in which we discuss norwegian research strategies
One of the more obviously useful sides of being the head of a department is that you get more information than you do as a lowly PhD student. And sometimes you actually get asked what you think about things, with half a hope that the powers that be will actually listen. This is a story of how that might work.
Norway has decided that information technology should be one of our strategic research areas (along with oil, oil and oil) and so the research council has drafted a program plan for a ten year program defining the areas universities and industry can apply for funding within. The program will be called VERDIKT. That means “value” and “ICT”, ICT being “Information and Communication Technologies”. Value probably speaks to the moral values of our Christian Democrat prime minister (don’t worry, despite having the prime ministership, the party has less than 10% of the votes) and also to the commerical values we’re hoping to generate. I’ve heard several suggestions as to how VERDIKT should be pronounced. I’m partial to verdikÂt, myself (horny for values), but the English or French word verdict, or judgement, is another likely candidate.
Anyway, a draft of the program plan has been sent out to all the universities and other likely applicants, and the universities have sent it on down the system, where it among many other mailboxes reached mine. We’re all requested to send our comments to the University’s research coordinators, who’ll condense everything into a two page document they’ll return to the research council.
Once you’re in the system, it’s fairly transparent and apparently quite democratic, it seems. However, the hearing is not open. If you click the links from the program’s home page, you’re told you’re not authorised to view that. Luckily Google allows us to short-circuit that, so if you’re interested in what your tax money (if you’re Norwegian) is going to be spent on for the next ten years, go read that PDF.
Carsten, Hilde, Thomas, Audun, Rolf and I had a very efficient meeting about the document. My job is to write it out, preferably in short and comprehensible soundbites the research coordinator will put into the two page document from the whole university. “It’s kind of retro,” one of us said. “For the first five years 75% of the funding will go to research on wireless technologies? That’s like using a battle ram to knock down open doors!” Someone else responded, “Yeah, talk about technology-centric. The document mentions that the British have named ubiquitous computing as the “grand challenge for computing research”, but we’re focussing on the thing rather than the idea.” Yet another of us nodded to that, noting that that was presumably due to lobbying from the companies that make wireless networks and so want funding for felles utfordringer knyttet til anvendelse av trÂdl¯s teknologi, or in English, “our common challenges related to figuring out how on earth to use this wireless technology”.
“Well, whatever, at least the visions are clear,” someone else pointed out. Look, they see that the network is changing the world. Look, instead of talking about the movement from a ‘information society’ to a ‘knowledge society’ as most do, they write we’re shifting to a ‘communication society’. That’s an interesting idea.” Someone else, reading, mutters, “I particularly like this bit about creating systems that can deal with unreliable communication. I guess they mean mobile phones slipping out of the network, but what if we’re talking about people using the network?” We nodded, while noting all the things that had been left out: “There’s no art or story-telling here, but at least they’ve remember learning, that’s good,” someone said. “They’ve got accessibility, too, but it looks like they mean whether blind people can access stuff, really. What about all the other people who don’t or can’t or won’t participate in this brave new network society? What about the inclusion and exclusion mechanisms invoked by the technology?” I think we said many more things too, but these are the things I wrote down. There are many good things in the proposal. Certainly.
So I still have to write out our response. I doubt I could quite get away with writing it just like this.
But maybe, by blogging it, our ideas will have more impact than they would had we only followed the institutional channels? Doubtlessly more public discussion of research strategies would be a good thing. Why keep it within the institutions?