The Paradigm of Collaboration: Research, Action and Sustainability

David Budtz Pedersen is Professor MSO of Science Communication and Impact Studies at Department of Communication & Psychology, Aalborg University Copenhagen, and Head of Research at Humanomics Research Centre. His research focuses on science communication, impact assessment, science and technology policy. He is leading several large-scale research projects on research assessment and is the Chair of the EU Commission COST Expert Group on Science Communication. Alongside his research, David has an international public presence with outreach activities in science policy, speaking frequently on the topics of Science Advice, Impact Assessment and Evidence-Based Policy-Making. Read more about Davids research here

You’ve worked at the intersections of science, policy and collaboration for many years now – could you share a bit about the ideas and perspectives that drive your work?

So I think my main sort of purpose or concern, having become a professor in science communication, has really been to highlight and emphasize and also accelerate the public value of universities. The aim is to make universities more valuable to society and more impactful in helping researchers translate their research into real world applications, in order to drive collaborative partnerships and change in society. Research is such a strong resource, and science is such a strong power of humankind that we really need to bring it to the forefront of collaboration.

It’s important to start with asking ourselves, as researchers and universities – What do we really want to collaborate on? What’re really the issues at stake? What’s our mission? And then we build our research collaborations from the mission up and rather than from the product, the publication and the prestige.

Earlier this month, COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference was held with industry leaders, policy makers, and researchers from across the world. What are some of the most important takeaways from COP26, in terms of how we might drive scientific collaborations in building more sustainable futures?

Taking the long view on what climate change and climate science has taught us especially over the last ten years is really that facts don’t explain themselves. There needs to be more to the truth, the solutions, than only producing high quality research. It’s all about getting that research into partnerships, and it’s a lot about understanding the real-world intricacies of policy making. Then working together with activists, policy makers, with business, NGOs, civil society, with media organizations and with researchers across different disciplines, to stress the importance of action and informed action. Informed action is when you use research collaborations to really inform specific actions and solutions.

I think at COP26 and what we have seen lately is actually sort of a new beginning, in that sense that people have become much more focused and they have become much more aware of the power of collaborations. They cannot be making these decisions within silos. Silos really do not work anymore in our current policy and scientific landscape. So we need to bring in multiple stakeholders. We need to bring in different audiences. We need to bring in different disciplines, including cultural contributions from the social sciences, the behavioral sciences such as psychology, communication science and behavioral science, are also very important in order to understand what it takes for human perception and for human agency to make solutions that are actually viable.

How do you think collaborative innovation and open science can contribute to climate solutions and building sustainable futures?

First of all, I think industry leadership is extremely important. So it’s promising to see companies such as Novozymes with activities like HelloScience and to see companies taking the lead and working collaboratively toward the SDGs, along  with startups and universities and other actors. Is sort of an important moment of inspiration for many of us working to create institutional change, because institutional change only comes from the champions of change. It only comes from role models, people who can take the lead. And in that sense, I believe that what Novozymes has been doing here has really been important for other institutions, other companies, but also at the university level. It’s motivating to see innovation strategies go in the direction of open entrepreneurship and partnerships, to aim for impact.

What we see now really becoming a key priority is to move from a paradigm of cooperation into a paradigm of collaboration. And that means that you need open space in which you can actually create and open new avenues of research and development and actually go into a collaboration where you’re allowed to also come up with shared definition of problems. This shared problem space allows diverse stakeholders to really work together in real time and without always having to be focused on division of labor in results. There is a more open space in which we can not only inspire each other, but also work across different institutions. We can move from division of work into actual knowledge sharing and sharing of ideas. And we can only share ideas if we are able to co-create those ideas, if we can contribute, and if we can partner up and truly collaborate.

It’s also important to be an industry mentor for other companies and to open up for new collaborations that can really drive both the core business of the company itself – which is also then able to provide resources, inspiration, ideas and tools for other partners in the innovation ecosystem to really move ahead. So what we have seen coming out of HelloScience, I think is really promising in terms of solving some of the challenges working across industries and also getting new partners into the mix. We can see with the open science and open data movement that has been with us for more than for more than 10 years that I think open collaboration starts becoming a reality. It’s about working together and getting more and different actors into the mix. People on the ground across the world, people in universities, business and industry, people in NGOs, even activists and policymakers. The further you go in remixing your collective of actors, the more possible it becomes to then also come up with viable solutions.

What would you like to see in terms of some of these trends in science and collaboration by 2030? What kind of what kind of landscape would you like to be working and operating in, in terms of policy and research in climate science and how we work to solve some of these issues?

I think that we need we need to leave behind an emission driven economy and go into a mission driven economy. So I would really like to see some of these cross-sector partnerships strengthened, and I would like to see some of the silos being broken down – thinking about incentive structures, rewards, technology funding streams, schemes, partnerships to fund collaborations. They need to be driven not only by leadership and ambition, but also by funding and incentives and rewards. So I would really like to see our society takes the concept of of the climate mission seriously and engaging and getting all these actors to work together.

Any final thoughts or wisdom on building successful collaborations?

I work in on responsible artificial intelligence and ethics and AI policy. In that space we talk a lot about human-centric approaches to innovation, and how we need to put the human back into the center stage of innovation and design. And in those terms, it’s all about understanding the human being as this multidimensional creative being. Yes, we can be very formal and very economical, and we can be very scientific, but we can also be very playful, and we can be, as human beings, very social, very altruistic, very empathetic. And we do not always only need the knowledge, we also need wisdom, and wisdom emerges from these more open-ended explorative missions that we are on.