Irish Research Council launches a range of funding supports for interdisciplinary and intersectoral research and collaboration



Posted: 30 October, 2018

In recent years, the European Research Area has pursued the development of research frameworks that focus on the major challenges that face society. In Ireland, Innovation 2020 (the national strategy for research and development, science and technology) has stressed the importance of research that seeks to address such societal challenges. Unsurprisingly, this challenge-based approach does not neatly align with disciplinary boundaries, nor can progress be achieved by academia alone. The intended focus is on contributing to solving complex problems rather than on adding to the knowledge base of a defined discipline. Interdisciplinary research, together with dynamic knowledge transfer between researchers and other sectors, enables a rich, nuanced understanding of human problems and facilitates the achievement of grand societal missions.

Ireland has the potential to develop a strong national track record on interdisciplinary research and intersectoral collaboration. It is important that Irish researchers grasp this opportunity, particularly at a time when there is an increasing emphasis nationally and internationally on the outcomes of research and the demonstration of impact.

Interdisciplinary research presents an opportunity for Irish researchers to develop greater capacity to leverage more funding from Horizon 2020 and the successor framework programme, Horizon Europe. Notably, interdisciplinary research projects can and should include collaboration with a wide variety of partners, such as civic society groups, SMEs or government. Interdisciplinary research and intersectoral partnerships also provide opportunities for early-career researchers to benefit from new collaborative experiences that will help to develop their skills towards a diverse range of career paths. Further, the experience of working with multiple disciplines enables researchers to reflect, in a constructive way, on how to surpass the limitations of their research domains. In this context, the fulfilment of broad missions, working with societal and governmental partners, has come to matter as much as the advancement of individual disciplines.

Of course, collaboration across disciplines and sectors is not always simple or straightforward, and support is required in the form of specific funding measures.

Irish Research Council supporting interdisciplinary research

The Irish Research Council is the national funder of research in all academic disciplines. In fulfilling its mission, the Council funds excellent research within and between all such disciplines. As a result, the Council is uniquely placed to support interdisciplinary research that builds new links between research in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) and AHSS (arts, humanities and social sciences).

New initiatives in support of this area include:

  • A statement on ‘STEAM’ research

Recognising the role of ‘STEAM’ within the broader agenda of interdisciplinarity, the Council has published a statement on this topic, which includes details of how the Council will contribute to the development of ‘STEAM’ research collaboration within Ireland. This statement is available here.

  • A new Creative Connections call, seeking proposals for interdisciplinary workshops

The Council piloted a Creative Connections call in 2016, inviting proposals from inter-institutional consortia to run workshops bringing STEM and AHSS researchers together to cultivate ideas and projects on interdisciplinary research.

The Council is now launching a second Creative Connections call, inviting proposals for workshops that will run in 2019.

Arising from the pilot call, the Council has published a synthesis report, drawing on the project reports of funded consortia. The report includes recommendations from consortia participants on how the research ecosystem can further develop successful interdisciplinary research.

  • A new strand of New Foundations seeking ‘STEAM’-based approaches to the communication of science and knowledge

The Council’s New Foundations call includes an innovative new strand inviting proposals for ‘STEAM’-based collaboration to develop new ways of communicating topics of science or knowledge.

Irish Research Council supporting sectoral collaboration

The Council is mandated to ‘enrich the pool of knowledge and expertise available for addressing Ireland’s current and future needs, whether societal, cultural or economic and deliver for citizens through collaboration and enabling knowledge exchange with government departments and agencies, enterprise and civic society.’

The Council operates programmes which speak to research collaboration with three key partnership constituencies: enterprise, government departments and agencies, and the civil society (or community/voluntary) sector.

Intersectoral collaboration is a key focus of the New Foundations call.

Individual strands will encourage collaboration between researchers and civic society groups, both nationally and international. The Wheel and Dóchas are partnering with the Council to support the engagement of their respective member organisations in the initiative.