Research and Sustainability

There is increasing societal discussions on and measures against climate change and biodiversity loss, topics that touch the self-conception and tasks of natural history museums. In 2015, the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for the 2030 Agenda. To what extent do the SDG affect scientific activities at NHM Oslo? Is there an increasing awareness of the SDG? Do they have an immediate impact on developing scientific questions and projects? As a first step to explore these questions I designed a very simple web-based questionnaire consisting of four questions and circulated it to the professors and PostDocs at NHM Oslo. It was neither the intention to conduct a detailed scientific study on research and sustainability nor to do a representative survey, it was much more an initial of the spectrum of opinion among colleagues.

A total of 56 colleagues at NHM Oslo were invited to participate, of which 14 responded (25%). All answers were anonymous. Although the number of responses to the questionnaire is relatively low, there may, nevertheless, emerge some interesting trends from the answers.

The first question addressed wether or not the SDG were considered important for for research within life/geo science at NHM Oslo. Yes, the majority thinks they are, with almost half of the respondents considering them ‘important’.

Question 1

The second question asked the participants to what extent the 17 SDG were relevant in the current research? Not surprisingly, SDG 4 (quality education), 14 (life below water) and 15 (life on land) were considered most relevant, but also SDG 5 (gender equality) and 13 (climate action) scored relatively high.

Question 2 – the answering options ‘not applicable’ and ‘not at all’ are not included in this plot

The next question explored if the SDG will play an increased role for future research activities. The majority of answers did not indicate any future changes. SDG do not seem to be a major driver for research, and developing future research projects to better align with SDG seems unlikely.

Question 3

The last question asked if researchers should involve in political and societal debates. The majority of answers indicated that they should do with a bit more than half of the respondents wishing to leave it up to the individual scientist while the others considered it essential that scientists take a stand in their field of expertise.

Question 4

As mentioned before, the Research and Sustainability questionnaire was not intended as a representative survey, and the answers can only illustrate a rather simplified spectrum of opinion among colleagues working at Norways largest natural history museum. The answers may be biased in many ways but I have no information on who responded. However, it seems to me that the SDG adopted by the United Nations in 2015 do not serve as drivers for more ‘applied’ research at NHM Oslo. Although this has not been asked in the questionnaire I suspect the scopes of external funding programs to have a stronger impact on shaping research projects. This does not necessarily mean that SDG play no role at all, but they may have an influence on research more indirectly.

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