Sponsored content is premium paid-for content produced by the Irish Times Content Studio on behalf of commercial clients. The Irish Times newsroom or other editorial departments are not involved in the production of sponsored content.

‘National brainstorm’ seeks research ideas on how to create a better future

Scheme will ensure direction of research is informed by people it serves, says SFI boss

Launched earlier this year, Creating Our Future is a Government-led initiatives which aims to gather more than 10,000 ideas from people all over the country on research that could shape a better future for everyone. “It’s a national brainstorm that will involve the people of Ireland in a conversation on the role research can and should play in addressing challenges, opportunities and hopes for the future,” explains Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) director of strategy and communications Dr Ruth Freeman.

“Ireland has an internationally renowned research and innovation community,” she adds. “Creating Our Future will ensure that the direction of research in Ireland is informed by the people it serves.”

Freeman is quick to point out that the initiative is broadly based and not led by SFI. “It’s a real privilege to be involved,” she says. “I am a member of the steering committee along with representatives from the Irish Research Council, the Technological Higher Education Association and others. It’s very much a national effort, it’s for everyone and SFI is just part of it. Our role is to be an enabler. The idea is to create a bit of time and space for better conversations to take place between the public and the research community. People have a right to a voice in research, particularly publicly funded research.”

The campaign is the first of its kind in Ireland and was inspired by similar exercises conducted in Flanders and the Netherlands in recent years, she adds.


The public are being asked to submit their ideas for what researchers in Ireland should explore to create a better future. Ideas can be based on an opportunity or challenge the individual sees for themselves, their community, Ireland or the world, or a topic they are curious or passionate about and would like researchers to explore.

Stimulate discussions

"A lot of people go into science and research because of their curiosity about the world around them," Freeman notes. "We are asking people to submit their ideas to the creatingourfuture.iededicated online portal. The ideas can be about anything. We want to stimulate discussions around research. During the pandemic the public have watched the research and science unfold in areas like vaccines, behavioural psychology and economics. They could see things like how scientists have to change their approach when new information and evidence come to light. We want to open that door a bit wider."

Idea generation can also be a community effort. “We would like people to have conservations about what matters to them with their friends, family, schools, work colleagues or community groups,” she continues. “They can also organise meetings and events and ask a researcher to come along to them.”

The research community and broader society are also inputting to the process. “We have a great and very supportive advisory forum chaired by Julie Byrne who is global head of Nokia Bell Labs external collaboration programmes. The forum brings together representatives from societal representative groups, Government departments and agencies, representatives from higher education institutions, the Irish Universities’ Association, the Royal Irish Academy and many others. Overall, more than 80 organisations from across the spectrum are taking part. We are working with the forum to ensure that all those voices feed into the process.”

Diversity and inclusion are at the centre of the campaign. “All ideas are welcome and we are working to engage all cohorts, regions and demographics in the campaign. Research and innovation have the potential to improve accessibility for underprivileged groups and we will be actively reaching out to ensure a diversity of views are represented.”

Encourage submissions

There are also plans to take the campaign to the people and the Creating Our Future roadshow will be touring the country until the end of October to encourage submissions, with events planned across the country. “People will be able to come along and grab a coffee, have a conversation with researchers and submit their ideas,” says Freeman.

More than 1,300 ideas have already been received. “Some of the ideas from the 16- to 25-year-old age cohort have been wonderful,” says Freeman. “They are focusing on things like climate change, youth mental health and research into educational methods. We have some really thoughtful ideas from that group already.”

The portal will remain open until the end of November when the ideas will be passed over to an expert committee which will create a report and present it to Government. “We hope this will lead to the creation of a book of inspiration which researchers can use to guide their work. If you are just starting out in your research career, this could be a very inspiring place to start. The report will also inform future strategy for research.”

Barry McCall

Barry McCall is a contributor to The Irish Times