiate the post-WWII social contract and develop the elements of a new relationship. Each AESIS Newsletter will include part of a series about the new social contract initiative, highlighting an important element in each edition.

This month:

Transformational Impact through Mission-oriented Research
Autonomy for scientists has been a central tenet of the social contract between science and society. Indeed, the science community routinely resists anything that smacks of planning or bureaucratic control of research. Consequently, the postwar contract privileged bottom-up, basic research conducted at universities where scientists enjoy academic freedom and can pursue research “in a manner dictated by their curiosity.” (Bush 1945).

This approach begs the question “How should government pursue mandate-driven research to address public purpose?” Increasingly, there are calls for a “mission-oriented” approach that provides explicit directions in terms of technologies or innovations in support of transformational “missions” (see, for example, the work of Mariana Mazzucato). Others, for example through the HIBAR Research Alliance, are pushing “highly integrative basic and responsive” (HIBAR) research. A key question across these various efforts: Can we better link research to specific “grand challenges” and societal needs? Perhaps the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are a helpful focal point.

Critics will rally in support of curiosity-driven basic research. They invariably stress the serendipitous nature of research. Serendipity is not a strategy. “Mission-oriented” science and innovation is not an argument for more applied research over fundamental, basic research; that’s a false dichotomy that serves no one well. A mission-orientation allows for basic and applied research, achieves transformational impact, and may help justify the public expense and rebuild public trust.

Jeff Kinder & Rhonda Moore (Institute on Governance, Canada)
Beyond Scale: Capacity Building in HEIs as Driver for Economical Change and Social Welfare
Brigitte Ecker & Andreas Pfaffel (WPZ Research, Austria)
The corona pandemic has shown, once again, the importance of science and research for policy and society. Universities traditionally play an essential role in basic research, in searching for breakthrough inventions and innovative ideas and solutions. Due to the complexity of requirements and needs, universities are forced to change their role and to further develop their organisation, strategy, and orientation.
In this context, capacity building is of major importance. The universities need to build up capacities in order to strengthen the innovativeness of their organisation, their employees, and their students. Self-reflection, exchanging good practices, and learning from other HEIs are important measures that are also strongly supported by the HEInnovate tool and platform.

BeyondScale, co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union, aims to support the transformation of universities by strengthening their organizational capacity, in order to become more innovative and to play a stronger role in society and economy. Going beyond, the project aims to increase interaction with stakeholders outside the university (also by promoting social innovation) and with communities in other countries and thus, to counteract imbalances between well and less developed regions. Therefore, BeyondScale has established a community of practice that initiates and supports the exchange of experiences on capacity building. Mutual learning processes are fostered at different levels, supported by the high diversity of the consortium, also addressing objectives of the SDGs such as ‘Partnerships for the Goals’ and ‘Quality Education’.

Multidisciplinary research platform for Industrial Transformation
Monica Bellgran  & Johan Blaus, KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden
The KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, established in April 2019 a new multidisciplinary research platform called “Industrial Transformation” as a strategic measure to contribute to the industry’s transformation for climate and competitiveness (addressing mainly SDG 7, 9, 12 and 13). The vision is to use all available means within the academic research portfolio to support the critical transformation of industry needed in
order to stay critical at the 1,5 degree target, while maintaining the competitiveness. It means becoming fossil free and CO2 neutral, and transforming from a linear to a circular economy – contributing to a sustainable society within the planetary boundaries.
The platform visualizes and initiates research within and across the areas of product development, industrialization & production, innovation & business models, and enabling technologies aiming for industrial transformative applications. Digitalization and circularity are emphasized as important means for operationalization across the areas. Fundamental is the systems’ view and the emphasis on creating industrial ability and capability to transform. The platform facilitates interaction between expertise at KTH and external partners within academia, public organizations and industry. The platform sets out to pilot innovative academic tools to serve the scope, and includes also the knowledge transformation within industry (professional education).

The new KTH research platform adds to the existing five ones on Transport, Materials, Energy, Life Science, and Digitalization. See KTH Industrial Transformation Platform | KTH
For Maximum Impact, Universities must play to their strengths
Times Higher Education (UK)
The positive impact of universities on society has never been clearer than during the Covid-19 pandemic. University graduates are delivering treatments on the frontlines. University research is being applied by governments to inform lockdown decisions and, in collaboration with pharmaceutical companies, to develop vaccines. For so many different strands of university activity to come together synergistically is rare. For the impact to be so visible to the public is even rarer.

Public recognition of what universities do underpins their societal mandate. In the face of increasing marketisation and deregulation, that societal mandate has been challenged. Universities are continually being asked to demonstrate their impact. As a result, attempts to measure impact are proliferating.
National assessments in the UK, Australia and elsewhere include impact components. Times Higher Education has launched impact rankings (with Elsevier). The University of MelbourneKing’s College London and the University of Chicago recently proposed a new framework to measure, evaluate and promote the societal impact of universities. There are international organisations dedicated to the topic, such as the Network for Advancing and Evaluating the Societal Impact of Science.

These initiatives all take us forward. But none have yet fully cracked the code because measuring impact is notoriously difficult. Societal impact – such as longer life expectancy, reduced carbon emissions and job-creating inventions – typically takes decades to be realised through complex, iterative processes undertaken by disparate actors. And meaningful indicators are elusive, often focusing retrospectively on activities (such as educating students) and outputs (such as counting articles) rather than outcomes. Impact frameworks, often based on case studies, are vulnerable to criticism for being subjective, qualitative, incomplete and not scalable.

Addressing these challenges is essential and collaboration will be key to success. In this spirit, the University of Tasmania (UTAS) and Elsevier agreed to share data, analytics and expertise to develop an approach aimed at maximising UTAS’ impact on Tasmania but that can also be applied anywhere else. Read the full article here

Impact of Science

A 3-day Conference on the Transformative Power of Research
23-25 June 2021, Cape Town, South Africa (also online available)
More From our members
Using Policy Labs as a process to bring evidence closer to public policymaking: a guide to one approach
Saba Hinrichs-Krapels et al. 2020
While robust evidence is one ingredient in the policymaking process, it is by no means the only one. Engaging with policymakers and the policymaking process requires collaborative working models, navigating through the experiences, values and perspectives of policymakers and other stakeholders, as well as communicating evidence in an accessible manner.
As a response to these requirements, over recent years there has been proliferation of activities that engage producers of evidence (specifically, academics), policymakers, practitioners, and the public in policy formulation, implementation and evaluation.

In this article, we describe one engagement approach for facilitating research evidence uptake into policy and practice—an activity called a ‘Policy Lab’—as conducted by the team at The Policy Institute at King’s College London on numerous policy challenges over the past four years. Drawing on our experience in running 15 Policy Labs between January 2015 and September 2019, we (a) provide a guide to how we have run Policy Labs, while sharing our learning on what has worked best in conducting them and (b) demonstrate how these labs can contribute to bringing evidence closer to policymaking, by comparing their characteristics to enablers for doing so identified in the literature. Read the full article here
Battle Lines: Fighting COVID-19 at the intersection of policy, treatment and prevention
George Poulakidas, Genome British Columbia
In October of 2020 Genome British Columbia’s Don Rix Distinguished Keynote was focused on ‘fighting Covid-19 at the intersection of policy, treatment and prevention’. The panelists were Drs. Bonnie Henry, Provincial Health Officer for British Columbia; Mel Krajden, medical director of the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) Public Health Laboratory; and Carl Hansen, Chief Executive Officer, AbCellera.
The panelists discussed the importance of providing applicable and real time evidence for policy from their diverse perspectives in industry, public policy and public health. The engaging discussion covered areas such as inequities in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, the role of the public sector in dealing with uncertainty, and issues to be addressed so we are in a better position locally and globally for a next outbreak. To watch or listen to this event please visit our podcast page:
A successful internal funding instrument at Lund University – encouraging researchers to address societal challenges in collaboration with external partners.
Carin Nilsson, Pia Romare, Emily Wise, Lisa Thelin, Lund University, Sweden.
In 2016, Lund University (LU) initiated a new funding mechanism called Thematic Collaboration Initiatives (TSI) – aimed at developing and strengthening engagement with external partners, by leveraging cross-disciplinary expertise from the university. This was a new internal process to encourage researchers – in collaboration with external partners – to identify and refine the next generation of research questions addressing societal challenges.
Over the last four years (2017-2020), three calls have resulted in investments of just over 30 MSEK (around 3 MEUR) in 16 TSIs. In addition to funding, the Collaboration Council and the Collaboration Department at LU have supported the initiatives with continuous dialogue, joint workshops, communication, and structured follow-up.
The results of the 3-year evaluation of the first generation of TSIs show that the instrument has succeeded in stimulating and strengthening collaboration across faculty boundaries and in increasing engagement and collaboration with external parties (including companies, municipalities, and other organizations). TSIs have succeeded in developing new knowledge, improving visibility, national and international position, contributing to broader regional and national strategies, to policy work, and to impact in society (in the short and long term).
One lesson learned from this evaluation is that TSIs have led to results and advancement of the field of collaboration that are difficult to capture with traditional measures of success in the university world (with research funding, scientific publications etc. in focus). Thus, there is a need for a broader perspective and a complementary way of describing success arising from collaborative activities and the development of collaborative processes.
Note: the results from the TSI evaluation will be published early 2021 as a full report (in Swedish) and as a short version in both Swedish and English.
Research for better mental health
Mathias Lucas, Synhera
IT4Anxiety is an Interreg North-West Europe project launched in 2019. The hospital CNP Saint-Martin is the coordinator of this project which aims to strengthen the mixed therapeutic approach and to integrate validated innovative tools into professional practices. It involves 12 partners from 6 European countries from various backgrounds: start-ups, technology companies, mental health institutions, research centres and public authorities.

The Belgian University of Applied Science, Haute Ecole de la Province de Namur (HEPN) is responsible for one of the three work packages relating to training, implementation of innovative tools and the creation of a new job profile; the eMental Health Referent. The project supports the dynamics of co-creation and the development of innovative solutions by developing the joint skills of users and professionals. To that end, five hackathons will be organised, notably in March 2021 in Amsterdam. The resulting innovative solutions will be tested and validated with users, start-ups, mental health professionals within the project. A unique opportunity for innovative start-ups to join the consortium!

In short, the project’s goal is to promote the management of anxiety through innovative technologies for better mental health. IT4Anxiety really wants to enable professionals to take a big step forward by 2023. More information...

VQR 2015-2019 Third Mission Panel meets…
Brigida Blasi, ANVUR 

In the framework of the third round of Evaluation of Research Quality (VQR 2015-2019), ANVUR hosted on December 17th and 18th two international meetings with the Third Mission Evaluation Panel and the representatives of the Australian and British Agencies for the research and third mission/impact assessment, Sarah Howard, Branch Manager for Research Excellence at the Australian Research Council, and Steven Hill, Director of Research and Steering group Chair REF 2021 at Research England.
The meetings were introduced by ANVUR President, prof. Antonio Felice Uricchio, and moderated by Prof. Sauro Longhi, Coordinator of the Third Mission Panel, and prof. Marilena Maniaci, member of the ANVUR Governing Board and delegate for International Affairs.The Italian Minister of University and Research, Prof. Gaetano Manfredi, also brought his greetings, highlighting the relevant role of Third Mission in COVID times.
The two foreign Agencies’ representatives illustrated the respective approaches, based on the evaluation of case studies, and compared them with the one developed by ANVUR, that was presented by Brigida Blasi, head of the Third mission/impact evaluation office. On both days, the presentations were followed by a lively and engaging discussion between the attendees and the speakers. The events are part of a strategy aimed at expanding and consolidating ANVUR’s international relations and the peer exchange of experiences, in order to support the Agency’s ongoing activities in the fields of third mission, impact evaluation and policy development.
The sessions have been recorded and are freely available at:
Join Research Impact Network: We need to know more about the value research brings to society
Sanne Haase, VIA University College
Climate change controversy, fake news, and the Covid 19 pandemic are but a few of the challenges of the current international society. Research plays an important role in facing these challenges. However, it is difficult to assess and “demonstrate” the value that research brings to society. This is particularly pertinent for the immaterial contributions of research, for example to societal development and cohesion, that are not captured by the more narrow, traditional indicators such as publications, citations or patents.
Research impact is understood in many different ways and does not mean the same thing across institutions, research fields and stakeholder arenas. We lack a common language to understand and talk about impact, to capture the different shapes and forms of impact and the different ways in which research adds value to society.

A fuller understanding of the multifaceted contribution of research to society is not only central for legitimising future research activity, it also leverages transparency, accountability and public understanding of science with increased fulfillment of democratic potential.

At VIA University College, Denmark, we work on establishing a cross-cutting international network to engage in a dialogue on how we can conceptualize and communicate on research impact with the aim of better understanding the value research adds to society. We hereby call for interested partners to get in touch to join us in this effort. Please contact us at
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