Text: Oskari Vesterinen and Tamás Péter Szabó

(Originally published in October 2020 on JYU's FORTHEM blog.)

The FORTHEM Labs Mission has recently summarized the lessons learnt from its first active year in the form of an interim report. The first anniversary of FORTHEM Labs is a good time to explain what Labs are, what they have achieved so far and what tasks are ahead.

In short, FORTHEM Labs are seven interdisciplinary expert networks that constitute one of the so-called “missions” (i.e., areas of operation) of the FORTHEM Alliance (the other two being Mobility and Outreach). Labs are open to all students, researchers and universities’ external partners, and they provide a framework for international, multidisciplinary and multi-stakeholder collaboration with other universities and their partners. Internationality means that all FORTHEM universities from seven countries (Finland, Latvia, Poland, Germany, France, Spain and Italy) develop Labs together. Multidisciplinarity in turn refers to an approach that contributors do not aim to develop a certain academic field but rather focus on current societal challenges and invite partners from various fields to address them.

Multi-stakeholder collaboration, which is in the heart of Labs, means that people with different educational and institutional background work together. For example, in-service teachers from local schools involve their pupils to develop a citizen science project together with students and researchers from the university to better understand how multilingualism affects their everyday lives. In this context, pupils, students, teachers, professors and any other contributors are all experts who approach the topic from various angles and contribute to the work with the skills and expertise they have. Thus, the chosen challenges are approached in a versatile way. Applying the above mentioned principles, Labs develop research-based solutions (“outputs”) to the pressing societal issues they focus on. Labs’ outputs include courses, workshops, academic and popular publications and summer schools, exhibitions and many other things.

Labs provide several benefits for their participants: international contacts and researcher networks and a vivid international working environment to all, as well as ECTS credit compensation and internship opportunities for students. Soon internal calls will be opened so that contributors who work on Lab’s outputs, students, researchers and university-external partners alike, would be compensated for their work. For example, a student who is interested in issues concerning global warming can join the Lab Climate and Resources and participate in developing a workshop on the topic, receiving hourly based compensation for their work, or complete an internship in the Lab in a partner institution. University-external stakeholders may also get financial compensation for their work, and they benefit from the same networks as academics and students.

Over the past year, Labs have been busy. Four Labs (Food Science, Experiencing Europe, Multilingualism in School and Higher Education, Diversity and Migration) have already launched and have begun planning 27 output pilots on various topics. The three remaining Labs (Digital TransformationClimate and Resources, and Resilience, Life Quality and Demographic Change) will commence their Alliance level activities this autumn. Altogether, a total of around 500 students, staff members and university-external partners are involved in the Labs already within the Alliance. The number of outputs and participants is already much higher than initially planned, and will grow when the three new Labs will boost their work after their Alliance level kick-offs.

The Labs’ work is coordinated by the FORTHEM project which has received Erasmus+ funding for three years (September 2019 – August 2022), and its cousin, FIT FORTHEM, which is a Horizon 2020 funded project running between January 2021 and December 2023. FIT FORTHEM is a supplementary project to FORTHEM that is designed to provide more resources to the Labs’ research and innovation agenda by funding pilots and by bringing academic and non-academic actors together. This will increase mutually beneficial work, where, for example, a collaborating NGO gets a student intern from a Lab, a student gains international work experience, and the Lab benefits from the work the student does in their internship.

Stay tuned!

For further information, contact Scientific Manager for Lab Actions Tamás Péter Szabó (tamas.p.szabo@jyu.fi) or Coordinator for Lab Actions Oskari Vesterinen (oskari.m.vesterinen@jyu.fi).

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