Research should take time

Björn Brorström (BB): The fact that research takes time is part of a university’s advantage: being able to go into greater depth and problematise issues. That’s the very foundation of academic thinking. Take a thesis, for example. In order to achieve sufficient depth in a subject, the researcher must spend at least five years working on it. This is the actual premise of research, and should always be taken into consideration when talking about research. Investments in research must be made from a long-term perspective.

Jenny Johannisson (JJ): One view of research is that research should always be one step ahead, discovering new things and coming up with answers. And that’s what research does, but often by being one step behind, looking up and taking an overall view. Sustainable research takes a long time. And sustainable research isn’t about everyone being in agreement, rather about not being in agreement. That’s what drives research forwards: questioning and problematising.

How does one research events that society is currently experiencing, such as the refugee situation in Europe?


About Björn Brorström and Jenny Johannisson

Björn Brorström has been Vice-Chancellor of the University of Borås since 2011, and is a professor of business administration. His research has examined governance and management in public sector organisations, and the structure and use of financial information.

Jenny Johannisson has been Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research since 2014, and is a docent in library and information science. Her research focuses on municipal and regional cultural policy against a background of globalisation processes.

BB: For us researchers, subjects or events must be researchable – it must be possible to ask a good research question. Simply establishing this perspective can take time and mean that we can’t embark on research straight away. At the same time, we can’t just shrug our shoulders when things happen in the world around us and say “We only deal with long-term approaches, so we can’t do anything about it”. When necessary, we must be able to respond to society’s needs. Then, it’s important to look at the research that’s already been carried out within the field, and to use it to learn and build upon it.

JJ: I agree with Björn completely. We can start by mustering our forces around the research we already carry out and know about. It’s also important to view universities as social players. With all that’s happening in today’s society, such as many people moving to our country, it’s important that we as a university and as researchers speak out about how we see the situation. As an educational institution, we should always take a position for an opening, welcoming and democratic society. In such a society, there are also positive reasons why people move around. And this is an important point from a research perspective: research is largely about ideas moving about and being combined with other ideas. It’s important to be able to hold a research discussion with people other than those in our immediate surroundings. This is an ongoing discussion for which the framework must constantly be widened.

Björn Brorström and Jenny Johannisson

Our society today is challenged on different levels. Research that focuses on sustainable development is needed within many areas in order to make progress. How can a multidisciplinary approach contribute towards sustainable solutions for the future?

BB: Everything must be problematised! There are no easy answers when it comes to sustainable solutions for our planet and its growing population. There are advantages and disadvantages with everything, for or against ethanol, and so on. There are technical solutions where the right infrastructure is lacking, or there are psychological and social aspects behind the fact that a solution doesn’t work properly. It’s always worth problematising things in order to make progress and to achieve solutions from all directions.

JJ: This is where a multidisciplinary perspective really comes into its own. The technical perspective meets the humanistic and social sciences perspectives. There are several examples from the university’s own research – such as Hanna Maurin Söderholm, who is carrying our research within a field where medicine and technology meet library and information science. Her research involves new technology and IT support for cooperation and information management in a care context. It’s fascinating!

BB: Multidisciplinarity is also a challenge. As researchers, we all operate in our own subject areas and multidisciplinarity is actually created in the eye of the beholder. By combining research in different subjects, we achieve a broad, multidisciplinary impact. When I talk about multidisciplinarity, I don’t mean a researcher in pedagogics or psychology being expected to study combustion technology. But if we combine their research within a common context, we might find out more about how we act and deal with waste in Sweden. 

From the University of Borås’ background material for the government’s Research Bill. 

  • Increase the basic funding for universities’ research activities so that this funding is more in proportion with both the volume of education and the size of external research funding.
  • Prioritise the expansion of artistic research in order to strengthen and stabilise an area that is still being built up, but where Sweden is well placed internationally.
  • Safeguard the link to research in education within the field of welfare, particularly care education and teacher training.
  • Set aside specific funding for educational institutions that have certified environmental management systems and that systematically prioritise high quality research and education relating to sustainable development.
  • Create a research centre on digitisation and commission the educational institutions in western Sweden to examine more closely the conditions for such a centre.

Text: Ida Borenstein
Photography: Suss Wilén