Towards a critical composition

Utilizing the expertise of the different Nordic countries would make it possible to establish virtual, multidisciplinary, elite research centres, in which both critical mass and critical composition would make first-class research possible. This sort of centre would also be a competitive and sought-after partner in European research collaboration, writes Prof. Mikael Fogelholm, who chaired the evaluation's project group, in Liikunta & Tiede magazine.

Enhancement of the multidisciplinary approach has been discussed in Finland for a long time, but, according to the international panel, room for improvement remains.

The scientific community has talked a great deal about “critical mass” - saying, that is, that groups that are too small are not competitive. The panel finds, however, that the sport sciences boast some splendid small groups that have been able, in innovative fashion, to solve very focused research problems.

Perhaps more thought should be given, in sport-sciences research, to a research group's “critical composition” - that spectrum of scientific domains and expertise which is needed to solve complicated problems. A good critical composition can also be harnessed for translational research – that is, to the translation of accumulating knowledge from basic research to something more applied.

According to the panel, research efforts in the Nordic countries too often continue to strive to answer the question “What?” rather than considering “Why?” (the mechanisms) and “How?” (the effect).

The panel found that, in the social and behavioural sciences, researchers should publish more often in international publication series. The panel understood that, in those disciplines, there is plenty which it is important to report in the language of one's home country. On the other hand, from the perspective of the evolution of science, it is essential to get different and sometimes unexpected feedback regarding both plans and reports. Ongoing domestic peer review does not accomplish this.

The evaluation provides interesting information on, for example, the emphasis on sport-sciences expertise in different parts of the Nordic countries. Basic research is genuinely strong in Sweden and Denmark, health-related research in Finland and Denmark. Norway has invested in the prevention of injuries, while the social and behavioural sciences are strongest in Norway and Sweden.

Utilizing the expertise of the different Nordic countries would make it possible to establish virtual, multidisciplinary, elite research centres, in which both critical mass and critical composition would make first-class research completely possible.

What should be done in Finland?

In Finland researchers should be prepared to forget organizational boundaries, and should seek critical composition from both within Finland and abroad. In critical composition, the aim should be a genuine multidisciplinary approach - from basic to applied research, and from the natural to the social and behavioural sciences.

Good collaboration in Finland has to be seen as preparation for Nordic collaboration. Good Nordic research cooperation in turn prepares researchers for, and gives an added boost to, European research collaboration - in which, one hopes, more resources will also be available  for conducting world-class research.