More than 70 high-level decision makers, scientists, NGO and funding agency representatives gathered to celebrate 20 years of KFPE Guidelines at the conference “Leveraging Research Partnerships for Global Challenges”. A series of talks presented in three separate sessions addressed the following topics: (i) new roles and tasks of science in general and research partnerships in particular; (ii) regional adaptation of scientific systems; and (iii) how science policies and funding systems can support transformative research. Participants were left with one clear conclusion at the end of the 22 November meeting: stronger integration and dialogue between science and society, including policy and business, is essential if we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
“KFPE and its thinking produced not only principles and guidelines, but have truly evolved into a movement”, underlined Marcel Tanner, president of the Swiss Academies of Sciences in his opening statement.
Research systems must change to overcome three basic challenges in order to meet the 2030 Agenda emphasisied Thomas Breu, president of the KFPE. “First, and most pressingly, research has to be stepped up and scaled up. Therefore, efforts targeted at synthesising existing knowledge and capacity development at all levels are needed. Second, scientific approaches actively bridging across and beyond disciplinary silos are essential to analyse interlinkages and harness transformation from a system’s perspective. Third, global solidarity is essential.”
Melissa Leach (Director of IDS) highlighted that research partnerships need to be top-down and bottom-up in connecting global challenges with local problems. By acknowledging power relations, equity and trust can be established; but without considerable strengthening of institutional capacity in the Global South, institutions from the Global North will remain the leaders.
Mohamed Hassan, president of TWAS underlined the power of fellowships, and the increasing importance of South-South or triangle research partnerships to redress the ‘scientific imbalance’, and to support low-income countries in their efforts.
In the afternoon session, the panelists concluded that while science is relevant for the SDGs, achieving the goals set by the international community will require working across existing research silos. The 2030 Agenda must do more to respond to societal needs, which can be in part achieved by undertaking more transformation research. The Panel was not in full agreement whether a new balance in current science funding systems between bottom-up defined research and transformation-oriented research is needed, or realistic. However, there was consensus that stronger integration and dialogue across academia, policy, society and business is needed, including a re-evaluation of the current research assessment and reward system.