What does boldness mean in research funding in 2014?

In its strategy, Kone Foundation states that it advances bold initiatives in research and the arts. But what could be bold about research?

Taking risks can be bold, as is the case in the Volkswagen Foundation’s new form of funding called Experiment! (2012–2015). In the presentation of the initiative it is stated that daring research ideas that fundamentally challenge established research data are not considered at all in German research funding. Therefore the Experiment! initiative offers funding in the early stages of new projects with uncertain results. The initiative was launched in 2012, and its final deadline is 1 September 2015. The funding is not recalled if the project fails. However, the funding is only available for science, engineering, and life sciences, including behavioural research . Applications made by researchers of humanities or the social sciences are only considered if they participate in projects led by natural scientists . Let’s hope that Chinese social scientists are able to find partners for the Experiment! call for grants, as the public funding provided to these social scientists is currently focused on their appreciative analysis of President Xi Jinping’s speeches.

In the USA, the National Science Foundation has, over the past few years, similarly encouraged projects that instigate change in all its research programmes. According to the foundation, the results of this kind of study are often incompatible with known explanation models or theories, and they may be difficult to interpret at first, as the benefits only become apparent years later.

Changing of the structures of science policy is considered sufficiently bold for a public research funder in Finland. The structures have recently been changed by forming a Council of Strategic Research that funds research that “provides funding to problem-based, long-term and programme-based research aimed at finding solutions to the major challenges facing Finnish society ”. However, the council has also been criticised because the research themes originate from the Finnish Government; in other words, from politicians. This is the age-old debate: who is the expert on what should be researched at any particular time? Politicians? Powerful science policy makers ? Ordinary researchers without scientific-political power? Other social actors?

In addition to supporting researchers in humanities, social sciences and environmental research , Kone Foundation has ventured to suggest research themes that it has deemed to be important at any particular time. At this time, the foundation’s thematic funding is focused especially on supporting minority languages and publicising the mechanisms of social inequality. This year, we also emboldened ourselves to study a new kind of collaboration between researchers and journalists: the first Is Finland Becoming Polarised? projects commenced work in early September.

Of course, Kone Foundation is more interested in the researchers’ boldness than its own boldness as a funding organisation. In the projects it supports, researchers have taken both career risks and have put their own health at risk (not just in dreary work premises). It will be interesting to see how the applicants for the foundation’s scientific funding describe their own boldness in this autumn’s applications, where this question is being posed to applicants for the first time.


Kalle Korhonen

Head of Research Affairs Kone Foundation