The Bioeconomy is here, closer than ever, especially in the research and development community where different initiatives constantly strive to engage as many researchers as possible  from cross sectors and disciplines. Bioeconomy endeavors to bring together researchers from all the different sectors, agriculture, forestry, energy, water and fisheries, chemical etc.  But is this easier said than done?

“Moving towards the bioeconomy!” The initiative (at least at least at political- strategy level) is there and there seems to be a lot of funding for supporting such initiatives. The market for bio-based products already exists, and there seems to be an ever growing market-pull for such products. Research ( at least in the area of resource management ,and process and technology) is rapidly gaining ground. But let’s not forget that the bioeconomy needs to be cross-sectoral and inter-disciplinary. It needs to engage researchers from all fields (including social sciences, economics, policy etc.) in order to truly evolve in a sustainable and balanced way, fair and inclusive to all stakeholders involved! Research and innovation are the main pillars of this development. But engaging the different researchers from different fields is not always that easy.

So, what’s in it for us and how does our work relate to the bioeconomy?

This is an interesting situation to tackle. How do we engage the research community to unite and work together towards such an ambitious, but yet so broad and somewhat ambiguous goal ? True, the bioeconomy is supposed to be an overarching paradigm that offers place for everybody, but this ambiguity of defining it’s limits makes  it difficult for researchers to find their place and define their work’s role.

In Scandinavia for example, The Nordic Council of Ministers (NORDEN) has started to actively support and fund several initiatives aimed towards improving this cross- sectoral cooperation. Nordic Forest Research (SNS), an organisation working under the auspices of  NORDEN that mainly deals with supporting research initiatives in the Nordic forest sector, has also embarked in this process. “Researchers need to think cross-sectorially! ” reads the title of the latest SNS Newsletter. This was the main message sent out by SNS  when they organized a “Matchmaking Day” in April at the the Nordic Council of Ministers office in Copenhagen.

That’s right a matchmaking day! but not for dating as you’d be inclined to think. This day intended to bring researchers together and encourage them to mingle and perhaps find other researchers that might be working on similar projects but might not know about each-other. Pretty straight-forward: invite researchers form the different fields and backgrounds (forestry, agriculture, fisheries, energy sector), put them in one room, encourage them to interact and share ideas , and incentivise them to come up with interesting ideas towards bioeconomy-relevant research. Their common projects would be later “rewarded” or supported through funding.

A fun and interactive exercise that took place during the matchmaking day was the “Bioeconomy Tree”. Rooted in sustainability, the tree’s branches represented the different research fields that SNS supports, i.e., ecosystems, climate, social or technology. Bioeconomy was a thick branch on this tree. Researchers were encouraged to write their names down on post-its, here representing tree leaves, and place themselves on the different research branches. Hence, the leafless tree received a full, colorful crown. The tree in its final form, (see below) really portrays the image of interdisciplinarity and shows the cross-sectorial potential of research in a metaphorical and creative way. And it helped researchers visualize where their work actually fits and with whom they can collaborate in the future.

bioeconomy tree

                             The bioeconomy tree with different researchers and their interests represented as leaves  

This is one way to engage the different research fields and research communities to work towards a common goal. Braking silos, overcoming boundaries and avoiding counterproductive competition might just help us avoid working at cross purposes and avoid redundancies and overlapping initiatives in research. This might just be the way forward for the research community to work towards achieving a bio-based economy.  More matchmaking days for researchers across Europe (not just Scandinavia) might not be such a bad idea. It’s a lot of fun and you get to meet interesting, like-minded people. I was involved in organizing this event, and it was really fun and encouraging to see how enthusiastic and lively the discussions went.

The bioeconomy is not a sector, nor a research field. It’s rather an overarching paradigm, something that’s been here already for a long time, shaped by different discourses and initiatives. True, it hasn’t really been synchronized until recently, and we’ve just started grasping it’s full potential and significance. No doubt, it offers a lot of opportunities for the research community. It’s just that our approach towards it needs to be changed. In a way, we’ve already been part of the bioeconomy all along , we just didn’t know it. Now that we’re starting to understand it, it might be interesting to get our nose out of our papers and see what our colleagues from other disciplines are up to.

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