CESSDA asks ten questions to Bjørn Tore Kjellemo
Bjørn Tore Kjellemo is Head of the Department of bilateral cooperation and development research at The Research Council of Norway.
His department is responsible for research on global development, including poverty, human rights and sustainable development.
Bjørn Kjellemo is also the Vice-Chair of CESSDA’s General Assembly, the executive authority of the consortium, which meets twice a year.
CESSDA asked Bjørn Kjellemo to answer a few questions.
What does a typical day look like for you at the research council?
I would say that it looks like a typical day for a lot of people these days. Meetings and emails fill my day, but I do try to speak to colleagues within my department on a daily basis. This helps me to find out what they are struggling with and whether there are issues that we need to discuss. I also like to meet with people working in other departments or outside of the research council. I still believe in personal meetings. These meetings need not be long and formal, just a few minutes to talk face to face about what we are working on can often be enough. I believe that this is a very good way of working together, rather than shooting off emails all the time.
What are the three priority areas that your department focuses on?
Our three thematic priority areas are: research on global development, research on foreign policy and international relations, and research on global health. If you look at it in a non-thematic way, we are a research funding council, so we want to run our activities in an efficient and professional way. We aim to provide professional services to our users and also to have good knowledge and analytical capacity, so that we can provide sound advice to researchers, ministries and policy makers in that area. Lastly, we want to have a close and constructive dialogue with our partners both within research communities and funders and users of research. In short, well-run programmes, analytical capacity and dialogue are focus areas for us with our current priority themes.
How does your department work across borders to address transnational development issues?
We try to have a close relationship with other research funders in Europe and also outside of Europe, especially on funding research for development. We have a very good dialogue with UK Research & Innovation and also with the Dutch, the Swedish and the Swiss research councils. We have a few informal groups that meet on a regular basis both to see how we can share experiences and challenges, and to see how we can develop joint guidelines and ways of doing things. We also participate in and strongly encourage projects that seek international partnership. We have a portfolio board that oversees all of our activities and this is an international board with two or three Norwegian members and the other seven or eight are from outside of Norway. They help us make sure that issues are addressed in a transnational way. We also engage in European arenas and participate in multilateral and bilateral calls that involve countries outside of Europe, for example African countries.
How does the Research Council of Norway encourage the reuse of research data at an international level?
This is something that is important to us and it goes into our Research Council’s Policy on Open Access to Research Data. The Plan S and cOAlition S which concerns open publications stirred up some debate in Norway. We are working a lot on what we call “open research”, which is not only open research publication, but also open research data and open research methods and user involvement. Only yesterday (15 October), we had a meeting with researchers from Trondheim and Bergen and talked about how we can encourage more use of data from the European Social Survey. It is always easier to have ideas about collecting new data rather than using what is already there. The sentiment from the meeting is that we feel that we can do a lot more to encourage researchers as well as young researchers and master students to use existing data. This is not only to do with the data itself, but also whether there are known accessible formats that are allowed to be used.
We expect all projects that we fund to have a Data Management Plan (DMP). Of course some research projects do not need one and they are then required to explain this in writing. At the start of the projects we fund, we ask for a DMP as well as a final DMP at the end of project, when they deliver their final report. We also have guidelines and overarching principles of what a DMP should look like to help promote the reuse of data and openness of data. Our policy is that as a default data should be open, so you have to have a reason for not disclosing them.
What are the main barriers to making Norwegian research data available to foreign researchers (including for confidential data)?
There are a number of barriers. There is a national strategy for data and open use of research data in Norway. As a small language community, one potential barrier is language. Although data does not need to be in a particular language, not mastering the language can make accessing the data problematic. In addition, there are also all of the barriers that go with data: using different formats, lacking the metadata that makes them accessible. Not all data that are collected and could be used for research are originally collected for the main purpose of research, which then means that they have not been stored or organised in a way that makes them easily accessible for researchers. A lot of the barriers that you see for foreign researchers are the same as for Norwegian researchers.
What is the Norwegian policy to accomplish FAIR Data?
If you look at our guidelines in this area and for preparing DMPs, we embrace the FAIR Data principles. We support the development of research infrastructures and in that context we also underline the importance of these principles. You need to be able to find the data and access the data. A lot of these principles are reflected in our policies in this area.
You spent a couple of years at the Norwegian Mission to the European Union. As a Norwegian in Brussels, how quickly did you adapt to the Brussels environment (both the research and innovation world and the city itself) and which aspects did you enjoy most?
We moved to Brussels as a family when our kids were quite small and lived there from 2006 to 2008. My oldest daughter was just starting school and my son was still in kindergarten. On a personal note, it was great to go there as a family as it was an adventure for us.
It’s a very European capital so just as much as exploring Belgium, you explore the international community there. You meet people from all over Europe and work with them. It was easy to adapt to the Brussels was of living in such an international community. It’s fairly accessible, a good and an easy life, though there is a lot of work as well, which is very encouraging.
What impressed me is that when you get 27 countries together, you get different cultures, languages and ways of doing things, though you are still able to work effectively. On the outside, everyone is complaining about the bureaucracy, though when you look at it in reality, I think that it is incredible what they can achieve.
I used the train and I was also pleasantly surprised by that as well. It was fairly reliable and OK and the train stopped just near Place Schumann, which was right next to my office. I also cycled sometimes. I have not been back in over a year now. I was a member of a Council Group called the Strategic Forum for International Cooperation for a number of years and went back on a regular basis. It was always nice to feel a bit of the Brussels vibe.
What was the main lesson that you took away from those years at the heart of the European Union?
One of the lessons was a personal one: to work together with people from different countries. That was both a learning experience and a great joy. Despite coming from countries with different languages, backgrounds and experiences, we are quite alike in many ways and it always strikes me that when you talk to people from all over Europe about what you find difficult or what is important in your country, it would often be the same thing. There may be a different colour to the particular issue but it would be very recognisable. When you work together you can achieve things that you wouldn’t have thought possible.
If you were the Minister of Education and Research, what one priority would you focus on for your term?
That is a difficult question. Although research has been the most important area that I have worked in for the last ten years, if I were the minister for both education and research, my number one priority would be education.
I would want to see how to improve education, not only doing better at PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), but strengthening the educational system, turning it into a system that encourages curiosity, so that no one is left behind and so that everyone feels that on their own terms, they can be a winner, that they have opportunities. This is very important in my opinion, from early childhood to higher education and adult education. Still there are too many people who feel that school was not an arena where they flourished or had an opportunity to show what they were able to do.
If, as a Norwegian, you could be President of the European Commission for one day, what would you decide or implement?
Only for one day? Could we extend that to a week? One of the most important challenges for the European Union, which I think is a great project, is to strengthen inclusion, trust and cohesion. In a lot of European countries today, you see that people are losing trust in politicians. They feel that there is a divide between us and them. They lose trust in each other and they don’t feel that they are part of the same project. They feel that the EU, its institutions and politicians in different countries, have another agenda than their own. This will become a bigger problem in the future and it needs to be addressed right now. How do we build a joint project that really includes people, where they feel that what we are doing, we are doing it together? It will not be achieved in one day but just putting it on the agenda is incredibly important. We need to believe in our project and show ourselves to be trustworthy and take it more seriously than we have so far.
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