New National Research Programmes: What will they focus on?

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The Swiss Confederation has commissioned the SNSF to run four NRPs. Calls for NRPs on “Baukultur”, “biodiversity”, “gender medicine” and “plant breeding” will be launched at year-end 2023. What will they focus on?

NRPs generate scientific knowledge aimed at addressing Switzerland’s most pressing challenges of national importance. The topics are chosen by the Swiss Federal Council. The research projects that make up a programme are coordinated in view of a common objective. In order to maximise the impact of the NRPs, high priority is given to collaborating and sharing knowledge with practitioners. A total of 47 million Swiss francs has been made available for the four new NRPs, which will run for five years.

The SNSF is currently appointing the steering committees, which will prepare the calls for proposals during the summer and autumn. The steering committees are appointed by the National Research Council and are responsible for the entire NRP process – from the selection of projects through to the completion of the programme.

Calls for proposals for the four NRPs are scheduled to be published in December 2023 in a two-stage process: researchers will submit a pre-proposal by the end of March 2024, and will subsequently submit their full application for financing if invited to do so.

Here is a brief summary of the four new NRPs:

NRP “Future Baukultur”

“Future Baukultur: Valuing Built Space” (NRP 81) has been awarded 10.6 million francs. This National Research Programme will seek to develop strategies and techniques to improve the quality of built and unbuilt spaces over the long term. The NRP will promote knowledge-sharing and collaboration between various disciplines as well as between research and practice. It will focus on three main areas:

  • The science of sustainability-oriented Baukultur will cover scientific and technological aspects touching on topics such as energy transition, resource consumption, climate change, sustainable development and biodiversity.
  • The sociocultural dimension of Baukultur will look at planning processes for improving spatial planning, town planning, construction and housing.
  • Implementation scenarios for advancing Baukultur will seek to implement findings from the first two focus areas. Together with relevant practitioners, researchers aim to develop communication channels, design methods and processes that take into account all involved stakeholders. These implementation activities will be compulsory for all research projects.

NRP “Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services”

“Promoting Biodiversity and Sustainable Ecosystem Services for Switzerland” (NRP 82) has been awarded 15.5 million francs. This National Research Programme will analyse how biodiversity and ecosystem services are managed and used in Switzerland, and assess the impact of Swiss consumption and the production processes abroad that are required for such consumption. The programme will also investigate social, economic and political factors. It will follow a transformative approach, and will therefore have the following main focus areas:

  • System knowledge: analysing the current status and trends.
  • Target knowledge: defining the target status.
  • Transformation knowledge: developing pathways, including decision and management options, that can lead from the current status to the target status.

The NRP will be set up as a transdisciplinary research programme; involving relevant practitioners in developing the projects and during the research phase will be a high priority. To achieve this, the initial call will be for a preparatory phase: the researchers will have six months to work with practitioners to develop a project, including an impact model. Towards the end of the research phase, the teams will also be invited to initiate change processes together with stakeholders from the community.

NRP “Gender Medicine”

“Gender Medicine and Health” (NRP 83) has been awarded 11 million francs. This National Research Programme will create a knowledge base for embedding sex and gender issues in medical research and healthcare provision. The NRP will seek to contribute to cultural change and to develop new standards. It is also intended as a starting point for long-term research in the area of gender medicine. The NRP will have four main focus areas within the sex and gender framework:

  • Health care and prevention
  • Medical treatments and therapies
  • Underlying mechanisms in medicine and public health
  • Social and societal impact

The research in this NRP will take an interdisciplinary approach in which researchers from a range of disciplines will work together. Interdisciplinary partnerships with experts working in the relevant fields will be a key element of the programme’s success.

NRP “Plant Breeding”

“Plant Breeding Innovation” (NRP 84) has been awarded 10 million francs. This National Research Programme aims to connect innovations in plant breeding with socio-economic and political changes. In societal terms, the programme will seek to investigate how solutions and products can be developed using new breeding techniques and successfully marketed. The NRP will focus on three key areas:

  • Case studies investigating the opportunities for resilient, resource-efficient cultivation and consumption offered by new breeding techniques.
  • Social perceptions, ethical considerations and analysis of the market potential of the new breeding techniques.
  • Ways of achieving forward-looking regulatory frameworks.

The programme will focus on the innovative potential of new breeding techniques and could contribute to the development of plants with useful characteristics. As with all types of plant breeding, there must be opportunities for testing in the field. The NRP will have access to the infrastructure provided by Agroscope, the Swiss Confederation’s centre of excellence for agricultural research, for protected field trials. Priority will be given to practical research projects that can be implemented within the specified period of time.

NRP Review Round 2022/2023: from 78 proposals to four programmes

In March 2022, the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) received 78 proposals for new NRPs. In a first phase, federal offices’ opinions on the proposals were obtained and, based on these, six programme proposals drawn up.

Between July and November 2022, the SNSF examined the feasibility of these six proposals and came to a positive conclusion for four of them.

In a second phase, the SNSF drew up four programme concepts on behalf of the SERI between December 2022 and the end of March 2023. On this basis, the Federal Council decided on 2 June 2023 to launch four new NRPs.