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Research ideas for a zero-emissions society:

New method to generate radical project ideas

The Research Council of Norway is adopting an “idea laboratory” (Idélab) method to generate groundbreaking projects in the interface between subject areas and disciplines. The first event will focus on the vision of a zero-emissions society.

In January 2014, 25–30 researchers will gather in an Idélab event to find new solutions for achieving a zero-emissions society. Experts in biotechnology, nanotechnology and ICT will meet with researchers from entirely different subject areas, including the social sciences and humanities. Together they will develop radical project proposals.

Do you have exciting ideas to contribute to the Research Council’s first Idélab event? Please see the announcement “Towards a zero-emissions society”. The application deadline is 27 November 2013.

Photo: Sverre C. Jarild The Idélab method will cultivate radical projects that cross disciplines and subject areas in new ways, says Anne Kjersti Fahlvik. (Photo: Sverre C. Jarild) Responding to change-related challenges

“Recent evaluations of the Research Council have challenged us to play a greater role in promoting activities that generate more groundbreaking research. The Idélab method will cultivate radical projects that cross disciplines and subject areas in new ways,” says Anne Kjersti Fahlvik, Executive Director of the Division for Innovation at the Research Council.

The Idélab method is one of several measures that the Research Council is testing out as a follow-up to the evaluation of the Council in 2012. The method could become a permanent addition to the Research Council’s traditional work methods and instruments.

Five days from idea to project

The Idélab method is taken from the UK, where research councils and universities have been using it for 10 years.

“We have done a wide search to find the best international practices in the area and assessed various concepts for groundbreaking, innovative research. We chose the UK method known as ‘sandpit’, which in Norwegian has been termed Idélab,” says Ms Fahlvik. “We know that British and American research councils have used this method more than 60 times with great success,” she explains.

A main feature of an Idélab event is that the participants are challenged in an interactive process with researchers from subject areas with whom they would not typically collaborate. The researchers are brought together in cross-disciplinary groups for a five–day workshop. During this period they will develop ideas into concrete project proposals with advice from highly qualified external mentors and a leader who has overall responsibility for the entire gathering.

The event enables researchers with different backgrounds to try out their ideas with each other and together develop new, more groundbreaking ideas. An Idélab event usually results in three to five new ideas that are further developed into project proposals.

First up: Towards a zero-emissions society

In light of the threat of global warming, we must all seek climate-friendly solutions to current and future energy needs. In the long run, the energy system needs to be redesigned to bring the emissions from human activity down towards zero. The objective of the first Idélab call for proposals is to generate creative, research-based solutions based on circuit systems and a cradle-to-cradle perspective.

The Idélab event will explore radical new processes for achieving a zero-emissions society with the help of nanotechnology, biotechnology and ICT in conjunction with other subject areas.

Idelab An Idélab event can supplement traditional work methods.

The Research Council’s Programme for Biotechnology for Innovation (BIOTEK2021), Programme for Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials (NANO2021) and Programme for Core Competence and Value Creation in ICT (VERDIKT) will allocate a total of up to NOK 30 million to projects created during the Idélab event. The Programme for Sustainable Innovation in Food and Bio-based Industries (BIONAER) will follow the process closely and step in as a co-funder if the project ideas generated are particularly relevant for its field of research.

Unique opportunity for research institutions and trade and industry

“Universities, research institutes and companies with employees who take part in an Idélab event will be in a win-win situation. We know from the UK’s experience that when researchers participate in an Idélab event, they increase their capacity for cross-disciplinary cooperation, creativity and originality in their own research. Unique networks are established as well,” says Ms Fahlvik.

“At an Idélab event, researchers get the chance to propose and further develop ideas in a radical, cross-disciplinary, creative environment. In addition, the researchers responsible for the project ideas selected are guaranteed funding from the Research Council provided they submit a full application by the deadline and there is nothing else that dictates otherwise,” explains André Fossen Mlonyeni, a senior adviser and project manager for the Idélab event at the Research Council.

About Idélab

Idélab events represent a new method being tested out by the Research Council as a means of selecting the most groundbreaking research and innovation projects through the exchange of ideas and discussion across scientific boundaries.

  • Individuals – not institutions – are the key actors at an Idélab event. Between 25 and 30 participants from a variety of subject areas are selected on the basis of an application and convene for an intensive, five-day workshop.
  • The project ideas generated are developed in cooperation with senior-level mentors from various fields, as well as other external specialists, who ensure that the projects involve groundbreaking ideas that challenge traditional solutions.
  • The best projects will receive a funding pledge at the conclusion of the event. The projects are guaranteed funding provided they submit a full application within eight weeks, the proposal corresponds with the idea generated at the Idélab event and there is nothing else concerning the project that dictates otherwise. The Research Council has set aside NOK 30 million for projects created at the first Norwegian Idélab event in January 2014.
  • The Idélab projects are a supplement to the ordinary funding rounds at the Research Council.


Written by:
Claude Olsen/Karin Totland. Translation: Connie Stultz/Carol B. Eckmann
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