On 7 May I took the short hop from Stockholm to Oslo for a one-day Future Earth meeting hosted at the Research Council of Norway’s new offices on the waterfront.
The funding agency and the University of Oslo had brought together researchers from across Future Earth’s main themes – dynamic planet, global development and transformations – to figure out how to make Future Earth operational in Norway.
We focused on the question: how can Norway develop a vibrant Future Earth community? This framing gets to the heart of Future Earth’s ethos: nations self-organising around Future Earth’s research agenda through dialogue between funders, researchers and stakeholders.
Norway is at the start of this process but there was clear enthusiasm to build momentum. Indeed, the research council is creating a Future Earth secretariat, based at the University of Oslo and there is already a Future Earth liaison within the research council.
After a few talks to set the scene, (Kirsten Broch Mathisen, head of energy, resources and the environment at the council, Karen O’Brien from the University of Oslo and Future Earth’s Scientific Committee, and myself), we got into World Café mode. In the public discussion participants articulated why they felt Future Earth is essential. Several people reiterated the need to bring natural and social sciences together. But concern too that Future Earth must not forget the humanities. There was strong support for the idea of Future Earth as a continuum from fundamental research through to applied research, engagement and transformation. And also discussion on the role of co-design and transdisciplinary approaches. These are tools to reach Future Earth’s goals, not the goals themselves. Moreover, there are plenty of other essential tools too, including disciplinary research.
Several participants argued Norway’s Future Earth focus must be on its research strengths. Karen O’Brien said, “I think we are in a good position to initiate Future Earth activities – perhaps even regional activities in the Nordics– around topics that researchers here are already involved with. This could include oceans and marine resources, climate variability, science-policy-stakeholder engagement, the political economy of transformations to sustainability.”
There were several calls for Norway to consider creating a funding programme aligned with the Future Earth agenda. There was even a suggestion to have a Future Earth institute or summer school. In short, a lot of inspirational ideas came forward and we sensed that Norway wanted to develop initiatives related to Future Earth that would: attract researchers, reach policy and engage society.
I came away feeling the Norwegian funders and research community were highly motivated to self organise around Future Earth: that is, to adopt the Future Earth agenda and take responsibility for implementing it.
One concern voiced to me, and perhaps this is universal, is that Future Earth is still virtually unknown within the large community of researchers focusing on sustainable development. Those from the development fields that attended complained that they had heard nothing of Future Earth until only very recently. This is perhaps not surprising given the origins of Future Earth in the global environmental change community, but we need to build these links immediately.
World Café questions were aimed at moving from the “what is Future Earth” queries to “How do we implement Future Earth?”
o What could be the role of Future Earth Norway?
o What would a successful Future Earth Norway community look like?
o How could Future Earth Norway be organized and operated?
o How can we include the social sciences and humanities?
o How to engage with society and stakeholders?
o Move from “what” questions, to “how to implement”
In the next eight months several similar events are planned across Europe:
Helsinki Future Earth Townhall Meeting (26 May)
Stockholm Swedish Future Earth workshop (November)
Future Earth event organised by European Alliance of Global Change Research Committees (November)
German Future Earth Summit (28-29 January)