Broad participation is important
Through the conferences, VREF wants to bring about cross fertilization, where the Centres share experience and results that can be useful for each other. In that way, FUT conferences are a tool for achieving synergistic effects between the Centres. “Conferences provide a way to clarify and transfer knowledge and identify new issues and directions. That is why we work with methods for optimizing the transfer of knowledge," says Bengt Kasemo.
Every conference has had a theme, such as How to deal with complexity or Dynamics of urban transport development — what is generic and what is specific? Conference participants include — in addition to FUT researchers — a range of enduser groups: politicians and other decision makers, business people, city and traffic planners, employees of various types of management and stakeholder organizations, etc. Broad participation is prerequisite to arriving at reasonable and viable solutions that lead to sustainable urban transportation.
“The transfer of knowledge between researchers and the intended users of research results, and between the different Centres, is a central issue that we are currently working with a lot. Our next FUT conference will focus to a large extent on just that question," says Bengt Kasemo. Knowledge transfer is not only about how intended end-users can gain access to research results. Involving practitioners — politicians, city and traffic planners, and others — in the process of formulating the research questions is even more important. That is necessary to ensure that the researchers focus on relevant questions.
The conferences are intended to provide participants with an opportunity to analyze and discuss different needs and opportunities to influence future development toward sustainable urban transportation systems. But they are also useful for identifying both the barriers that stand in the way and the factors that are favorable for that type of development. How practitioners find out about researchers´ results and how researchers listen to practitioners´ needs — and translate them into research questions — are central issues for VREF. For that reason, the form and design of FUT conferences and meetings are continually evaluated and changed.
The very first FUT conference was a pure research conference. Since then, the perspective has gradually changed, toward creating meetings between researchers and practitioners, which is not always that simple. “To get practitioners to listen to what researchers have to say is frequently easier than vice versa. That is because the questions and problems that practitioners formulate almost never fit within one research discipline," says Måns Lönnroth, a member of the VREF Board of Directors.
The fourth conference will have an even stronger focus on practitioners. “This time it will be more of a conference with practitioners for practitioners, where researchers participate as audience members. The conference will, however, both open and close with research seminars. We want the researchers to think about what the practitioners say, what their needs are, etc.," says Lönnroth. How practitioners learn from researchers and how research results are translated into practice are processes that VREF will continue to think about, as well as how the conferences will be designed in the future. “But the need for different meetings between the Centres´ researchers and between researchers and practitioners is still central. How to implement them in the best way is a question that we continually evaluate and develop," says Måns Lönnroth.