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Science Foundation Ireland hails Creating our Future campaign

Thousands of ideas for future research projects submitted by members of the public

The impact of parental depression on children, the use of robots for litter collection, creating car-free cities, studying gender bias among radio presenters, and communication around cancer and infertility. These were among the more than 18,000 ideas for future research projects submitted by members of the public who participated in Science Foundation Ireland’s (SFI’s) Creating Our Future national brainstorm.

The Creating our Future campaign was the first of its kind public engagement dialogue to be undertaken in Irelands and ran over five months from July to December 2021. It asked the Irish public to submit research ideas based on a flexible, open-ended question: “Tell us your idea for what researchers in Ireland should explore to create a better future?”

The Creating Our Future roadshow visited every county in Ireland at least once. Forty roadshow events were held, and 36 stakeholder information and campaign support events were facilitated. In total, more than 1,500 online and in-person brainstorms and events were held to gather ideas. The engagement campaign was supported by an Advisory Forum chaired by Julie Byrne, Global Head of Nokia Bell Labs External Collaboration Programs.

An expert committee chaired by Prof Linda Hogan of Trinity College Dublin and consisting of nine experts across various research disciplines, supported by seven working groups with more than 50 domain experts, was responsible for reviewing the submissions, synthesising the findings, and making recommendations.


The result is a database of 18,000 ideas for research across a wide spectrum of areas including the environment, mental health, food and sustainable and green living, to housing, health, the arts, digital challenges, learning and development, and nurturing the community. The ideas have also been drawn together into a digital Book of Inspiration which will be used to guide research for years to come.

The outputs and recommendations from Creating Our Future have been integrated into the Government’s new national research and innovation strategy Impact 2030 and will inform research conducted under the new €65 million National Challenge Fund.

“The response from the public exceeded all our expectations,” says SFI deputy director general Ciarán Seoighe. “Inclusive dialogue was our north star across all aspects of the campaign. We wanted to reach out to people who we don’t normally get to engage with, people who don’t think they are involved in research decisions.”

The campaign meant the roadshow coffee truck stopping at shopping centres, street corners, universities, schools, and other venues. “We got submissions from everywhere from Killybegs to the International Space Station.”

That extra-terrestrial idea came about as a result of a conversation between a group of secondary school students from Carlow and an astronaut on the space station organised as part of the campaign.

Gathering the ideas was just the start of the process. “We took all 18,000 submissions and gave them to the expert committee,” he says. “The advisers and experts reviewed every single submission multiple times. The ideas were looked at through three different lenses. Firstly, we used artificial intelligence to review them and cluster them into different thematic areas. Then the individual experts read every single submission. After that, we looked at them to ensure there was a human-centric approach being taken. It was a fascinating process and other geographies are interested in it, Germany and the UK in particular. It’s probably fair to say that this could be a benchmark for how to do these things.”

The next steps are critically important. “We have to make sure it doesn’t become ‘shelfware’. That’s why we put the ideas into the Book of Inspiration. Often, when PhDs are looking for something to research, they ask what people are interested in. The Book of Inspiration can inspire researchers for years to come. We have also just launched the National Challenge Fund which is aimed at solving national challenges for Ireland. Creating our Future feeds into that. This is what people have said about the real world problems they would like to see solved and that will help shape the challenge definition.”

He acknowledges the effort put in to produce this outstandingly successful outcome. “I would like to thank everyone who worked on it including the expert committee, the advisory forum, and the team in SFI.”

And the work will continue. As Minister for Science Simon Harris said welcoming publication of the findings earlier this month: “In one way, it feels like we are at the finish of Creating Our Future but in another, we are really only at the beginning. The public has done its part, it is now up to Government and its agencies to implement the recommendations in both the campaign report and expert committee report.”