How the public is shaping the future of science research in Ireland

15 Jul 2022

Minister Simon Harris addresses the Inspirefest crowd at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre. Image: Conor McCabe

SFI’s Dr Ciarán Seoighe said climate and health are major themes from the Creating Our Future ‘national brainstorm’ conducted last year.

Results of the Creating Our Future ‘national brainstorm’ on the future of science research in Ireland have been published by the Government today (15 July).

In June 2021, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris, TD, launched the Creating Our Future campaign to start a national conversation on research and science in the country.

Between July and November, more than 18,000 Irish people sent in their ideas – exceeding the 10,000 submissions target. They were asked to send in ideas on what researchers in Ireland should explore to create a better future.

A detailed report on the public response has now been published on the campaign website, along with a separate report on the campaign and the full dataset.

Some of the research ideas floated include the impact of parental depression on children, how to create a zero-waste society, using robots for litter collection, car-free cities, communication around cancer and infertility, and even a cut-off button for devices used by children.

“We wanted to open a discussion to everyone, to discover what was important to people, to find out what they would like to explore to create a better future for all,” said Harris. “The campaign aimed to democratise research. Everyone can have a good idea and the campaign was open to everyone. I am glad to say that we received research ideas from every county in the country.”

Climate, health and fostering communities

Dr Ciarán Seoighe, deputy director general of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), told that certain broad themes stood out as research priorities identified by people.

“Climate featured very strongly in terms of feedback from people in all aspects. Health was another strong feature, especially since we conducted this in the middle of a pandemic,” he said, adding that health-related ideas also focused on mental health.

Some other slightly unexpected themes also emerged according to Seoighe, who was on the expert committee behind the report. These included the importance of communities and how they work together, as well as how quality of life in Ireland can be improved,

“So you see, there’s a clustering of ideas there. Big problems shouldn’t be solved in silos, there needs to be much more collaboration in the way we do things,” he added. “We have unique requirements in Ireland, such as housing, transport, energy, and we need unique solutions.”

So what’s next, now that we have all this info? Seoighe said the Creating Our Future initiative will make all these ideas publicly available to anyone. The dataset will be of particular interest to researchers in Ireland, as the results can be seen as a ‘book of inspiration’.

“Very often, researchers are trying to figure what to do next in their fields. They’re looking for ideas and are interested to know what people are worried about. So the objective is for these 18,000 ideas to become a source of inspiration to their next research projects.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic