Using research to solve societal problems starts with building connections and making space for young people

Often, when scientists do research around a specific societal challenge, they hope their work will help solve that larger problem. Yet translating findings into long-lasting, community-driven solutions is much harder than most expect.

It seems intuitive that scientists studying living organisms, microbes and ecosystems could apply their findings to tackle food shortages, help keep environments healthy and improve human and animal health. But it’s not always that easy. Issues like climate change, renewable energy, public health and migration are complex, making direct solutions challenging to develop and implement.

As a group of researchers invested in helping scientists create meaningful impact with their work, we understand problems like these will need experts from different fields and industries to work together.

This means we might need to reevaluate certain aspects of the inquiry process and embrace fresh perspectives if we, as members of the scientific community, want to improve our capacity for producing solutions-oriented research.

Defining use-inspired research

Science does not occur in a vacuum. Factors including funding availability, access to advanced technologies and political or social contexts can influence the kinds of studies that get done. A framework called use-inspired research and engagement, or UIRE, acknowledges this fact.

In use-inspired research, the potential applications of findings for society shape the directions of exploration.

In UIRE, researchers work with members of a community to figure out what questions they should look into. They form partnerships with other stakeholders, including governments, businesses of all scales and nonprofits, to form a collaborative foundation. This way, researchers can tailor investigations from the outset to be useful to and usable by decision-makers.

Translational research, or intentionally grounding scientific exploration in practical applications, isn’t new. Use-inspired research expands on translational research, prioritizing building connections between practitioners and communities.

Translational research and use-inspired research rely on collaborations between researchers and stakeholders outside academia.

In the U.S., the passage of the CHIPS and Science Act in 2022 further codified use-inspired research. The act directed US$280 billion over the next 10 years toward funding scientific inquiry to boost domestic competitiveness, innovation and national security.

This legislation also authorized the establishment of the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships, called NSF TIP. TIP marks the agency’s first new directorate in over three decades, created with the aim of sparking the growth of diverse innovation and technology landscapes.

Producing science in partnership

In use-inspired research and engagement, collaboration is a big…

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