Young people and research: increasingly international with the European Talent Academy

Interview with Arianna Seghezzi, Assistant Professor

 

Arianna, you have just returned from an international networking experience organized by the European Talent Academy, can you tell us something about the programme and how you got involved?

Of course! The European Talent Academy is an initiative created from a partnership between Imperial College and TUM (Technical University of Munich), which, starting from the 2021-2022 academic year, also involved the Politecnico di Milano. The main objective is to educate and create networking opportunities for young researchers from the three universities, united by a strong technological vocation and proximity to the world of industry, to stimulate collaboration between the parties. My involvement happened at the invitation of “Talent Development”, a Politecnico di Milano programme dedicated to supporting the career of some researchers at our university, which I joined with pleasure last year.

 

An event was organized in Brussels, with the theme “Artificial Intelligence as a key enabling technology to empower society: A European approach on excellence and trust to boost research”. Can you tell us how it went?

The Brussels event took the form of a two-day workshop, during which I had the opportunity, together with my colleagues, to participate in speeches and seminars of various kinds. In particular, I would recognise two main types of events, which accompanied the many opportunities for networking with researchers from other universities: meetings with representatives of the European Commission and seminars held on various topics by researchers and experts.

On the one hand, we had the opportunity to meet and discuss with two representatives of the European Commission: MEP Patrizia Toia, Vice-President of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE), and with Evangelia Markidou, Officer of the Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Innovation and Excellence unit of the European Commission. With them we discussed our work themes and the role that the European Commission has in promoting and supporting research in these areas.

Afterwards, we participated in educational and information seminars, held by experts operating in different domains, all in some way related to the theme of international research projects in the Artificial Intelligence sector. Some seminars were more “vertical” (aimed at investigating aspects related to artificial intelligence and digital innovation), others more “horizontal” (focused on the correct setting of requests for participation in calls for European projects, regardless of specific themes)

 

What was the spirit of this networking initiative for “promising young researchers”?

I would say that the keywords with which I would describe the spirit of this initiative are two.

First is internationalization. We had the opportunity to meet and interact with colleagues who work in two non-Italian universities, creating fertile ground for potential future collaborations with international researchers.

Second is multidisciplinarity. Despite the common thread of Artificial Intelligence, the research areas of the participants were very different from each other, relating to the potential areas of application. From biomedical researchers to experts in legal and privacy issues, the basic idea was to try to pool different backgrounds, experiences and settings.

I believe that working together by breaking down geographical and thematic barriers is fundamental in many contexts and that it is particularly so in the world of research. This opportunity allowed me to experience these elements first hand, to meet researchers from Imperial College and TUM, who belong to different research fields, interested in topics similar to those on which I work, and I hope that this will lay the foundations for a profitable, effective (and “promising”!) path towards the creation of an increasingly international and multidisciplinary research network.

ERC Consolidator Grant goes to Massimo Tavoni

Massimo Tavoni, Full Professor of climate economics at the School of Management of the Politecnico di Milano, is the winner of the ERC Consolidator Grant with the EUNICE project, which aims to reduce uncertainties in climate stabilisation pathways. 

 

Massimo Tavoni, Professor at the School of Management of Politecnico di Milano and Director of the RFF-CMCC European Institute on Economics and the Environment (EIEE), is one of the winners of the 2022 edition of the ERC Consolidator Grants from the European Research Council (ERC), the first pan-European organisation for frontier research.

Professor Tavoni’s research was selected from over two thousand proposals submitted to ERC, which aims to foster scientific excellence by supporting and encouraging competition for funding among the best and most original researchers.

In detail, EUNICE aims to correct errors and biases in the ensembles of climate-energy-economic models that study climate stabilisation, and to develop ways to validate and confirm scenario insights.

The main objective of the project is therefore to develop an innovative and integrated approach to quantify, translate and communicate in an effective and prompt way the main uncertainties associated with low-carbon pathways and scenarios that explore very distant futures, renewing the methodological and experimental bases of model-based climate assessments. Three key objectives for three main research lines: extending current scenarios to the “deep” future and quantifying their uncertainties; removing errors and biases from scenarios to account for short-term disruptions (e.g. extreme and unexpected events); translating maps of the future provided by models into robust and reliable guidelines; and testing how to communicate these in the most effective and timely way.

EUNICE is a project of great relevance also for other research areas: indeed the approach and innovations developed by EUNICE can also be applied to other high-risk environmental, social and technological assessments. Its unique combination of computational and behavioural science and public engagement will be an important mediation tool in debates on fundamental decisions for our society, increasing confidence in and recognition of the scientific method.

 

 

For more information on ERC Consolidator Grants 2022: https://erc.europa.eu/news/erc-2021-consolidator-grants-results

 

 

“The challenge of pursuing impact in research”: now online the new issue of SOMeMagazine

SOMe Issue #8 has been released.

In this issue we discuss the impact of research and the challenge of defining and measuring it.
Stefano Magistretti and Federico Caniato explain how our School is engaged in building an “impact culture” to be encouraged and sustained over time, also using an assessment framework to evaluate the impact of the our research.

To report some impact cases, Enrico Cagno, Giulia Felice and Lucia Tajoli tell the fundamental role of academic research in supporting the green transition in emerging countries, while Diletta Di Marco shows how citizens can contribute in evaluating the social impact of scientific research, choosing whether or not to support a project. Finally Angelo Cavallo talks about the new space-based technologies that bring opportunities for innovation and sustainability and imply new business models.

In our “Stories” we feature the impact of Covid-19 on the life of working women and some projects promoting sustainability in fashion and corporate behaviors.

 

 

To read SOMe’s #8 click here.

To receive it directly in your inbox, please sign up here.

Previous issues of SOMe:

  • # 1 “Sustainability – Beyond good deeds, a good deal?”
  • Special Issue Covid-19 – “Global transformation, ubiquitous responses
  • #2 “Being entrepreneurial in a high-tech world”
  • #3 “New connections in the post-covid era”
  • #4 “Multidisciplinarity: a new discipline”
  • #5 “Inclusion: shaping a better society for all”
  • #6 “Innovation with a human touch”
  • #7 “From data science to data culture: the emergence of analytics-powered managers”

The challenge of pursuing impact in research

Conversation with:
Federico Caniato, Full Professor of Supply Chain & Procurement Management at School of Management, Politecnico di Milano
Stefano Magistretti, Assistant Professor of Agile Innovation at School of Management, Politecnico di Milano

 

Universities are increasingly engaged in demonstrating the impact of their research. What is the impact of research? 

The impact of research is crucial not only for the Politecnico di Milano, but for the entire Italian university system, and more in general for universities worldwide. It is not easy to define what research impact is. We can say that the impact of research encompasses all the results, implications, and consequences resulting from scientific research activities aimed at generating knowledge, but they are also expected to provide concrete benefits. In our school, we have defined research impact in three progressive levels of maturity: dissemination, adoption, and benefits. Dissemination is the spread of the results and findings among the relevant stakeholders, adoption is the use of the research results by the stakeholders, and benefits are the consequences of this adoption.

Why is impact so important for research?

Research is often accused of being self-referential, i.e. ‘speaking’ only to members of the academic community without providing a significant contribution to society at large. Instead, research can have a much broader and more significant impact than expected. Therefore, it is crucial to illustrate such impacts to a broader audience, requiring researchers to learn to assess and share the value of their work with multiple stakeholders.

What is the approach to impact assessment in the School of Management?

In 2017, we started a journey in the School of Management to develop a culture of research impact assessment. This journey saw a reflection on the assessment framework, the development of a method, and the collection and analysis of the research impact assessments. We started by combing the literature for impact assessments, interviewing experts, and interacting with our international advisory board to define our framework. The framework comprises the three levels of maturity (i.e. dissemination, adoption, and benefits) and five stakeholder domains (i.e. institutions, enterprises, students and faculty, citizens, and the academic community). The second step was the adoption of the framework. This initially began in 2019 with a set of 16 pilot projects, which then extended to a more extensive set of projects (42 in 2020; 43 in 2021).

The conventional idea of ‘impact’ makes sense in a linear model: changes or discoveries in science and research are expected to cause changes in society, but impact assessment frameworks are usually far more complex, can you tell us why?

The research impact assessment is more complex because the impact is not linear. Some elements impact one stakeholder, causing indirect effects on other stakeholders. For example, research results adopted by public institutions may benefit citizens, or the results disseminated to students may be adopted later, when the students are professionals within companies. Thus, the impact network is intertwined. Seeing the link among the domains and level of maturity, and how an initiative might influence other areas of impact requires a framework that tries to bring everything together. Let’s take an example. If you publish an academic paper, there is diffusion within the academic community, but if you share it in class, there is also an impact on students; if you use it in corporate education, that novel piece of research can become the seed for a potential company project. So from a single action — dissemination of research among the academic community — you might have an impact over multiple stakeholders on different levels.

How much of this impact analysis must be made ex ante, while planning the activity, and how much ex post?

The impact assessment is a helpful tool in every moment of a research project. We saw colleagues adopting it when writing proposals for an EU project or internal research initiative. This is because the impact is both ex-ante and ex-post. The most important thing is to envision potential impact ex-ante, which helps to set the expectations and objective of the project. Ex-post assessment instead aims to measure the results obtained in terms of impact, monitor the results of the planned activities, and demonstrate the actual achievements. Thus, there is not just a single moment for impact analysis; it is always a good to measure it before, during, and after the research initiative.

Is the impact ‘native’ or built over time? Do we need our PhD candidates to be ‘natural-born impacters’ or is it an orientation that can be encouraged and sustained over time?

The impact culture is not native. It is something that PhD candidates and researchers in general should be trained in. Indeed, some impacts are easy to design and achieve, but impacts of a higher level are more challenging and require careful consideration, so it is important to build impact over time. Indeed, it is difficult to gain everything with a single new research programme. As for PhD candidates, it is probably something that we should share with them and encourage them to reflect on. This is something we started at the last AiIG (Associazione Italiana Ingegneria Gestionali) Summer School held by the Politecnico di Bari in September 2021, where we shared the framework with more than 50 Italian PhD candidates and asked them to apply it to their PhD research. The PhD candidates were positively surprised about the unexpected outcomes of this assessment exercise. Disseminating the culture of research impact assessment is something we need to do at every level.

 

 

Transition to green technologies in emerging countries: how research can help in directing resources

Selecting the geographical areas and green technologies for successful funding of sustainable economic growth is a difficult task particularly in emerging countries. Academic research is fundamental in providing tools to support public and private institutions in this task.

 

Enrico Cagno, Full Professor in Industrial Systems Engineering at School of Management, Politecnico di Milano
Giulia Felice, Associate Professor in Economics at School of Management, Politecnico di Milano
Lucia Tajoli, Full Professor in Economics at School of Management, Politecnico di Milano

Recently, the COVID crisis brought to the public eye the extent to which research is in many ways fundamental for the survival of the community. This was extremely evident for disciplines with a direct and recognized impact on human lives and development. Still, the direct and indirect impact of academic research in many other areas and disciplines might be considerable for the well-being of people and the evolution of societies along many dimensions.

An important case, particularly relevant in the current economic phase, is the role of academic research in providing analyses and methodologies that can support private and public institutions in appropriately conveying and using resources in countries, regions, sectors to foster an equitable and sustainable economic growth.

A pertinent example regards the resources to support the transition of countries to green technologies. Climate finance has a fundamental role in tackling climate change and in promoting environmentally sustainable growth in transition and developing economies. A precondition to succeed is the ability to select those countries where the support to green investment does not crowd out private investment, but instead opens room for its expansion, in line with the existing market potential. Several banks and institutions operate with this aim and, as is well known, a large part of the funding in the Next Generation EU is devoted to the European Green deal. The Glasgow Cop26 Summit has once again simultaneously highlighted the unavoidable global dimension of the green transition and the asymmetric position of developing and mature economies due to their different stage of development.

An important issue in maintaining the different approaches of developing and mature economies towards green technologies is that in many cases it is not easy to support green transition in developing countries because of a lack of adequate information on the access and opportunities provided by the technologies. Funding could be misallocated, that is to say, it could be conveyed where it crows out private investment, or where there is no potential for the investment in the new technology to diffuse after initial support. This is where research becomes useful. Methodologies and tools can be developed supporting institutions in the selection of areas and technologies for successful funding.

In this context and to this aim, research at SOM can contribute to developing a conceptual framework and providing methodologies to obtain an overall evaluation of the readiness of countries, regions or sectors to adopt green technologies, ranking countries or areas in terms of their exposure to these technologies. In a recent project developed for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the ultimate aim was to capture the extent to which targeted countries could benefit from funding green technologies, in particular those developing and emerging countries for which data on the diffusion of green technologies are scarce or not available. The creation and use of a technology by a country or a firm is the pre-requisite for its diffusion and eventually adoption. Therefore, in order to benefit from the promotion of green investment, the target country should already have an adequate level and mix of use and production of the green technology. This mix depends on the overall economic situation and level of development of the country, as indicated, for instance, by income per capita, installed production capacity, and the level of technology in closed products. There is no specific universally accepted definition or measurement of the diffusion of a technology. International trade of products embodying a specific technology reveals the presence of that technology in the trading countries. Therefore, trade is often used in the economic literature to track technology diffusion. The advantages of using trade data and advanced methodologies to elaborate them are that they are reliable and available for the majority of countries at a very refined product category level and for a long time span.

Following this approach, researchers at SOM used official and public trade data of “green goods” (as defined by the World Trade Organization and the OECD) covering all countries to assess potential diffusion and adoption of “green” technologies, by building a set of indicators to gauge market maturity and production capacity of a country for a given product. Based on these indicators, a sequence of steps was developed to identify the opportunity for successful actions. The methodology was then discussed and improved throughout the implementation of the project with the EBRD experts that were going to use it, and then validated with the country’s experts on the actual diffusion of the products analysed in terms of demand and production capacity.

The EBRD will use the methodology described above as a tool to select the potential targets of the funding, that is to say, the couple country-technology. The methodology is easily replicable on publicly available data and therefore suitable for orienting the institution in its choices. The EBRD is owned by about seventy countries from five continents, as well as the European Union and the European Investment Bank. This implies that its activities impact a large population, of firms, which will be financially supported by EBRD to adopt/produce green technologies, and of citizens who will benefit through sustainable growth and higher quality of life thanks to the firms’ adoption of green technologies.

The project could potentially affect several Sustainable and Development Goals (Health and Well Being, Clean Water and Sanitation, Affordable and Clean Energy, Sustainable Cities and Communities, Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Action) to the extent that should support the diffusion of green technologies and goods in developing and emerging countries.

 

Space Economy: towards a new frontier for innovation and sustainability

Space and digital technologies combined represent a powerful force enabling cross-sector innovation towards making our world more sustainable. However, technological opportunities are mere fertile ground, which to yield fruit needs managerial and enterprising strategies for the strategic renewal of established organisations and for the creation and growth of innovative startups

 

Angelo Cavallo, Assistant Professor in Strategy & Entrepreneurship at School of Management, Politecnico di Milano

Space Economy is a phenomenon at the frontier of innovation and sustainability which materialises in the combination of spatial and digital technologies for developing business opportunities that give many businesses, in different sectors, the possibility to increase their competitiveness on a global scale through innovation on all levels – from product/service, to processes, right down the overall business model.

The economic value generated by the combined use of space and digital technologies was estimated at about 371 billion dollars in 2021 (Satellite Industry Association). However, the value of the Space Economy goes beyond market estimates and stands out for the opportunity to innovate in many fields and at the same time help make our planet more sustainable through the integration of terrestrial and satellite data, at the foundation of new space-based services. Using high resolution global maps of land coverage, climatologists can develop climate models and understand how the climate is evolving on the earth’s surface. Multispectral images and radar, combined with machine learning and deep learning techniques, means it is possible today to create predictive deforestation models. Timely and constant monitoring of forests is essential to the implementation of conservation policies. Another field of application for satellite data is the monitoring of pollution.  A now well-known case regards the monitoring of pollution levels during the lockdown period resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. To date, a large number of these analyses are conducted using data from terrestrial sensors, spread right throughout Europe. Satellite technologies are complementary and useful in areas where there are no terrestrial sensors.

An increasing number of academics include the combination of digital–space technologies among the drivers that can help to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a tool adopted globally to steer economic and social activities towards the attainment of sustainability goals.
For example, space-based services contribute to the SDG 7 “Affordable and Clean Energy” which sets out to guarantee access to energy for a much vaster pool of users and can be promoted through the remote monitoring systems of plants in places where weather conditions and other natural phenomena can cause major damage to infrastructure and where maintenance can be difficult.

The development of a space economy market and of space-based solutions depends however on the structuring and exploration of new business models, retracing the entire value chain, from which services can be developed for those who create new infrastructures right down to the end-users of those services, making their operations more efficient and/or create new products. Innovating traditional business models and moving towards a platformization, servitization and open innovation model is fundamental to make sure new space-based services have a large-scale economic, environmental and social impact.

Citizens know better?

A team of scientists asked citizens to evaluate social impact and select which research to support. Here’s what they found.

 

Diletta Di Marco, PhD Student in Management Engineering – Innovation and Public Policy 

Science strives to improve the conditions of humanity and nature. But it is not always clear how to identify the research that serves the most pressing needs. For a long time, the direction of science has been chosen by professional scientists alone, through peer reviews, but new initiatives of participated democracy are trying to second the desire of citizens to take an active role in important decisions about science. For example, a Danish local government has asked citizens to choose which medical research projects should be funded by voting online.[1] Also, the Canadian Fathom Fund has chosen to top up funding to scientists that display their project on crowdfunding platforms and collect at least 25% of their budgeted costs online.[2] 

In a world facing unprecedented social, environmental, and economic challenges, the main idea of these initiatives is to involve those most affected by the problems and their consequences – the citizens themselves.

While scientists, research organizations, and research funders are experimenting new ways of actively collaborating with citizens, one concern is that what constitutes a high social impact is problematic and subjective. Moreover, the mechanisms used to actively engage citizens in the agenda-setting process can create biases or grant undue influence to wealthy or powerful groups.

For all these reasons, assessing the impact of research is an exciting area for professional scientists, funding agencies and policymakers, who are keen to identify new criteria for judging the sustainability and value of research, in addition to traditional ones which are more centred around prerequisites like age, gender, previous experiences in research, and previous project experience in the same area of research.

In an attempt to investigate this important but under-explored area, a research team of our School of Management has studied how the public evaluates social impact and choses to grant or deny support to scientific research. The team consists of Chiara Franzoni and Diletta Di Marco from Politecnico di Milano, in collaboration with Henry Sauermann from ESMT Berlin.

The team selected four real research proposals that were actively raising funds on the platform Experiment.com. The projects were in very different domains, ranging from environmental studies on the diffusion of otters in Florida, to social studies on sexual orientation and pay-gaps, to curing Alzheimer’s disease, and Covid-19. They recruited more than 2,300 citizens on Amazon Mechanical Turk and asked for their assessment of one of the four projects in terms of the three criteria normally used in research evaluations: i) social impact, ii) scientific merit, and iii) team qualifications.
They then asked the citizens whether or not they had a direct interest or experience in the problem that the research was trying to solve (e.g. a family member affected by Alzheimer’s disease when evaluating a project studying a cure for Alzheimer’s), and finally elicited the citizens’ opinions on whether or not the project should be funded. They did so under two different voting mechanisms: i) as a simple free-of-charge recommendation to fund or not to fund the project (costless vote) and ii) as a small direct donation to the project (costly vote), which the evaluators could do by choosing not to cash in a $1 bonus given by the team. At the end of the day, the team then devoted the donated bonuses to real research projects.
They later analysed the responses with statistical and econometric modelling and with qualitative coding of the textual responses.

Their analyses showed three key results:

  1. Firstly, citizens placed a strong emphasis on social impact. They were more likely to support a project if they assessed social impact to be high, even if they assessed scientific merit or team qualifications to be low. A complementary analysis of opinions provided in the form of open-ended responses corroborated this view. Citizens tended to focus on the perceived importance of the problem (e.g. size of the affected population, problem severity) and paid less attention to the project’s ability to solve the problem.
  2. Secondly, the voting system adopted substantially affected the composition of those who voted. Costly voting shifted the crowd’s composition towards people with higher levels of education and income. This suggests that mechanisms that impose even a small personal cost trade off the intended benefits of inclusion and representativeness when involving citizens.
  3. Thirdly, citizens who had a personal interest in the problem addressed by the project were more likely to vote in favour of the project, irrespective of using a costless or costly voting mechanism. However, they did not seem to overestimate the project’s social impact expectations. This suggests that crowdsourcing may give more power to interest groups and members of the public with personal interests in the research. At the same time, even citizens with a personal interest in the project seemed to be able to provide unbiased assessments of social impact if asked to do so independently from expressing their support for the project itself.

The findings of this broad research project contribute to advancing the academic debate in different areas, like the management of online communities (by shedding light on the link between voting mechanisms and self-selection and the literature that compares crowd and expert contributions with science funding).
More importantly, they have an immediate practical use for policy makers, funding agencies and interest groups that strive to promote participated democracy.

Considering that traditional research grant mechanisms and review mechanisms focus on things that could go wrong and pay too little attention to potential gains, these results suggest that citizens’ evaluations of social impact are not necessarily “better“, but they may provide a different and potentially complementary perspective.

 

[1] https://www.sdu.dk/da/forskning/forskningsformidling/citizenscience/afviklede+cs-projekter/et+sundere+syddanmark Accessed November 15, 2021.

[2] https://fathom.fund/ Accessed November 15, 2021.

Research Impact Assessment: a continually evolving model

The Politecnico di Milano School of Management has been promoting a culture of assessment and improvement of research impact on institutions, companies, students, professors, citizens and academic communities since 2016

 

Federico Caniato, Full Professor of Supply Chain and Procurement Management at School of Management, Politecnico di Milano 
Stefano Magistretti, Assistant Professor of Innovation and Design Management at School of Management, Politecnico di Milano

The contribution made by universities to society is being called into question more and more often nowadays. They are therefore increasingly asked to measure and demonstrate this contribution, which is often described as an “impact”. The traditional approach consisted in identifying three major missions: research, training and the so-called “third mission”, a broad term encompassing interactions with society as a whole, such as technology transfer, cultural promotion and external communications. However, there is a limitation to this approach, as it risks seeing the three missions as separate activities, each with its own rules and metrics.

The School of Management has been working on this subject since 2016 with a more integrated approach. Rather than viewing the three missions as separate entities, research is seen as an engine able to generate impact on multiple domains, not only on the academic community and students, but on society in general. We promote a culture of research impact assessment and improvement for this reason, in line with our mission:

to contribute to the collective good through a critical understanding of the opportunities offered by innovation. We accomplish this mission by creating and sharing knowledge through high quality teaching, exceptional research and active engagement with the community”.

When we embarked on this journey, we aimed, first and foremost, to encourage all our colleagues to reflect on the broader impact of their research projects. In the early years, we focused on stimulating critical thinking and encouraging the creation of an impact measurement culture. In the beginning, we did not assume that all projects, from the simplest to the most complex and the shortest to the longest, would have an impact on different areas of our school’s mission. However, this culture of measurement was, and still is to this day, fundamental in assessing and demonstrating the impact on many domains and not only on the most traditional indicators (e.g. number of academic publications and number of publications in newspapers).

We therefore felt the need to develop our own model to guide impact assessment throughout the SoM, which would enable us to pursue the following objectives:

  • Raising awareness throughout our entire community
  • Learning to assess the impact of research
  • Encouraging all our colleagues to plan, conduct and disseminate research aimed at having a measurable impact
  • Improving the capacity to account for the impact generated
  • Recognising the results of research conducted by the SoM
  • Publishing research results both within the SoM and externally

To meet these objectives, we built a model, inspired by the scientific literature, identifying five domains and three levels of maturity of research impact.
Impact is measured in the following five domains:

  1. Institutions
  2. Companies
  3. Students and professors
  4. Citizens
  5. The academic community

The impact on each domain is then measured on a three-level increasing maturity scale:

  • Communication of research results
  • Adoption of research results
  • Benefits obtained through adoption

This model was deliberately designed to be general, so that it could be adapted to the various themes and types of research conducted at the SoM. Precise indicators need to be identified for each domain and maturity level, and they should be quantitative wherever possible (e.g. number of participants at events, number of journal articles published, number of academic conferences organised), thus enabling us to measure and demonstrate impact. The indicators chosen should be consistent with the nature of each individual research project.

The model was tested first of all by a few colleagues who assessed 16 projects according to these dimensions in 2019. This enabled us to evaluate the soundness and validity of the model and identify many useful metrics for the various domains and different maturity levels.

In 2020, we invested in engaging everyone at the SoM in performing this important exercise, thereby broadening involvement and carrying out the Research Impact Assessment for 42 different projects conducted within the SoM, with at least one for each line of research of the SoM.
It was primarily an opportunity for training and reflection on the topic across the school, with sessions organised to give those involved a chance to exchange views and discuss the process.
A booklet was compiled with a summary and the main findings, featuring a wealth and variety of impacts. It will serve at first as a tool for internal communication to raise awareness and gather best practices.

Our work continues. We have already started gathering data for 2021, with a view to updating the information on the 42 projects and expanding participation even further. Our hope is that this exercise will make it increasingly possible not only to measure impact retrospectively, but also to plan the impact of research projects from the very outset. We also hope that this assessment will eventually cover all domains and reach the highest possible level of maturity, in other words, that of real benefits.

Scientific research: Covid-19 changes activities and spaces

More research is done individually and women in the Italian academy have returned to university environments less than their male colleagues

 

The pandemic also has an impact on the way research is carried out and consequently on the way university environments are experienced. An interdisciplinary research group at the Politecnico di Milano, consisting of Gianandrea Ciaramella, Alessandra Migliore and Chiara Tagliaro from the Department of Architecture, Construction Engineering and Built Environment (DABC) and of Massimo G. Colombo and Cristina Rossi-Lamastra of the Department of Management Engineering (DIG), collected the experiences of 8,049 university academics (49% women, 51% men, average age 51 years) throughout Italy between 24 July and 24 September 2020.

University researchers, like other high-capacity workers, have changed their ways of working because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The implications of this phenomenon, which the research group calls Covid-working, are multiple, particularly in terms of organising the space for their work. The questions addressed to the academics concerned the way of carrying out research (individual or collaborative) and the spaces used to carry out their research activities (as research enablers) in the period before and during Covid-19.

The results show very clear trends. Firstly, the data shows a general trend towards a more individualised approach to research activities compared to the pre-Covid period. Due to physical distancing, research has become an activity that is more individual than collaborative. In particular, researchers in the Life Sciences (LS) and Physical Sciences and Engineering (PE) are moving from work mainly balanced between individual and collaborative research to research that is drastically more individual (from an average of four times per week at the university to little more than once). Researchers in the field of Social Sciences and Humanities (SH) undergo a less drastic “individualisation”, as they are already used to this kind of activity.

Second, with the progressive relaxation of the lockdown, a different scene is playing out in the return to university spaces: gender differences are emerging in terms of workspace organisation. In fact, at the end of the first wave of the pandemic, most women continued to do research from home, while men started to use other workplaces to a greater extent: not only the university, but also third-party spaces such as laboratories and public libraries. This trend already began to take shape during the first period of severe social restrictions.
Women seem to be penalised, in particular, because in the pre-Covid era they used shared spaces in greater numbers than men and now, because of the need for physical separation, they find it more difficult to return to their usual place of work. In fact the data shows that men, during the gradual reopening of university campuses, have returned more than once a week to their predominantly single offices, while women, with predominantly shared offices, work from home more than their male colleagues (4-5 times a week).

The first results of the analysis therefore show how research is becoming more individual in general (the percentage of collaborative research activity increases from 42% pre-Covid-19 to 31% today, while individual activity increases by about 10%) and how men, both before and during Covid-working, have more access to diverse working environments.  The effects of this new organisation of work are still to be studied in depth, especially with reference to the categories most penalised: not only women but also young researchers who, according to the data collected, have suffered a substantial decrease in their collaborative research activity at a crucial stage of their academic career.

The data on Italian researchers therefore raises important questions about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the characteristics and quality of scientific research:

  • Is there is a causal relationship between individual or collaborative research activities and the spaces available? Will the space for scientific research maintain its primary function as a meeting point between the individual and the collective dimension?
  • What is the impact of new ways of spatial organisation of research activities on the home-work balance and the production of scientific results? Is it the same for men and women?
  • How can university campuses of the future be redesigned to fully promote equal opportunities in research and career progression? How much can physical space favour these objectives?

 

For more information, read the press release.

Call for Visiting Professors and Fellows at the School of Management

The School of Management is committed to host visiting professors, guest professors and fellows from all over the world to promote and enhance the international exposure of research and teaching activities.
We are eager to host researchers in different fields of Management, Applied Economics and Industrial Engineering.
More information on the research lines and research groups are available here.

The call for the academic year 2020-2021 is now open. Applications must be sent before November 30th 2020.

For more details please visit:

https://www.som.polimi.it/en/join-us/