2.2 Research, development, and innovation activities and artistic activities with impact

Auditointiryhmän arvio

UO’s multidisciplinary research reforms society

The University of Oulu takes part in multidisciplinary research and many research networks. The project portfolio covers a variety of topics in sustainability and climate, biodiversity, technology, society, and human subjects. The cross-networking and interaction as well as multidisciplinary research work is a unique advantage for the UO in terms of creating new innovations and contributing to transformation in the society. The existing multidisciplinary focus institutes support the strategic development of research activities.

At the University of Oulu, multidisciplinary research is conducted in five focus areas. The basis for multidisciplinary research is created by long-term basic research. Research is structured as a matrix organisation. In addition to faculties, disciplines and research groups, there are focus areas and focus groups for cross-faculty interdisciplinary research. In addition, the university has strategic programmes and strategic funding. According to the audit visit, researchers were appreciative of the structure.

Long-term view of research impact could be emphasised

The university has linked its scientific profile to the UN SDGs. The targets of research impact at the university are to act responsibly towards society and environment, to seek solutions for the sustainable use of resources, and to make ecologically responsible choices in its own operations. There are excellent metrics such as the number of start-ups created through the joint projects. According to the audit visit, research impact is also measured by the number of patents, research and innovation projects, and meetings with partners. The metrics are mainly quantitative. The university also obtains important information on research impact from the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), last carried out in 2019-2020. According to the RAE2020, there is a strong link between the scientific activities of the UO research units and the SDGs.

The audit team notes that the university could benefit from additional long-term metrics for research impact. For example, following the number of new start-ups is important, but the university could also benefit from following the impact of such start-ups in the long term. This information could be critical in terms of deciding future initiatives. Long-term metrics are particularly useful and necessary for enhancing future-oriented research activities. The university could also gain useful information by adding qualitative measures of research impact in areas that are not easily measured by quantitative measures. Examples include an increase in awareness, well-being, or policy changes that are influenced by or based on research findings.

According to the audit visit, the UO researchers’ aim is to reform society. Reform starts with defining existing reform needs in the society. After that, researchers can start the research. To help researchers, the university has developed the Impact helper guide. It covers the concept of research impact, impact pathways, possible stakeholders, and ways to maximise and measure impact. The guide assists researchers in finding links between their research and the UN SDGs. In addition, the university offers customised research impact workshops which are organised for research groups. The audit team recognises the Impact Helper as an excellent initiative to support and engage researchers to evaluate and consider the impact of their research from a global perspective.

The University of Oulu’s Arctic Strategy is an important opening for joint research

During the audit visit, the audit team was impressed by the Arctic strategy of the University of Oulu. The strategy focuses on addressing the challenges and opportunities in the changing Arctic region, driven by factors such as climate change, globalisation, and demographic shifts. The strategy aims to integrate Arctic research into the university’s overall objectives. The audit team finds the university’s emphasis on building a sustainable Arctic through collaboration with various stakeholders and multidisciplinary research commendable.

The university’s Arctic strategy highlights key topics including resilience, One Health, and sustainable governance of natural resources and business in the Arctic. At the core of Arctic research, the university emphasises the creation of new knowledge, taking responsibility, and succeeding together through inclusive and diverse networks. Arctic research has been selected as a key strategic area and a strong basis for the future.

Strengthening the visibility of international research and cooperation

Focusing the university’s profile strategically is necessary to help it reach its goals of world class research and collaboration. The audit team suggests strengthening the visibility of the university’s strong collaborations with international organisations such as the Arctic Network and the European University of Cities in Post-Industrial Transition network (UNIC). Through active communication, the university could draw attention to the concrete effects and advantages of these partnerships for researchers, students, faculty members, and the public. The university’s communication unit and communication specialists at each faculty play a key role in this. Their role should be highlighted among the research staff.

The audit team notes the importance of communicating research results at both local, national, and international levels. According to the audit visit, research communication has been invested in for many years at the UO. There are several common practices at the university which support communication and interaction related to research, like involving external stakeholders in research programme meetings, events, and different working groups.

The university enhances open science

The audit team found evidence that open and responsible science characterises the policies, practices, services, and networks at the University of Oulu. The UO is committed to open science as a signatory of the national Agreement on Reforming Research Assessment. The UO has also joined the International Agreement on Reforming Research Assessment (CoARA) and signed the International Dora Declaration. In addition, the university has its own Declaration and policies of open and responsible science. Researchers and doctoral researchers are encouraged to publish in open access journals with the highest possible JUFO classification. The university library and network of open science play a major role in promoting and supporting open science at the university. The university has also an active citizen science network to promote citizen participation and societal engagement.

The University of Oulu is committed to the Finnish code of conduct for research integrity and procedures for handling alleged violations of research integrity in Finland 2023  guidelines. The UO is also committed to the European code of conduct for research integrity. The university has an ethics working group, and its tasks include discussions about the university’s values and ethical questions. Ethical review of medical research in advance is a statutory process managed by the regional medical research ethics committee of the Wellbeing services county of North Ostrobothnia. In addition, the ethics committee of human sciences at the UO gives statements on non-medical research projects of human sciences and process related ethical issues.

The University of Oulu provides general training in responsible conduct of research. Otherwise, research ethics are considered in daily research and monitoring. Supervisors play a big role as role models for conducting ethical research. Research ethics training is compulsory for all doctoral researchers and later for all new researchers. The researchers described research ethics as being integrated in ordinary research.