TORCH Common Science Agenda: strengthening a methodology for action

SDG wheel surrounded by sustainable icons woman and man holding puzzle pieces

A detailed analysis conducted by the CHARM-EU research dimension (TORCH) and involving approximately 400 researchers highlights the common research strengths among the five partner universities and leads to a list of concrete research challenges to be developed further as pilot studies. To better understand this process, download the infographic here and listen to the episode podcast.

What happens when you bring together different universities’ R&I transformative agendas, including their various strengths and specialisations to develop a common science agenda? Further, how these different R&I approaches can potentially complement each other and be connected to an all-encompassing umbrella such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? TORCH has recently published a report that explores pathways to bring together R&I trends and researchers from its five partner institutions with the aim to create a transdisciplinary SDG-driven Common Science Agenda based in the establishment of a strategic research challenge list. This report includes the methodological process carried out by TORCH partners, including best practical case examples, in order to obtain a list of research challenges and that could be further developed as pilot studies. 

An innovative methodological approach: a multi-step bottom-up participatory process  

TORCH Thematic Lines and correspondence to UN SDGs.
TORCH Thematic Lines and correspondence to UN SDGs.

The methodological process used by TORCH to find common research strengths among its partners, and which led to the formulation of a challenge list was based on a bottom-up action with an inclusive multi-disciplinary, multi-university and gender-balanced perspective, combining the curiosity-driven and utility-driven research with a focus on their social impact. It included a three-step participatory process that involved researchers from all partner universities:

Firstly, a research area questionnaire was carried out with approximately 400 researchers connecting their scientific expertise and research interests with the TORCH thematic areas and the connected SDGs.

SDGs selected by the TORCH
partners' institutions

After, each partner institution examined the results from an institutional perspective to determine within the TORCH priority Thematic areas which were the key SDGs to be pursued.  Finally, a group of 131 researchers were invited to outline a key research challenge linked to at least one SDG of their choice.

The resulting dataset was used to assign researchers to tree focus groups each group linked to one of the three selected SDGs: SDG3 Good Health & Well-Being; SDG10: Reduce Inequalities and SDG13: Clime Action.

TORCH Author Networks Analysis: an interactive tool to consolidate common research challenges

With the results of the questionnaire and through a traversal methodological scale, a bibliographic analysis tool was created to learn more on the current state of the art from alliance’s collaborations, helping to establish a knowledge base of the members of the consortium.  This interactive tool enabled TORCH to create research networks according to different bibliographic criteria such as collaboration between authors, matching between authors according to keywords or shared references. This interactive tool was made available to the SDG-driven focus groups when discussing the different challenge proposals.

TORCH Methodological Approach
TORCH Methodological Approach

The final challenge list for a Common Science Agenda  

The outcome of the three focus groups resulted in a list of six challenges (two per each selected SDG) that TORCH would be developing during the second phase of the project:

  • SDG3-C1: ‘ACTIVE: Adult Child and Teenage participation In physical actiVity across Europe’.
  • SDG3-C2: ‘Prevention and preparedness of negative effects of climate change on vector-borne infectious diseases.’
  • SDG10-C1: ‘Coping with digitalization and the transformation of the world of work as a new source of inequalities.’
  • SDG10-C2: ‘Designing better universities to fight against inequalities.’  
  • SDG13-C1: ‘Preventive Water Sustainable Management of Freshwater resources within a global change frameset (PWSM)’.
  • SDG13-C2: ‘Mapping Risks, Joining Funds, Taking Actions – Fostering Nature-based Solutions to Mitigate Climate-related Hazards’.

This pathway represented a valuable and deep knowledge tracing exercise on the development of a common European R&I transformative agenda by helping to better understand the different universities’ research strengthens and joining researchers from different backgrounds together around shared scientific and societal challenges.

Advancing the Common R&I agenda: public consultation and next steps  

These proposed challenges were disseminated with the alliance’s community and to the general public via different communication channels such as the TORCH Annual Forum held in March 2022. Subsequently, the challenges were submitted to the feedback of the TORCH Vice-Rectors Committee and Rectors assembly in order to finally agree on the final challenges to be developed as a pilots.  The final step of this process includes an evaluation on current financing mechanisms, barriers and existing infrastructures for this common scientific agenda to be implemented, and, more specifically, for the research challenges to be pursued further.

Download the full report here.  

Check out the infographic below or downlonad it here.


Infographic  | TORCH Methodological Approach

TORCH Results Challenge List | Infographic