Society, Ethics and Sustainability in the NeIC context
For the strategic period 2020–2025 the NeIC Board decided to put emphasis on Society, Ethics and Sustainability as a mechanism to define and clarify NeIC’s role especially in the Nordic region. The NeIC policy on Society, Ethics and Sustainability outlines the concept of Society, Ethics and Sustainability in the NeIC context and initiates a discussion on how to consider and act on this priority.
Approved by the NeIC Board August 25th, 2020
The Nordic region has an impressive record of providing examples for the rest of the world on cooperation around the significant issues that face the region. This has recently been embodied in the Vision for 2030 that was put forth by the Nordic prime ministers with the priorities on a green, competitive and socially sustainable Nordic region (hereinafter referred to as Nordic Council of Ministers (NCM) Vision). As Nordic priorities they link outwards to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDG) in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and embody the national priorities and culture of the Nordic region towards issues that affect societies and people.
Research has an intrinsic value but over the past years it has become important that research and accompanying research infrastructures also manifest their contribution to society. Research infrastructures (RIs) are usually funded, at least partially, with public funding. Therefore they are expected to demonstrate their benefit and impact on society. In the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) framework for impact of research infrastructures one of the dimensions of impact is to assume social responsibility towards society. In that context, social responsibility is considered to include energy consumption, waste management, gender balance and diversity and corporate social responsibility. Furthermore, the latter includes ethical rules, supply chain and good working conditions.
While NeIC is not a research infrastructure as such, but a facilitator for research e-infrastructure collaboration, there are a lot of similarities on the expectations by the funding agencies and other stakeholders. For the strategic period 2020–2025 the NeIC Board decided to put emphasis on Society, Ethics and Sustainability as a mechanism to define and clarify NeIC’s role especially in the Nordic region. This document outlines the concept of Society, Ethics and Sustainability in the NeIC context and initiates a discussion on how to consider and act on this priority.
Society – beneficiary of NeIC activities
The main expected benefit of NeIC projects is that
*NeIC projects contribute to better quality of research or productivity of researchers by developing and deploying e-infrastructure services.
This is in line with the general acknowledgement that scientific excellence is the main driver for research infrastructure development. This is also addressed in the mantra of NeIC strategy for 2020–2025, which is Digital Infrastructure for Nordic Research Excellence.
By having scientific excellence at the core of NeIC activities, the activities have larger benefits on society in the longer term. At the time of writing, NeIC has a balanced project portfolio that facilitates collaboration on research e-infrastructure supporting fundamental research with no immediate benefit to society and activities that are targeted to e-infrastructure for research that have more direct connections to solving societal challenges.
In the selection of new projects, the NeIC 5-year strategy and balance in the NeIC project portfolio is taken into account. These are all tied together with a 10-year Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that NeIC has with NordForsk and the national funding agencies. Yet, the timeline of NeIC’s contribution to society extends beyond the timeline of individual projects, NeIC strategy or 10-year MoU. It is considered to be a long-term contribution of larger benefits to society, in an ethical and sustainable manner.
The long-term collaboration within research e-infrastructure in the Nordic region enables NeIC also to act on sudden challenging global situations when it is identified that NeIC could provide valuable contributions and that the activities would be in line with the NeIC strategy.
NeIC emphasizes well-defined processes and openness, thereby creating trust and positive relationships, paving the ground for collaborative problem-solving for a significant part of the Nordic societies.
Most activity in NeIC takes the form of collaborative projects, which can be either development projects or pre-studies. Each of the NeIC development projects has a fixed duration. Typical NeIC development projects run for three years with a possibility of a successor. The projects have their own goals and at the start-up phase of the project they also define concrete benefits that are anticipated to result from the project work and that are sustained after the completion of the project.
In addition to development, NeIC has currently a long term operational activity of coordinating the Nordic Tier-1 facility, expected to be in use through 2038. This facility provides computational and data services to the world-wide community of high energy physicists who use the particle accelerators and detectors at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, to carry out fundamental physics research.
Research infrastructure development and operation is a long-term investment and it is not always straightforward to get the developed services into use by the research community. Therefore, in addition to support for the development of the digital solutions needed for e-infrastructure services, NeIC also facilitates collaboration on training to use the services. The NeIC development projects each have project specific plans for supporting (generally referred to as sustaining) their e-infrastructure outcomes after the end of the project.
At a high level, NeIC acts to the benefit of society at large in several ways. By supporting and enabling research and knowledge creation in general NeIC contributes to laying the foundation for innovation and informed decision-making. Pooling and sharing competences in the development, operation and maintenance of e-infrastructure services increase the knowledge base and competitiveness of the Nordic region, and also saves manpower. Collaboration on cost-effective e-infrastructure solutions also saves energy for powering systems. Besides supporting research in general NeIC supports also selected themes that contribute to the UN SDGs and thus contribute to increasing global sustainability.
Ethics – framework for the conduct of the work
Ethical conduct is considered to be of high value in the Nordics and also in the academic environment. NordForsk and the national research funding agencies have ethical codes of conduct which are relevant to NeIC supported activities and to the governance of NeIC. This offers a workable arrangement for carrying out NeIC work in a manner that is considered to be ethically acceptable on a personal level by the people involved, by those affected and also at an organizational level.
As part of NordForsk, on General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) related issues NeIC relates and adheres to NordForsk’s Data Protection Policy. For the matters where NeIC can not rely on NordForsk’s policy, NeIC creates the necessary privacy policies complementing NordForsk’s policy. These could relate to e.g. services resulting from NeIC project activities or services and tools that NeIC use for internal work tasks.
The NeIC core values provide the basic guidance for the personnel and conduct of the projects. The specific ethical topics related to a project are to be addressed by the project itself. Openness and transparency in NeIC organisational values extend also to people’s relations within NeIC and NeIC people act respectfully towards their colleagues. NeIC promotes equality, equal terms and diversity and believes in equal opportunity in employment practices without discrimination on the grounds of race, religious beliefs, colour, gender, sexual orientation, disability, place of origin, age, marital status, or family status.
Sustainability – long-lasting benefits and impacts
There are multiple aspects to sustainability. At the broadest level, the UN Brundtland Commission defined sustainability in 1987 as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This has most recently been reflected in the UN SDGs which relates a set of seventeen high level global goals on poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice with a date for meeting the goals of 2030. Each of the goals has a set of targets, e.g. Goal 9 includes industry, innovation and information targets, which is relevant to NeIC.
In Reykjavík, 20. August, 2019, the Nordic prime ministers agreed on the vision that the Nordic region will become the most sustainable and integrated region in the world by 2030. The prime ministers pointed to threats by climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss. The Nordic region’s strengths should be used in the interests of the climate and society, and the prime ministers agreed to make this their highest priority. Through generating and sharing knowledge new Nordic solutions can be found. To achieve the vision the three priorities for the Nordic region were set to green, competitive and socially sustainable. Green growth will be promoted based on knowledge, innovation, mobility and digital integration.
The vision of the prime ministers can be supported by reinforcing the collaboration on digital infrastructure for Nordic research excellence. Investments in digital infrastructure/solutions are not one-offs but require a long-term perspective through continuous investment cycles. The sustainability of the Nordic region depends on being able to identify and respond appropriately to the natural and societal environments. Collaborating across the region is critical to marshalling the knowledge and people to develop better throughout and more open ways to increase the competitiveness and resilience of the region.
All NeIC projects and activities have the potential to contribute to the UN SDGs and the NCM Vision but some of them are more directly targeted to those. The projects that aim at developing and offering general e-infrastructure services for a wide range of research problems may have effects that contribute to a sustainable globe due to the research they benefit. Some of the previous and current NeIC projects have been initiated by the communities whose work is directly relevant to the sustainability goals. Examples of such communities include biodiversity and climate researchers, and service providers for handling biomedical sensitive data for whom NeIC has offered the framework for collaboration.
The NeIC project on e-infrastructures for biodiversity research has benefitted researchers by enabling access and tools for analysing data about different species and ecosystems in the Nordic-Baltic region. This allows the researcher to work more efficiently towards the challenges described in the NCM Vision and the UN SDGs, at least the goals 14 Life below water and 15 Life on land. The NeIC project on Earth System Modeling has contributed to the climate data sharing by the researchers for the use of other researchers and policy makers, e.g., IPCC - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and thus contributed to better understanding and more accurate models of climate change. This addresses the challenges described in the NCM Vision and the UN SDGs, particularly the goal 13 Climate Action. The collaboration project that aims at improved weather predictions that NeIC is also facilitating could potentially also contribute to this goal. By contributing to combating climate change several other UN SDGs may be targeted as well.
The project on handling biomedical sensitive data contributes to the research in the field of personalised medicine that helps more people to live healthier, longer and high quality lives. This relates to the UN SDGs, especially goal 3 Good health and well-being. The NeIC project on sharing computational resources across borders supported several research projects from different fields that could contribute to the NCM Vision or the UN SDGs. For example, many of the projects related to material sciences could contribute especially to the UN SDG goal 9 Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure. Also the NeIC project that has focused on designing and simulating the data flow and computing workflow from the antenna arrays of the upcoming EISCAT_3D radar sites to the central storage and computing site could potentially contribute to this goal.
Actions on society, ethics, sustainability
- Using impacts analysis as a mechanism to describe and review how NeIC benefits society through the work of NeIC projects, training activities and benefit realisation management
- Communicating NeIC benefits on society, e.g. in the NeIC Annual Report and in NeIC news articles
- Using impacts analysis as a mechanism to describe and review NeIC contribution to a sustainable globe by mapping projects to the UN SDGs and the NCM vision
- Communicating NeIC’s contribution to the UN SDGs and the NCM vision, e.g. in the NeIC Annual Report and in NeIC news articles
- Any concerns on ethical matters within a NeIC project are to be raised to the Project Owner and discussed together with all Project Managers or the NeIC Executive Team (XT). General questions regarding ethical matters are to be raised to XT.
- Relevant NeIC policies and the Core Values are to be reviewed on a regular basis.
- Communicating NeIC’s position and actions on society, ethics and sustainability, e.g. through a report, news article or blog post.
- The document and actions on Society, Ethics and Sustainability are to be revised with the strategy mid-review.
- We have included criteria regarding society, ethics and sustainability in the NeIC policy for project selection, applied in the NeIC open call from 2020 onwards.
To download the NeIC Policy on Society, Ethics and Sustainability please follow this link.