Evaluation of sport sciences in the Nordic countries

Nordic Sport Scientists Highly Productive But Greater Transdisciplinary Collaboration Required to Remain Innovative.

Sport scientists in the five Nordic countries continue to conduct high-quality research published in high impact journals worldwide.

Major research focus varies from country to country with Denmark and Sweden especially strong in the basic and applied biological sport sciences while Finland and Norway have been especially strong in the medical and health sport sciences.

Greater collaboration among domains in the exercise and sport sciences and with disciplines outside sport sciences is needed to increase innovation: funding strategies country-specific and Nordic-wide should be developed to promote such collaborations.

In each country careful consideration needs to be given to the recruitment and training of young scientists and to modernize the system for academic appointments and promotions: special attention should be given to the transition of new PhDs to postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty and to the retirement of senior faculty and their replacement.

The major objective of this evaluation was to determine the effectiveness of present-day sports and exercise scientists, strengths and weaknesses of the existing research and research training environments, the opportunities for the future and how best to achieve them, and the key threats or barriers to achieving long-term success. The purpose was not to evaluate the status or accomplishments of any individual scientist or research unit, but to obtain a general understanding of the status of sport sciences in each Nordic country and the region as a whole. The time frame for the evaluation period was 2006–2010.

Evaluation methods

The evaluation was a team effort involving many scientists and administrators in each of the Nordic countries who supported the work of the international evaluation panel. The primary sources of information used by the panel in preparing this report included an extensive written survey completed by 97 research units and in-person, group-based interviews of a representative sample of 107 exercise and sport scientists working in research units throughout the Nordic countries. To facilitate the evaluation, the steering group organised the participating research units into three major domains: basic and applied biological sciences, medical and health sciences and social and behavioural sciences. In the survey units were requested to assess their current status and future plans considering their current strengths and weaknesses/limitations as well as their key opportunities and threats for the future. Analyses were undertaken at the domain, county and Nordic level.

Major recommendations

The steering group requested that the panel make recommendations a) for developing sport sciences in the future, with special reference to Nordic collaboration and b) for organisations that provide funding to sport sciences research.

1.The panel recommends that all Nordic countries continue their history of success in the medical and health sciences with a major emphasis on enhancing collaboration within and between Nordic countries.

2.Because of the complexity of exercise as a research topic, the panel recommends that incentives be provided for multidisciplinary teams of investigators to work closely together using systems-based approaches to address fundamental principles underlying adaptation to exercise training/physical activity.

3.The panel recommends that consideration be given to the development of Nordic-wide programmes for exploring the genomic and genetic basis of performance and health responses to changing levels of physical activity and exercise training.

4.Priority should be given to funding transdisciplinary research teams that involve at least exercise specialists, behavioural scientists, built environment scientists, social scientists and urban planners, to design and conduct studies for identifying effective programmes for enhancing the habitual physical activity of specific subsets of the population, including people with disabilities.

5.The panel recommends that scientists at all levels endeavour to submit more manuscripts to highly-rated journals within and outside the sport sciences discipline to help establish international recognition, to facilitate international cooperation and increase opportunities for obtaining collaborative research partners from other countries.

6.It is the opinion of the panel that the Nordic countries have and should continue to play a major international role in research on elite athlete performance including the prevention and treatment of sports-related injuries.

7. The panel recommends that a systematic plan be developed in each country on how different  databanks, (registries, bio banks etc)  can be more effectively used to help address major unanswered questions dealing with the role of exercise and sports in major health and other societal issues. Also, it is very important for exercise and sport scientists to play a more active role in the development of new databanks to help insure the inclusion of appropriate measures of physical activity.

8. The panel recommends that consideration be given to re-establishing annual Nordic-wide courses and workshops for PhD students and possibly postdoctoral fellows to enhance the development of links with faculty and students from other Nordic countries.

9.The panel recommends that all Nordic countries seriously consider ways to involve more physiotherapists in their PhD and postdoctoral training programmes and to make senior research positions more readily available to them.

10.The panel recommends that Icelandic researchers in social and behavioural sciences look at the possibility of conducting more research in the field of leisure, exercise and tourism, and that they look for commercial sponsors who would have vested interests in these areas.

11.To increase collaboration among research units the panel recommends that special funding programmes be established, only available to research proposals that include new collaborations between research units or new collaborations with scientists working outside the exercise and sport sciences. Joint Nordic funding should be considered for collaborations of scientists among the Nordic countries and other European countries.

12. It is recommended the major organisations in each Nordic country that provide funding for the training of PhD students, and the major institutions conducting this training, should organise comprehensive evaluations of the PhD training in exercise and sport sciences.

13. Collaboration among countries to achieve a major Nordic Centre of Excellence in a specific domain within the sport sciences should be considered by the sport science leadership in the Nordic countries. It should be determined whether such a proposal could be submitted to NordForsk, both for funding the development of a plan and to secure a lead funding organisation for such a centre.

This article summarizes a more extensive article that appeared in Liikunta & Tiede [Sport & Science] 1/2012 and presented the results of the evaluation. The evaluation panel's chair, Prof. William L. Haskell; and the project group coordinator, Riikka Pellinen, wrote the latter article.